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.

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    Image: Tom Hanks

    Tom Hanks

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

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    Captain of his soul -

    Actor and two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks appeared at a special screening for his latest film, "Captain Phillips" at the Newseum on Oct. 2, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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    Taken over -

    Hanks plays the title role in 2013's "Captain Phillips," a film based on the real-life kidnapping of a cargo ship captain and his crew by Somali pirates.
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    Get 'Lucky' -

    Hanks made his Broadway debut in April 2013 in the role of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mike McAlary in "Lucky Guy," a play written by the late Nora Ephron. Here, he attends the 67th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9 in New York; Hanks was nominated for his role.
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    Primitive culture -

    In 2012's "Cloud Atlas," one of Hanks' multiple characters was from the distant, post-apocalyptic future in which he had to save members of his clan from marauding outsiders.
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    Through the years -

    Hanks poses with "Cloud Atlas" co-star Halle Berry at the film's German premiere on Nov. 5, 2012. The pair play multiple characters across generations in the sci-fi film.
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    Friends for a cause -

    Hanks, right, joins Sting and his wife Trudie Styler and Sir Elton John during the auction following the Revlon concert for the Rainforest Fund at The Pierre Hotel in New York on April 3, 2012.
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    Top of his 'Game' -

    Hanks and wife Rita Wilson attend the "Game Change" premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York on March 7, 2012. Hanks was executive producer of the HBO film about Sarah Palin's run for the vice presidency.
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    Let's get 'Loud' -

    Hanks stars with Thomas Horn in a scene from 2011's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." The film tells the story of a young boy who believes his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in New York City.
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    Causing a spectacle -

    Hanks poses during a photocall ahead of the premiere of his latest movie "Larry Crowne" in Berlin on June 9, 2011. The comedy romance stars Hanks and Julia Roberts.
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    On the road in 'Larry Crowne' -

    When appealing everyman Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is inexplicably fired from his job as a big box store clerk in "Larry Crowne," he realizes it’s time for some life changes. Directionless and deep in debt, he returns to college where he befriends a group of scooter-riding students and eventually develops an affection for his beautiful speech class instructor, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts).
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    'Howdy, pardner!' -

    Hanks greets Woody, the charater he voices in the "Toy Story" series at the world premiere of Disney Pixar's "Toy Story 3" at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on June 13, 2010.
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    Honoring veterans -

    Producer-director Steven Spielberg, center, and Hanks, right, lay a wreath during at the WWII Memorial in Washington on March 11, 2010, during a ceremony to honor and pay tribute to WWII veterans who served in the Pacific. The event is timed for the March 14 premiere of HBO's "The Pacific," a television 10-part miniseries based on the true stories of World War II Marines who fought in the Pacific Theater.
    Jewel Samad / Pool via AP
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    Driven to tears -

    Hanks and Oprah Winfrey attend "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular" at the United Center in Chicago on May 17, 2011.
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    Eye on the ball -

    Hanks, right, and his son Truman attend an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 2011.
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    Underground mystery -

    Hanks, left, and director Ron Howard re-teamed for a 2009 sequel to "The Da Vinci Code" called "Angels & Demons," in which the actor reprises his role as Professor Robert Langdon. This time, Langdon must work to stop a terrorist act at the Vatican.
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    Like father, like son -

    Hanks, left, and his son Colin attend a screening of "The Great Buck Howard" on March 10, 2009, in New York. In the film, the elder Hanks plays the father of Colin's character. "Buck Howard" was not the first time the father and son worked together: Colin's first film appearance was as a page in his father's "That Thing You Do!" He also appeared in "Band of Brothers."
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    Presidential honors -

    Hanks speaks during "We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial" in Washington, on Jan. 18, 2009, prior to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Barack Obama.
    Alex Brandon / AP
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    History lesson -

    Actor Paul Giamatti, far left, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), second from left, Hanks, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sit down for a screening of the HBO miniseries "John Adams" at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on March 5, 2008. Hanks produced the historical miniseries, in which Giamatti stars as Adams, the second president of the United States.
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    Rare misfire -

    In 2007's "Charlie Wilson's War," Hanks stars as a Texas congressman who decides to raise money to fund Afghan rebels in their war with the Soviet Union. Though future "Larry Crowne" co-star Julia Roberts shared the screen and Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar, the film was considered a box-office disappointment.
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    Bad hair day -

    In 2006's "The Da Vinci Code," Hanks stars as Professor Robert Langdon, who investigates a murder inside the Louvre that leads him to the discovery of an incredible secret about the origins of Christianity. Audrey Tautou co-starred in the Ron Howard-directed film, in which Hanks was much chided for his long, slicked-back hairstyle.
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    Pledging allegiance -

    Hanks and then-President George W. Bush, right, stand on stage at the dedication of The World War II Memorial on May 29, 2004, in Washington. The memorial was finished 59 years after the Allies victory in Europe and Japan and meant to honor the 16 million who served in World War II.
    Ron Sachs / Pool via Getty Images
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    Drawn that way -

    Robert Zemeckis' 2004 film "The Polar Express" used motion-capture technology with live-action performances of the actors, after which he applied animation over the images. Hanks plays six roles in the film: Hero Boy, Father, Conductor (pictured), Hobo, Scrooge and Santa Claus.
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    Taking aim -

    Hanks, left, re-teamed with Steven Spielberg for 2002's "Catch Me If You Can." Leonardo DiCaprio (right) stars as Frank Abagnale Jr., a man who in real life successfully conned his way through life by posing as an airline pilot, a doctor and a Louisiana prosecutor. Hanks plays the FBI agent who doggedly pursues, then catches up with him.
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    Edge of darkness -

