Real-life stories behind ‘Captain Phillips’ put local Navy, shipping industry in spotlight

Suspense, drama and action involving local Navy ships and local Navy SEALs–the new movie “Captain Phillips” has it all, while showcasing the Norfolk, Virginia name on the Maersk Alabama for the world to see.

As the first American ship to be boarded by pirates in more than 200 years, the movie takes us through the terrifying five-day hostage crisis that played out on a tiny lifeboat just before Easter of 2009.

That real life story is very familiar to some here in Hampton Roads–because they lived it.

“I didn’t sleep for a week,” said John Reinhart, the President and CEO of Maersk Line Limited, who owns the Maersk Alabama, homeported right here in Norfolk.

“The whole world was captivated when Richard was held hostage, and then when the Navy and the SEALs came to his rescue, you just wanted to see how it came out on the big screen,” said Reinhart.

The company played a big role in getting the film to theaters. Their actual Maersk ship is used in the movie.

Hollywood Secret Alert #1: The Alabama you see on-screen is not the real Maersk Alabama.

“It was a sister ship, we used the Maersk Alexandria,” said Reinhart.

The Alabama was deployed to Africa delivering food aid at the time, but that was no problem for Hollywood.

“We staged it so the containers looked the same, made it look like the Alabama. We had photos, so we matched it up perfectly,” said Reinhart.

A big part of the movie details the Navy’s intervention with the pirates–after all, it was a Norfolk-based destroyer carrying Virginia Beach-based SEAL snipers that came to Captain Phillips’ rescue.

So while most of the movie was shot in Malta, those Navy scenes were filmed right here in Hampton Roads, using local Navy ships.

“It was very surreal, much like the event itself,” said Navy Captain Frank Castellano, who got to see that filming take place last June, because he was the commander of the Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge that came to Captain Phillips’ rescue back in 2009.

“Seeing the lifeboat again, this time in a not-so-hostile environment, and from a different perspective, definitely brought back some memories,” said Capt. Castellano.

Especially seeing the actors who played the pirates–the movie directors wanted complete authenticity, so they scouted four Somali-born men from Minneapolis who’ve never acted before.

Hollywood Secret Alert #2: The Navy ship they filmed on was not the real USS Bainbridge.

The Bainbridge was on deployment at the time, and the Navy used the USS Truxtun as a stand-in.

As a result, actual sailors from the Truxtun will be center screen, right next to Tom Hanks, becoming movie stars of their own.

“I had three former Bainbridge sailors onboard the Truxtun at the time of the filming, and I think they are going to pop in and out of the movie as extras,” said Capt. Castellano.

As the Bainbridge commander, Castellano was so important to the movie’s plot that producers cast an actor to portray him.

“I was able to talk to and email with Yul Vazquez, he was very interested in learning my mannerisms,” said Castellano.

The portrayal everyone is anxious to see, though, is that of Captain Phillips.

Reinhart got to see the movie already, and he gave NewsChannel 3 a little insider information on how Tom Hanks stacked up.

“I think he took the role seriously. He actually met with Richard and Andrea at their house, he tried to become Richard,” said Reinhart. “What I think he did good was he caught the personality, caught a little bit of the magic it takes to be at sea.”

The premiere of the feature film is set for tomorrow night in New York.

That’s where Hollywood cameras will witness a reunion between the real-life Captain Phillips and the Navy Captain that helped save him. Both will be in attendance.

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