As 'Captain Phillips,' Tom Hanks confronted by 'most terrifying human beings' ever

Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks may get paid the big bucks for being one of Hollywood's most bankable and beloved actors — but trust him, he earns that money. Take his experience as the title character in "Captain Phillips," where he played a real life cargo ship captain who was imprisoned on a small, enclosed lifeboat by Somali pirates.

"We had a very, very small little lifeboat that we shot in," he told TODAY's Matt Lauer Monday about an extended sequence in the new film. "It smells horrible in there, it's got the worst lighting on the planet Earth, it became trashed instantaneously. ... We were living close enough in order to see the pores in each others' faces. It became a very tactile experience for us all."

And according to Hanks, it was genuinely terrifying: He'd never met the actors (who are newcomers to Hollywood) who were playing the Somali pirates until the day they filmed the scenes of Phillips' cargo ship takeover. "They were the skinniest, most terrifying human beings I'd ever come across," he said.

Part of the movie takes place in Somalia (though it was filmed in Malta) and shows the pirates' home life, which Hanks said doesn't create sympathy for the pirates — who are legitimate criminals — but it does help with understanding where they're coming from. 

"You can understand a bit more of the hopelessness of the place," he said. "When you realize that they are hungry, that they are surrounded by corruption and there's nothing but abject poverty and hopelessness, you might almost begin to think well, what would I do if I lived in Somalia, as opposed to where I live now."

Lauer will speak with the real-life Captain Richard Phillips on Friday on TODAY, which is the same day "Captain Phillips" opens in theaters. Check out Lauer's 2010 interview on TODAY with Phillips.

Tom Hanks

Image: Tom Hanks
Alessandro Di Meo

The two-time Oscar winner proved himself first in comedy before becoming one of Hollywood’s most wanted men.

Earlier on TODAY on Monday, Al Roker mentioned a Reddit Ask Me Anything chat Hanks did in which the actor revealed which scene from his 1994 film "Forrest Gump" always gets to him emotionally. The scene features Gump reuniting with Lt. Dan, who is standing before him with two new artificial legs.

Lauer then asked Hanks if, other than "Forrest Gump" there's a movie that makes him cry every single time.

"Gravity," the actor deadpanned from the other side of the TODAY studio. "Every time I saw it, soon as that hair didn't float up ...."

Savannah Guthrie said she was hoping for a "Bosom Buddies" joke, but Hanks said, "That makes me cry in different ways."


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