    Hanks took a break from nice guy roles when starred with Paul Newman and Jude Law in 2002's "Road to Perdition." The Sam Mendes-directed film tells the story of a hitman (Hanks) who must go on the run when his son witnesses another assassin in the process of killing a man.
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    Over there, over here -

    Spielberg and Hanks hold their Outstanding Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries Emmys. They won them for HBO's "Band of Brothers," at the 54th Annual Emmy Awards on Sept. 22, 2002, a 10-part HBO miniseries that followed a company of soldiers from basic training through the end of World War II.
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    Hungry for a role -

    In Robert Zemeckis' 2000 film, "Cast Away," Hanks played a FedEx executive who, after a plane crash, survives on a deserted island for four years. When he returns, he realizes his life and the world have moved on. Production on the film was halted for a year so that Hanks could lose 50 pounds and grow out his hair. Hanks was nominated for an Oscar for the part.
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    The long walk -

    In 1999's "The Green Mile," Hanks starred as a death row guard who realizes that the gentle giant he's guarding hasn't actually committed the crime for which he's about to be executed. The film was based on the novel by Stephen King, and written and directed by Frank Darabont.
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    Two of a kind -

    After the successful romantic romp "Sleepless in Seattle," Hanks and Meg Ryan re-teamed for 1998's "You've Got Mail." The film, an update of 1940's "The Shop Around the Corner," features Ryan as an independent bookstore owner, who has an e-mail flirtation with Hanks, though she doesn't realize he works for a bookstore chain.
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    The fog of war -

    Hanks, second from right, teamed up with director Steven Spielberg, second from left, for the 1998 film "Saving Private Ryan." The World War II film tells the story of a group of soldiers who go behind enemy lines to find another soldier whose two brothers have already been killed in action.
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    Clay day -

    Hanks laughs after pulling his hands out of wet cement as wife Rita Wilson looks on during a July 23, 1998, handprint ceremony in front of the world famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. Hanks and Wilson wed in 1988.
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    In the director's seat -

    1996's "That Thing You Do!" was the first film both written and directed by Hanks, far left. The film told the story of The Wonders, starting second from left, Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Johnathan Schaech, Ethan Embry, a one-hit wonder band who shoot to the top of the charts and then break up. Hanks plays the A&R man who signs the band.
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    Toy oh toy! -

    Hanks provides the voice of Woody, a cowboy doll whose place as a boy's favorite toy is usurped by Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) in 1995's "Toy Story." Directed by John Lasseter, the film was the first Pixar feature to warrant a sequel; as of 2011 a third had been released and a fourth was rumored to be in development.
    Walt Disney Pictures
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    Royal welcome -

    Princess Diana, left, met Hanks, his wife Rita Wilson, second from right, and director Ron Howard, center, at the London premiere of "Apollo 13" in September 1995.
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    Right stuff -

    Hanks, center, stars as Jim Lovell in 1995's "Apollo 13," which tells the true story of a moon mission gone awry and how the men made their way safely back to Earth. Hanks' fascination with space led him to produce the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" and co-write and co-produce the IMAX film "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon - 3D." Also pictured: Kevin Bacon (right) and Bill Paxton, far left.
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    Top of his game -

    Hanks holds his Oscar for 1994's "Forrest Gump." He was only the second actor to win back-to-back Oscars, after Spencer Tracy. Hanks' first Oscar came the year before, for "Philadelphia."
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    'Life is like a box of chocolates...' -

    Hanks in his Oscar-winning role in 1994's "Forrest Gump." In the film, he portrays an intellectually challenged man who makes his way through the world, becoming a part of famous moments in history by following the sound advice of his mother.
    Paramount Pictures / Everett Collection
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    City of brotherly love -

    In 1993's "Philadelphia," Hanks played a man with AIDS who is fired by his law firm due to his condition, and who hires a homophobic lawyer played by Denzel Washington to help him fight the wrongful termination. Hanks won his first Oscar for the role; during his acceptance speech, Hanks revealed that his high school drama teacher was gay.
    Everett Collection
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    Starry-eyed -

    Hanks was given a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, some years before he garnered his true acting acclaim. Still, he had already made "A League of Their Own" and "Sleepless in Seattle," that year, films which portended great things.
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    Hitting high notes -

    After a series of not-so-funny comedies ("The Man With One Red Shoe," "The Money Pit"), Hanks, right, found his footing again with 1988's "Big." In the Penny Marshall-directed film, he plays a boy whose wish to be "big" is granted when he wakes up one morning as an adult. In one classic scene, Hanks shows his boss (Robert Loggia, left) how to play again when the two come across a piano mat inside a toy store.
    20th Century Fox via AP
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    'Splash'-ing around -

    Hanks' first big post-"Bosom Buddies" feature was in 1984's "Splash." Directed by Ron Howard, the film tells the story of a man who falls in love with a mermaid (Daryl Hannah, left) and tries to help her fit into the human world. It also helped popularize the name "Madison" for girls, as that's the name the mermaid takes, after a New York City street, when she emerges on dry land.
    Buena Vista Pictures / Everett Collection
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    Checking out -

    Tom Hanks, left, with Peter Scolari, had only appeared in a horror movie and an episode of "The Love Boat" before joining "Bosom Buddies" in 1980. The sitcom, which ran for two seasons, told the story of two men who dressed as women in order to live in an all-female apartment building. It was a silly high concept, but Hanks' talent managed to shine through, turning the show into a cult classic.
    Everett Collection

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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