updated 09/20/2013 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 09/21/2013 AT 10:25 AM ET
Tom Hanks is in shipshape.
In his upcoming film Captain Phillips, the actor portrays real-life hero Richard Phillips, the American captain lauded for his bravery after Somali pirates attacked his ship in 2009.
But Hanks, 57, believes there is often a fine line between what defines a hero and a coward.
“I think by and large a third of people are villains, a third are cowards, and a third are heroes,” the actor tells Parade. “Now, a villain and a coward can choose to be a hero, but they’ve got to make that choice.”
Captain Phillips is the true story of the man who helmed the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.
And yet the real Captain Phillips doesn’t consider himself a hero. He says he was just doing his job.
“You take the paycheck, you do the job,” Phillips tells Parade. “As captain, you get all the blame, pretty much, and in this situation all the recognition, when it was 19 of my crew who were involved in it also.”
Phillips even admits there have been other situations at sea that scared him more than the hijacking.
“I’ve had a fire in the engine room where I thought I had dead engineers. I’ve been through hurricanes,” he says. “I feel glad I didn’t lose any of my crew [on the Maersk Alabama]”.
The Oscar-winning Hanks, who was recently nominated for a Tony for his work in the play Lucky Guy, says the captain’s words simply demonstrate another aspect of heroism.
“I have never met someone who did a heroic thing who didn’t say, ‘I was just doing my job,’” the actor notes.
Hanks and Phillips hope moviegoers will take away some important lessons from the film, which opens Oct. 11.
“Rich puts this incredibly well,” Hanks says of Phillips. “You can always try to do something. Keep moving forward. Keep trying stuff.”
“Nothing is over until you give up,” adds Phillips.