LOS ANGELES - Tom Hanks came away from filming Captain Phillips awed by the sea - and befuddled by those who navigate a career on it.
"The life is brutal," says Hanks, who plays real-life American cargo-ship captain Richard Phillips in Paul Greengrass' documentary-style drama, which opened Friday.
Hanks and film crews spent more than two months aboard cargo freighters and military ships to film Phillips, 75% of which was shot at sea.
The two-time Oscar winner, 57, spent weeks with Phillips, who was kidnapped by Somali pirates in April 2009, aboard a freighter (and its claustrophobic lifeboat) to get a sense not only for Phillips' ordeal, but for his daily life.
"He became known as a hero," Hanks says. "But I wanted to begin with what his everyday life was like."
He concedes he wasn't prepared for the day-to-day aspects. "The weather changes suddenly, you can get sick, the job requires stamina and expertise," he says. "You want to romanticize a life at sea, but then you realize this is just a job for these guys."
A job performed at a surprisingly tough workplace, he adds. While cargo ships like the ones manned by Phillips are "state-of-the-art, finely tuned machines, they're still rust buckets," Hanks says.
Acting on a rust bucket, though, proved a plus. Hanks says that Greengrass promised he would shoot the movie like a documentary, with handheld cameras and no dolly track to steady a camera.
"But I honestly expected - regardless of what Paul said to prepare me - that when it came to shooting, I would see that dolly track come out, and we'd get specific about hitting our marks and hitting our light," Hanks says. "Never happened. We didn't even stage the scenes - we found them."
Greengrass says he needed to find one scene in particular: the hijacking of the cargo ship Alabama. He sent the four actors playing the pirates into months of training so they would actually board the ship from a tiny skiff, as real pirates do.
"That was a very time consuming process," Greengrass says of the sequence, which was accomplished without computer-generated effects. "But the film gives you the sensation that you really are there, and they are right alongside that ship and going up, because they are."
Still, Hanks says, the most realistic research he could do was to shadow Phillips, who co-authored (with Stephan Talty) the book on which the film is based, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea.
Hanks says he was struck by Phillips' reluctance to see himself as anything more than a mariner caught in circumstances.
"We would go out, and I'd say, 'You must love to just look out at the sea,' " Hanks recalls. "He said he hadn't done that in 35 years. That's the kind of detail you want to get it right."