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Oscar nominations sprinkled with Minnesota connections

L-r, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Mahat Ali in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks.1 / 2
Barkhad Abdi (front) in a scene from the film, "Captain Phillips". Photo: Columbia Pictures2 / 2

St. Louis Park natives Joel and Ethan Coen may have been shut out of the Oscars, but there were still a few Minnesota connections among this year's nominees.

The biggest is, of course, Barkhad Abdi, who went from working in his brother's cellphone store in Minneapolis to co-starring in a movie with Tom Hanks, who was nominated for best supporting actor for that film, "Captain Phillips." He had never acted but heard about local auditions for "Captain Phillips" from a TV advertisement and, as he told the Pioneer Press, "They were coming so close. They were coming to my neighborhood. And it's Tom Hanks. So why not?"

Abdi said Thursday he couldn't get to sleep the night before the Oscar nominations announcement, so he stayed up until the announcement, just before 6 a.m. in Los Angeles.

"We started screaming up and down," said Abdi, 28, who watched the announcement with a buddy and then immediately called to tell his sister, Afifa, and the rest of his family in Minneapolis. Then, he said he did so many interviews that he lost his voice.

Abdi is getting to be a veteran on the awards circuit. He was a nominee at the Golden Globes Sunday night, where he was accompanied by his friend, casting director Debbie DeLisi, who discovered him at a casting call at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis.

"It was a good time," said Abdi of the Globes, where he met lots of famous people, his favorite being boxer Mike Tyson. Abdi was speaking by phone, in a tux, in the back of another limo, on the way to Thursday night's Critics Choice Awards, where he was also a nominee.

Abdi expects to return to Minnesota, at least for a while, early next month and said, "Minneapolis will always be home."

But, right now, Los Angeles is starting to feel pretty comfortable.

"I'm seeing agents and reading some scripts. I'll have to audition and the whole nine yards," said Abdi, who has an excellent calling card now that he can say he's an Oscar nominee. And, come March 2, possibly an Oscar winner.

"I don't know. I'm not thinking about winning. The way I feel, getting the nomination, I already won," said Abdi. "I'm having a wonderful day."

Other Minnesota Oscar connections include:

• Amy Adams, a Colorado native who earned her first taste of show biz success in mid-'90s productions at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and in the Minnesota-shot "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1998) was nominated for best actress for "American Hustle."

• Melisa Wallack, who was nominated for best screenplay for "The Dallas Buyers Club," is a native of Wayzata who ran a documents-management company in Los Angeles before she made the transition to screenwriting seven years ago.

One other thing that connects those three nominees: All were cited for movies that are based on true stories. "Captain Phillips" was inspired by the 2009 hijacking of an American ship by Somali pirates, "American Hustle" by the FBI sting operation known as ABSCAM, and "The Dallas Buyers Club" by the true story of a man, dying of AIDS, who went to illegal means to obtain experimental medicines.

Minneapolis-based producer Bill Pohlad's "12 Years a Slave" was nominated for nine Oscars, including best picture, which is awarded to a film's producers. Pohlad did not earn a nomination, though, because "12 Years" had seven producers but Oscar rules allow only five to be nominated per film.

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