Actor Mark Wahlberg feels the spirit of hometown Boston for Patriots Day

With John Goodman and Kevin Bacon in key roles, the Hollywood star teams up again with director Peter Berg in a story of real-life bravery following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 12:35pm

Mark Wahlberg worried how his hometown crowd might react when he signed to star in and produce a movie about the Boston Marathon bombing.

The Dorchester neighbourhood native was sure he had a profound story to tell. But the 2013 tragedy, which killed three and injured 264 others, was still raw when he attended a Boston Celtics game two years later at TD Garden.

When his face flashed on the big screen, “people started going crazy,” Wahlberg recalls. “They started chanting ‘Boston Strong!, Boston Strong!’

“It was amazing,” he says. “Seeing that obviously reaffirmed my instinct of just how important it was to tell this story. And that it was just as important for me to be the guy to do it.”

Wahlberg and director Peter Berg would go on to unveil Patriots Day on December 21 last year in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, casting light on the marathon finishing-line bombings by homegrown, radicalised terrorist brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Patriots Day focuses on the real-life heroes who emerged from the events that transfixed the nation, from injured spectators such as newlyweds Jessica and Patrick Downes (played by Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O’Shea) to the authorities who worked together during the 105-hour manhunt to arrest Dzhokhar (Tamerlan died after a shoot-out), including FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman).

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Wahlberg, who portrays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a composite character based on three police officers, is quick with self-effacing jokes in an interview at the Four Seasons. He can mock the “lovely mane” of hair he’s grown for the upcoming Transformers: The Last Knight movie (“I stare at women now and think, ‘How do you do it?’ “).

Wahlberg grows serious as he recalls arriving in Boston the day after the bombing. “Coming from the airport, I had never seen the city like that, pretty much deserted,” he says. “It was just such an eerie feeling.”

Wahlberg wanted to be the one to show his city coming to life in adversity with the slogan “Boston Strong,” widely embraced in the hours after the attack.

“It was the enormous pride that I felt in seeing how people responded in the face of this tragedy. And those are my people,” says Wahlberg. “I wanted to show the world who they are and what ‘Boston Strong’ really means.”

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Director Berg, who has tackled true-life bravery with Wahlberg in Navy Seal drama Lone Survivor and oil-rig thriller Deepwater Horizon, says his star producer showed “a whole other gear” in his stomping grounds. Wahlberg used his local pull to dial up David Ortiz for a cameo honouring the Red Sox star’s famed Fenway Park speech, where the hitter proclaimed, “This is our [expletive] city.”

Ortiz’s defiant words and Patriots Day carry meaning for the whole nation, Wahlberg says.

“This is not just about Boston, it’s about all of us,” he says. “Bad things will continue to happen, But good people will always come together and fight for what’s right. And love will always win. I want everyone to hear that message.”

Patriots Day opens in Hong Kong on February 23