The drama The Pirates of Somalia tells the real-life story of a budding journalist who seeks out a story of a lifetime in Somalia – but gains a new perspective on a culture not really known to the rest of the world.

Based on Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur’s book of the same name, the biopic starts with Bahadur (Evan Peters) as a recent college graduate in 2008 who wants to become the next great investigative journalist. After a chance encounter with a veteran journalist (Al Pacino), who urges him to go find a great story, Bahadur decides he’ll travel to Somalia at the height of the country’s high-seas piracy practices to try and get the real story behind the Somalian mindset.

As one of the only journalist ever allowed in the area, it’s a treachous environment, but Bahadur befriends the locals, including his intrepid translator (Barkhad Abdi), gaining invaluable information and promising the Somalians he will tell their story to the world. After living there for six months, the situation turns even more dangerous for Bahadur, especially after the debacle on the US cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama, in which three Somalian pirates are killed (the basis of the film Captain Phillips, which also starred Abdi). He eventually gets out and returns to gain notoriety for his writing about the Somalian people and to bring a focus to their way of life.

ScreenPicks sat down for an exclusive chat with Peters, Abdi and writer/director Bryan Buckley about making the movie, the real Jay Bahadur and more!

How did you tap into this character?

Evan Peters: I talked to Jay, of course, and read his book. I was curious myself and played it like I was going into this world, which I was, to learn and figure out as much as I could about the Somali culture. Prior of course, but also going into it, keeping my eyes and ears open as a journalist would and try to figure out the story and what everyone is about. And what’s going on there. What’s going on with the Somali refugees in South Africa. It was sort of just doing that and being myself and playing my own investigative journalist as an actor. To try to break it all down.

What drew you into the project?

Bryan Buckley: I had done other work with the Somalis prior to this [his Oscar-nominated short film Asad]. Then I read Jay’s book and I’m really a believer in pursuing your dreams, no matter how insane they are. And that we all have the power to bring change. Us, this interview, this moment in time is brought about by [Jay’s] actions to go do something very, very bold. In his eyes, the crazy part, he didn’t see it that way. He still doesn’t it see it that way. Danger is not part of his fear factor, it really isn’t. He just does things and it doesn’t make sense. He has an angel on his shoulder.

And now, it’s like, here’s a guy who wants to bring change, wants to tell the truth. Democracy is what drove him there, not piracy. But no one wanted to write about democracy. Piracy was a very digestible thing for the masses. To get this guy is what inspired me. Once I saw the book, and the spirit of what he was exposing, the culture, that was the part that really interested me. Showing this culture and this guy who is putting his life on the line for this, to not just settle for a normal life, but to bring about change. It’s inspiring.

What is the real Jay Bahadur like?

Peters: He’s probably one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. Very analytical and thoughtful. And a very in depth writer when it comes to the details about everything that was going on there. Just a smart, intelligent guy and like Bryan said, it’s crazy to me he went there and did this. It really was inspiring to see somebody want to use their talent and their brain power and their heart to better the world for other people who don’t have the opportunities that we have.

You mentioned how fearless Jay was in the face of such insurmountable danger, but did it ever hit him at some point?

Buckley: He has said now and then, fear crept in, in retrospect. Like in that scene when he gets out of the car [with some very dangerous Somalians around], that’s real. That happened. And Jay said watching that scene in the movie, he’s like, “That was so stupid!” But he didn’t see it then, when it was really happening.

Peters: I don’t think he was fearless, per se, as he was more naive and driven. He was blind to it.

The fact the Captain Phillips story played a part in this, was that a little weird for you, Barkhad?

Barkhad Abdi: This all happened at the same time. I saw the movie and I didn’t expect it to come out this way, this movie. There’s a lot of people [in this movie] that have never acted. And in that situation, you barely get everyone right and everyone up to where you want it, so it was very lucky and very glad it worked out for us. To show the best way it could possibly be done. Very proud of this film.

You and Barkhad had a great rapport in the movie. What did you learn from him?

Peters: Everything, really. Barkhad was quite literally my translator throughout shooting. We laughed a lot. Especially in the car. I feel like I was in that car 90 percent of that movie. With the guys, all the soldiers protecting me. It was really fun. I had a great time. Learned some Somali songs. I tried khat.

What is khat? That looked really interesting in the movie.

Peters: It’s a leaf, a plant. I guess you could say it’s like a coco leaf, but it’s not exactly that. It’s really bitter and it dries out your mouth immediately. Which is why you have to drink sweet tea with it because it offsets that. All around it was just a huge learning experience.

How do you think the Somalians will perceive this movie?

Abdi: I think it will be perceived really well. This movie talks about a lot of stuff that Somalians who grew up here [in the US] don’t know anything about. It’s a really motivational story, to follow your dream. That goes with every aspect of life, whatever your dream might be. I love this style of movie. I’m that type of person. I have a goal. I might get myself in trouble while I’m doing it but that’s all I see. I also had experience as a translator. I went back to Somalia in 2015, right after Captain Phillips, with a military agency, and they brought me in a similar car. I had the guards behind me, and the whole time, it was like the movie but in real life. I even interviewed some pirates, well not pirates, fisherman. So I did something close to what Jay did and what was in this movie. I think that experience helped me.

What message do you hope viewers will take away from this?

Buckley: To get a better, more well rounded understanding not of just the piracy, which was a just a small fraction of it, but of the love, compassion and humor. The love of our culture that they universally have. And I hope people find acceptance. The refugee bans that are happening today, it’s stunning, depressing. As an American – and we were all refugees at some point – the fact that Barkhad is here, doing this interview, but then is told he can longer be in this country, that’s a real tragedy.

The Pirates of Somalia is currently playing in theaters.

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