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A Real-Life Take on 'Captain Phillips'

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LAKEWOOD RANCH, FL -- When the new Tom Hanks movie "Captain Phillips" opens next month, Ken Quinn will be in a unique position to critique it.

After all, he lived it.

Quinn, a Lakewood Ranch resident and father of two young boys, was second mate on the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama cargo ship captained by Hanks' titular character that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Quinn received a hero's welcome after he and his crewmates escaped and returned home, making the rounds on the national TV news circuit and being honored with a parade down Lakewood Ranch Main Street.

Four years later, the unassuming Quinn is still sailing and still doesn't quite see what all the fuss is about.

"When you work the job, you know there's all sorts of stuff that can happen," Quinn said.

Except what happened hadn't occurred on a U.S. ship in 200 years.

Quinn was about a month into a four-month stint at sea when a group of armed Somali pirates came aboard his ship as it was on its way to Mombasa, Kenya.

The ship's 19-member crew thwarted the hostile takeover by locking themselves in the steering gear room for more than 10 hours and later overpowering some of the pirates. Capt. Richard Phillips gave himself up as a hostage so that the pirates would leave his crew and ship alone. Phillips was freed by U.S. Navy SEALS following five days of captivity in a lifeboat.

Phillips wrote a New York Times best-selling book that served as the basis for the new movie, which debuts nationwide Oct. 11. Academy Award nominee Paul Greengrass ("United 93," "The Bourne Ultimatum") directed.

Veteran actor Corey Johnson portrays Quinn in "Captain Phillips," and the two have traded emails since the cast began filming off the coast of Malta in a container ship loaned to them by Maersk.

Johnson considers himself lucky to be again portraying one of "an elite group of people" -- he starred in "United 93" as Louis J. Nacke II, one of the passengers who died on the hijacked flight that crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, near Shanksville, Pa.

"I can't possibly, possibly, possibly do justice to what he did," Johnson said via phone from Los Angeles. "What we do (as actors) is easy. What he did is hard."

Quinn and his wife, Zoya, were given tickets to the movie's Sept. 27 premiere at the New York Film Festival and are flying up to attend a showing at Lincoln Center and an after-party at the swanky Harvard Club of New York.

Johnson said he's looking forward to meeting the man he portrays. "He's something special," Johnson said of Quinn. "I'm dying to meet him because he's a barrel of laughs and a lot of fun."

Quinn has watched the trailer for the movie and said he can already see the filmmakers have taken some small liberties in portraying the takeover.

"It should be a good movie, but it won't be exactly what happened to us," Quinn said.

Quinn admires Johnson's work and looks forward to his performance, even though it's not Richard Gere, his choice when reporters asked him back in 2009. And he thinks Hanks will do a good job portraying Phillips, especially based on Hanks' turn as a man stranded on a deserted island in 2000's "Castaway."

"Now he's going to be stranded on a lifeboat with three Somalis with AK-47s," Quinn said.

In the meantime, Quinn's just enjoying quiet time at home with his family, including spending as much as he can with sons, Jason, 7, and Justin, 4. He recently completed a year-long stint aboard the Sealand Racer in Northern Europe and isn't sure of the next time he'll ship out. He's also not sure if he'll let the boys see the PG-13 movie yet, either, since it "probably has swear words" and they don't really understand what their dad went through, anyway.

Quinn said he and most of the guys he sailed with on the Alabama are still at it -- only a few have retired since the harrowing ordeal.

"It's a job," Quinn said.

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Check out our "Captain Phillips" slideshow.

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