Could a Real Corpsman Earn an Oscar Nomination for Her Role in ‘Captain Phillips’?


danielle-albert-captain-phillipsCaptain Phillips hit theaters this past weekend and I would bet you could read any one of the positive reviews and they’ll make reference to Tom Hanks‘ performance for his work as the real life captain of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by a crew of Somali pirates in 2009. The performance is one that builds, much like the narrative, to the crowning final moments and a scene where Hanks completely knocks it out of the park, but he’s not the only one.

WARNING: The rest of this post contains spoilers for the final moments of the film. Read on with caution if you haven not yet scene it.

The scene I’m referencing arrives as a bloodied Captain Phillips boards one of the Navy ships trailing the scene. He’s in complete and utter shock and is soon attended to by a Naval Hospital Corpsman. She begins asking him questions about how he feels, whether he knows his name and if the blood of the Somali pirates splattered all over his shirt is his. It’s the scene the entire two hours before it have led to and if it doesn’t work, the film doesn’t work. It works, and then some.

The Corpsman is played by Danielle Albert who tells Hampton Roads she wasn’t even aware of the story when she and the rest of the medical staff of the guided missile destroyer Truxtun were asked to come in on their days off as filming was to be taking place on the ship and some dangerous stunts were involved. She soon found herself opposite Hanks.

After makeup and hair did their work, the lights flicked on and director Paul Greengrass calls action. “My first take was terrible!” she told WTKR. “Tom Hanks came around the corner and I froze. I didn’t know what to do. It was terrible and I broke out in hives, and it was bad.”

Albert recalls Hanks sitting with her after she turned away crying, telling the director, “I can’t do this, guys. This isn’t working.”

As Albert tells it to Hampton Roads, “Look, it’s OK,” she recalls Hanks saying. “We all go through moments like this at one time or another in our acting careers. You’re fine. I just want you to react to how I’m acting. You do this every day. Just react.”

Three more takes and they had the scene and it worked so well Greengrass told the Tuxton’s executive officer, Cmdr. Andrew Biehn, more of his crew would be integrated into the film to add to the sense of realism, the main reason he had reworked the scene now featuring Albert after a Navy commander told him it wasn’t realistic.

For those of you that have put two-and-two together and realize I’m going to make a case for a potential Oscar nomination for Albert, I can already hear the pushback. She’s hardly in the movie! She’s not even acting! Blah, blah, blah is all I hear. Yes, her part in the film is small, but I’d argue without her performance, for as good as he is, Hanks’ performance wouldn’t be nearly as powerful, though if you watch the video below it’s clear it took two people to make the scene work as well as it did. Albert saying, “Tom Hanks acted like a real patient,” only speaks to how good his performance is as well.

As to whether or not she’s acting or just playing a part she’s played in real life time and time again, well that’s up to you. When I hear she froze in the first scene, crying and not sure she could continue, only to find her nerve shortly thereafter, I think it’s hard to argue it isn’t a performance. She was simply an actor, in that case, with the proper training to play a specific role. I don’t see it as any different than Glenn Close getting a nomination for Albert Nobbs, a character she’d played on the stage and won an Obie in 1982 or Cate Blanchett who was nominated for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a role she’d been nominated for prior.

Of course, realistically, no, Albert won’t be nominated as it would already mean edging out the likes of Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), June Squibb (Nebraska), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and/or Margo Martindale (August: Osage County) with plenty more beyond that. However, it’s a performance worth noting in what is most certainly one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film and of this year.

On a side note, it looks like Barkhad Abdi who plays the lead Somali pirate, Muse, in the film may in fact have a shot at a nomination. I guess that’s a little something to hang our hat on.

Photo credit to Danielle Albert via Hampton Roads