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Oscars 2014: The nominee reaction that will move you to tears

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 4:26 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
  • Barkhad Abdi's life has been changed by his "Captain Phillips" role
  • Paul Greengrass' film was Abdi's debut
  • That role has brought in a flood of nominations, including an Oscar nod

(CNN) -- When actor Barkhad Abdi calls his "Captain Phillips" role life-changing, he means it literally.

Just a few months ago, he was known only as one of Tom Hanks' co-stars in the film based on the Somali hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009, but today, he's known far and wide as something else.

On Thursday, the newcomer was announced as a contender for the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role, a category that includes stars like Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Jonah Hill ("Wolf of Wall Street") and Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle").

"Captain Phillips," by the way, is Abdi's first role.

The 28-year-old, who was born in Mogadishu and moved to Minnesota as a teen, stumbled upon the opportunity while watching TV.

"I was at my friend's house in Minneapolis, just hanging out, and the local channel said that there was a casting call for a Tom Hanks film, (needing) Somali actors," he's told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "I always loved acting. It was something that I wanted to do. I would just shoot basic videos, but I wasn't in front of the camera."

Undeterred, Abdi went to the casting call at a Minneapolis community center and wound up landing the role of Somali leader Muse.

"He had this instinct for expression; he is a very interesting man," "Captain Phillips" director Paul Greengrass told The Hollywood Reporter. "His ability as an actor is rooted in personal experience and a sense of drama."

That ability has won over critics left and right and has earned Abdi nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Screen Actors Guild.

The Oscar nom "has been a life-changing experience for me," Abdi said in a statement. "I would like to congratulate all of the nominees this morning, especially the team from 'Captain Phillips' who were recognized. My performance is a testament to the vision of our incredible director Paul Greengrass, and our other Captain -- the generous, amazing, and inspiring Tom Hanks."

As for what he plans to do next, Abdi told Entertainment Weekly that he's just trying to let his newest accolade sink in.

"It's been a really wild ride," he said. "Every time, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and now it's an Oscar nomination. It's just a little too big to comprehend. But that's life. I'm just looking forward to the next adventure."