'Captain Phillips' star's story of struggle not rare in Hollywood

CNN
Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 3:49pm

Despite Barkhad Abdi's Academy Award nomination, his story has not been quite rags-to-riches.

Much is being made over a report from The New Yorker that the the "Captain Phillips" actor is having trouble making ends meet. He was paid $65,000 two years ago for the role, which earned him a best supporting actor nomination this season.

Abdi told CNN's Poppy Harlow that he didn't have an agent to even negotiate his salary (he does now).

"It was my first film," he said. "I didn't have many options."

Such a small salary for a performer in a multimillion-dollar blockbuster is not rare for a first-time actor. Brad Pitt reportedly received only $6,000 for his breakout role in the 1991 film "Thelma and Louise."

A few more established actors have chosen to forgo big paychecks in order to participate in a project. Jonah Hill accepted a paycheck of only $60,000 for his recent role in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"I would sell my house and give (director Martin Scorsese) all my money to work for him," Hill said. "This isn't what you make money for; you do '22 Jump Street,' you do other things, to pay your rent. But I would do anything in the world. I would do it again in a second."

Abdi's story may be drawing so much attention because of his hardscrabble backstory.

The Somali actor left his war-torn country as a youngster with his family and settled in Yemen. Years later, they immigrated to the United States, where they joined a large community of Somalis in Minneapolis.

He was driving for his brother's limousine company when he answered a casting call for Somali actors for the "Captain Phillips" film.

According to The New Yorker, Abdi is planning to move to Los Angeles and pursue his acting career. It reports that when he was in Los Angeles to do publicity for "Captain Phillips," "His clothes are loaners. Recently Abdi requested that he be allowed to stay at a commuter's hotel near LAX, to be closer to his friend, a Somali cabdriver from Minneapolis, who shuttles him around for free."

Hollywood can be a tough town for any aspiring actor but even moreso for a first-timer.

In the 1940s, disabled veteran Harold Russell won the best supporting actor Academy Award for his turn in "The Best Years of Our Lives." Roles were tough to come by for Russell, who lost his hands in a training accident, and he went on to earn a degree in business and write a book about his recovery.

There may be success ahead for Abdi, however. He is reportedly in talks to play South African running legend Willie Mtolo in the film "The Place That Hits The Sun." 

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