In real life, one of the men from Richard Phillips' crew sued him after the incident. He claimed that Phillips was well aware of the danger in the Somali waters but went in anyway endangering all of them because he wanted to get the shipment to the harbor faster, even though the shipping company itself sent him a note advising him to avoid the Somali seas.
During an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air", Tom Hanks said the first time he met the actors playing the Somali pirates was when they started filming the pirates taking over the bridge. Paul Greengrass mentioned he did this intentionally to build up tension between the actors on board the ship and the actors playing the Somali pirates.
Prior to the bridge takeover scene, Paul Greengrass told Barkhad Abdi to "own it." Abdi lost sleep the previous night in anticipation of his first acting experience. The next day, his improvisation of the line "look at me, look at me, I'm the captain now" was the clip used in his awards considerations. After Abdi and his fellow actors dropped character, Tom Hanks' first words to Barkhad were "so, you're from Minnesota."
Tom Hanks claimed that all the interior lifeboat scenes were filmed inside a scale model that was actually on water at all times, resulting in him being vomited on by crew members in the cramped space.
None of the U.S. Navy crew members of DDG 103, U.S.S. Truxtun, including Corpsman Danielle Albert, earned additional/industry-standard pay for their roles. They were considered "on-duty" and received only their regular U.S. Navy pay.
None of the Somali actors in the film had ever acted before. An open casting call was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota which has the largest population of Somalis in the U.S. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali were chosen from over 700 people who auditioned.
When Chris Mulkey's character starts talking about him being in the Union and not being paid to deal with pirates, only Tom Hanks knew that Mulkey was going to start saying those things. The reactions of the rest of the cast was completely real and natural.
The irony of the entire incident was that the U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Bainbridge, had a historic connection with pirates, in that the ship is named for the Commander of the only ship lost to pirates in the Barbary Wars. William Bainbridge and his crews were captured by the Barbary pirates and spent nineteen months in the hands of the Pasha of Tripoli. For the U.S.S. Bainbridge, this was pay back for that incident.
The scene filmed in Combat Information Center, where a Sailor writes "Seat 15" backwards on the status board was improvised. Cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd noticed the Chief Petty Officer practicing writing backwards when not filming and asked him to repeat it for film. The act of writing backwards in the Navy has gone away in recent years since the onset of technology has put all available information on electronic status boards.
The negotiator, when asked what his name is, says he is "Nemo." Nemo, in Latin, means "no one" or "nobody." Captain Nemo is also a famous fictional character in two seafaring books by the French science fiction author Jules Verne: "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)" and "The Mysterious Island (1874)".
The original cut featured additional scenes with Catherine Keener, with her character discovering her husband's ordeal as it happened, and subsequently dealing with the press intrusion, and the efforts to rescue him. It was decided in editing, that the subplot pulled focus from the central scenario on the ship and was excised. Paul Greengrass debated cutting the film's introductory land-based scenes all-together, but decided to keep them intact, once it meant Keener would otherwise have been removed from the film entirely.
The U.S.S. Truxtun, playing the part of the U.S.S. Bainbridge, was actually out at sea during the filming of the scenes on the ship's bridge. It proved tactically challenging for the bridge watch standers, who actually had to navigate, due mainly to the production crew, who blacked out the windows to limit the light coming in from the outside. The watch standers were forced to navigate from the bridge wings.
Originally, Ron Howard was on board as the director in development stage for Captain Phillips (2013). Howard, though, would eventually swap feature film projects with Paul Greengrass, who was set to direct Rush (2013) during its developmental stage at the time. Howard came on to helm Rush (2013) instead, as Greengrass went on-board to helm Captain Phillips (2013).
Paul Greengrass said an interview that he saw the Somali pirates as criminals, not terrorists, and that he wanted the story to feature their desperation and willingness to do illegal and violent things as part of the hopelessness of life in Somalia.
This is the first time Tom Hanks has portrayed a real life person where the events took place in 2009. The second time was in 2016 when he portrayed the story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers. The events in this film took place in April 2009.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Tom Hanks claimed that the scene of Captain Richard Phillips' medical examination was improvised on the spot with real-life Navy Corpsman Danielle Albert, who was told to simply follow her usual procedure. However, Albert was so star-struck by Hanks that she froze during the first take. Hanks joked to her that he was supposed to be the one in shock for the scene. For the second take that was used in the film, Paul Greengrass claimed that he stood next to the Captain of the ship, watching with tears in his eyes, who told him "I've seen trauma, and that's what it looks like."
In real life, Richard Phillips never offered the pirates to take or shoot him instead of his crew. He was held in the lifeboat for five days and was psychologically tortured by the pirates who even conducted mock executions with him as the victim. He never got any pen or paper during his captivity in the lifeboat and never tried to write a farewell note to his family. He didn't ask to go outside to urinate before attempting his escape. He saw from his seat one of the pirates urinating outside and used that opportunity to jump the lifeboat. His reaction of absolute shock after being rescued by the SEAL team never happened in real life. He was hit by what happened only after he tried to go to sleep for the first time after being rescued.
In real life, the interior of the lifeboat reached temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius) for a majority of the ordeal. The film implies this, but not to the extent as the real event. Richard Phillips has described how uncomfortable he naturally is in extreme heat and how the heat added to the tension of the situation. In fact, during his attempted escape he noted that even though he knew he was swimming in shark infested waters, it was a great relief to temporarily escape the heat of the lifeboat.
During the climax when tensions escalate inside the lifeboat and Captain Phillips' life hangs in the balance, the music score ("The End" composed by John Powell) that plays during this sequence was also used in the climax of United 93 (2006), another historical drama/thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass.
When the actual SEALs flew in to rescue Captain Phillips, neither the commander of the operation, nor any other Navy officer ordered them to shoot the pirates. Instead, the sniper team leader acted under his own "emergency assault" authority to kill them as soon as all three could be taken out at the same time.