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The Gulf of Aden is one of the most dangerous areas of the high seas in the world. Off the coast of Somalia, which has no functioning government after years of famine and war, the Gulf is patrolled by pirates. The pirates have captured commercial and private vessels and held ships and crew for millions of dollars in ransom. One such vessel was the Maersk Alabama, captured in 2009.

The ship was captained by American Richard Phillips and his story is told in the movie Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks. Somalian-born actor Barkhad Abdi plays Muse, the leader of the pirate crew that captures the ship. He was living in Minnesota when he heard about auditions for the film on TV. Now he is an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a film nominated for Best Picture.

“There was an open casting call that came on TV for a Tom Hanks film casting Somalians,” Abdi explained to the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “He was a limo driver at the time. “When I saw the casting call, I went there and I happened to be lucky.”

Abdi says he worked on the film for about four months. He never met Hanks before his first scene with him, and he says that director Paul Greengrass was smart to introduce the two that way.

“It made so much sense. Looking back at it, it would have changed the whole dynamic of the movie,” Abdi says. During their first break, Abdi says his first words to Hanks out of character were: “I can’t believe I’m doing a scene with the Forrest Gump guy.”

Abdi hasn’t returned to limo driving; he worked at his brother’s cell phone store in Minneapolis after shooting the movie. Instead of driving a limo, he’ll be riding in one  to this year’s Oscars. Although Dallas Buyers Club’s Jared Leto is considered the frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actor category, the nomination is the win for Abdi, who hopes his career doesn’t end with the one role.

“I’m reading scripts now,” Abdi says.

The 2014 Oscars airs at 7 p.m. on CBS on Sunday, March 2. For a full list of nominees, click here.

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