Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Danielle Albert and Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Nathan Cobler got to shoot a powerful scene with Tom Hanks for the film 'Captain Phillips.' (Submitted photo)
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Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Danielle Albert’s only acting experience was playing a caterpillar in a fifth-grade play. Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Nathan Cobler had only acted “in front of the mirror.”
Yet there these two sailors were: alongside the legendary Tom Hanks, with cameras rolling.
They were enlisted last year to shoot a critical scene with Hanks for “Captain Phillips,” a movie out today that’s based on the harrowing experience of Richard Phillips, the captain of an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.
“Tom Hanks and I have an entire scene together,” Albert told Navy Times on Oct. 3, a day before she got to see a sneak preview of the film. “It was extremely scary. That’s a two-time Academy Award winner right there, and I’m just me.”
Albert, 24, and Cobler, 35, are both assigned to the destroyer Truxtun, a Norfolk, Va.-based ship that serves as a set piece in the film.
If you don’t already know who Phillips is or the Navy’s involvement in his saga, and you want to be surprised in the theater, stop reading — SPOILERS AHEAD.
The film is directed by Paul Greengrass, whose past credits include the Jason Bourne trilogy and “United 93,” which gave the account of the Flight 93 passengers who fought back against their hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001.
For “Captain Phillips,” Greengrass wanted authenticity, and he wanted scenes filmed on a real Navy ship. The sea service was, after all, critical to the mission.
Phillips spent five days as a hostage of pirates on a lifeboat after his ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked. He was beaten, tied up and threatened before he was rescued by Navy SEALs, who shot and killed three of the pirates.
After Phillips was freed, he was taken aboard the destroyer Bainbridge and then flown to the amphibious assault ship Boxer for a medical exam.
Truxtun wasn’t part of the rescue, but it served as a fine stand-in for filming, and there were plenty of sailors aboard willing to answer a casting call for extras. Movie shoots were held over about two weeks in June 2012.
'You want to be in this thing?'
Albert, being a corpsman, auditioned for the part of “doc” and landed it. Her scene comes during Phillips’ post-rescue medical exam.
Before the shoot, Greengrass peppered Albert with questions: “What wold you do in a real-life situation?” he asked. “How would you treat him? I want you to perform exactly how.”
Because the doc would normally have backup, producers called for another sailor. Cobler just happened to be on the mess deck.
“I just sat down with my food, when an officer came up and said, ‘You want to be in this thing? I need you in coveralls and a white shirt five minutes ago,’” Cobler said.
So Cobler arrived and Greengrass ordered an improvised scene with Hanks. Four takes and a couple hours later, they were done.
Though Albert hadn’t seen the film yet, she said she’s heard that the final 15 minutes mostly involve her and Hanks. Critics are already raving about that final scene, in which Hanks, as Phillips, is said to give some of the most raw acting of his career.
It was so intense, Albert admits to getting choked up.
“How he acted was how I reacted,” Albert said. “I was acting as if he was the real patient. It was absolutely fantastic. When he started crying, I started to tear up.”
Cobler gives big props to his co-stars.
“I vividly remember almost every detail of watching the scene unfold. Watching the interaction between Danielle and Tom Hanks, her not knowing what was coming next.
“Her natural medical training and bedside manner, and her compassion for her job — it just flowed.”
Cobler said he’s not sure how much of his part made the cut, but he and his family are excited to find out. Most of his work involved measuring vitals and relaying the data back to Albert, who got to pin on anchors and play a chief for the film.
In real life, Albert’s Navy career is expected to come to an end next year.
The Navy mom says she wants to spend more time with her 2-year-old. She’s not expecting to become a Hollywood starlet. But would she consider more acting?
“Are you kidding me?” she said. “If Tom Hanks wins an Oscar over my scene, heck, yeah!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.