'Patriots Day': 14 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations

7:00 AM 1/13/2017

by Kara Haar

Mark Wahlberg produces and stars in the film about the tragic bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

On April 15, 2013, the tragic bombings during the Boston Marathon shook the country.

Patriots Day —  which is expanding wide Friday around the U.S. — focuses on the events of the Boston Marathon bombings as well as the aftermath and pursuit of the culprits. While star Mark Wahlberg, a Boston native, plays a role that's a composite of three police officers involved in the incident, many of the other actors, from J.K. Simmons to Kevin Bacon to John Goodman, portray real-life heroes, survivors and villains.

Below, read more about the real-life inspirations and how the actors who portrayed them prepared for their roles.

  • Sgt. Tommy Saunders, portrayed by Mark Wahlberg

    Although several real-life individuals are depicted in the film, star Mark Wahlberg plays a fictional character named Sgt. Tommy Saunders, who's a composite of three Boston police officers who worked the Boston Marathon and aided in the manhunt that followed. 

    Wahlberg, who grew up in Dorchester and attended high school just a few blocks from the bombing site, at first had qualms about tackling such a touchy subject.

    "Boston is such a small community," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "Everybody knows somebody who was affected. It's a sensitive subject. I was really on the fence and kind of reluctant to commit. Then I realized, they're going to make the movie anyway; I might as well be in control of it."

    He added that he felt the weight of getting the story just right — maybe more than anyone involved with the film.

    "All of it was difficult," he said "Talking about it, making it. It's not like you could detach at any point. It was on my shoulders as the face of this film. I pride myself on being from Boston. I like being able to go home and being welcomed with open arms."

    Director Peter Berg has said he's grateful for having a native Bostonian assist in accurately portraying the tragedy. Berg told Boston Magazine: “It’s clear to me that he not only deeply loves Boston, but also carries Boston with him wherever he is. His inner circle, his best friends — the original entourage, the really great guys he’s known since he was six or seven years old growing up in Dorchester — these are the people with him every day. I think that he felt that this story was important to tell and that he felt that he should be a part of it.” 

  • Watertown Police Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese, portrayed by J.K. Simmons

    J.K Simmons plays Jeffrey Pugliese, a Watertown police sergeant involved with the takedown of one of the bombers. During the shootout, Pugliese tackled Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the ground, saving the lives of those around him.

    In preparing for his role, Simmons visited Watertown to meet with Pugliese. Asking many questions about the events that took place, Simmons also took notes on his personality and physical characteristics. The actor even made a replica of the leather jacket Pugliese wears and grew a mustache to best resemble him. 

    Pugliese and his wife stayed in a hotel for a few days while the crew filmed at his real home. A consultant on the film, he praised Berg and Simmons. "The director, Peter Berg, I've gotten to know pretty well — he's a really nice guy," Pugliese told Wicked Local, which covers eastern Massachusetts. "And J.K. Simmons, the guy portraying me, he's a really nice guy too. Down-to-earth people." 

  • Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, portrayed by John Goodman

    John Goodman plays Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. Prior to filming, Davis was asked to be a consultant during the film’s production. Hesitant to jump on board, it was the efforts of Wahlberg, Berg and the producers to portray the tragedy in the most accurate and respectful way that captured Davis’ attention. 

    Davis told the Boston Globe, “They really did get an enormous amount of detail into the film. ... It’s really well done.” Davis played an important and active role during filming, offering up additional details to make the film’s portrayal of events as accurate as possible.                

    Although an acclaimed, experienced actor, Goodman felt extra pressure with his role in Patriots Day.

    He told CBS News, “I put so much pressure on myself, and we had such a big job to do, that I had to just forget about it and focus on what we were doing.” 

    Goodman and Davis met while the actor was rehearsing Davis’ signature Boston accent. Davis detailed their first meeting as a nerve-wracking experience for Goodman: “I tapped him on the back and he said, ‘I can’t do this with you here, I just can’t do it.'” 

    Davis ultimately says he's happy with Goodman’s portrayal and proud of the film — and his involvement with it — as a whole. “Mark has an incredible commitment to the community, to the city," he said. "And so when you combine him with Peter Berg’s sort of human side of telling a story and then Michael Radutzky’s, you know, hard-hitting journalist, that combination was incredible. They got real good content in this – real facts, behind-the-scenes stuff.”

  • FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers, portrayed by Kevin Bacon

    Kevin Bacon takes on the role of lead FBI agent Richard DesLauriers, who oversees the investigation into who's behind the bombings. The role of an officer is not unfamiliar to Bacon. He played a Boston official in Black Mass and an ex-FBI agent in the Fox TV series The Following. 

    "Richard DesLauriers worked tirelessly as one of the key figures in an impossibly sophisticated investigation, and Kevin Bacon possesses the intelligence and empathy to portray him," Berg said when Bacon was announced for the role.

  • Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, portrayed by Alex Wolff

    Alex Wolff plays Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers responsible for the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Right away, Wolff has said, he knew he looked the part. He agreed the resemblance was clear. But he was hesitant to take on the role of a Kyrgyzstani citizen who was convicted of killing three and injuring so many. 

    While researching Tsarnaev, he came across a video of the then-19-year old brother talking to his young niece. 

    “In this video, he was talking to her saying, ‘Give me a kiss, give me a kiss.’ I thought he was a interesting guy and I wanted to play the parts that I could tap into,” Wolff told Awards Daily.

    When first getting handed the script, Wolff wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into. When he first received the script, there was no mention of the role being that of Tsarnaev. The character was described as a “hip-hop-inspired kid, obsessed with his older brother and had dark features.” Feeling as if he could relate to the character, Wolff said, “I thought it was perfect for me.”

    When filming, Wolff couldn’t help but compare the Boston kinship to his New York home. 

    “I learned that Boston was the same," Wolff said. "Its community is close, and it showed me how strong they were. It’s such an awesome place where the people are cool.”

  • Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, portrayed by Themo Melikidze

    Themo Melikidze takes on the role of the other bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died while being pursued by authorities a few days after the bombing.

    Melikidze has acknowledged that his role would be a "challenge," as he told JoBlo.com. “It needed a lot of preparation. It needed a lot of resource … a lot of attention and also respect for the people both surrounding the events.” 

    Although Melikidze had the task of portraying a terrorist, he was able to gain some insight on who Tsarnaev was prior to the tragedy.

    “There is not really a way of going into this character’s state of mind, but I had a chance to meet with John Allen, his boxing coach who trained him for five years, and he gave me vital information, incredible information of who this guy really was," Melikidze said. "And to think that he had a wife, a kid, a younger brother, a family, basically, and then he did such a horrible act — it’s unthinkable.” 

  • Katherine Russell, portrayed by Melissa Benoist

    Melissa Benoist plays Katherine Russell, the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Russell has not been shy about expressing her dislike over the film’s portrayal of her. 

    Her lawyer, Amato DeLuca, told the Associated Press that the film suggests she had an inkling of the attack prior to the marathon and failed to cooperate with authorities in their investigation. DeLuca said: “I have no objection to them making a movie. … What I quarrel with is the license they take in portraying Katie as someone who did not cooperate and try to save lives. She did everything she could." 

    Russell has not faced any charges, and her lawyer argues that she had no suspicions prior to the bombings. 

    When discussing her role, Benoist, known for starring in the TV series Supergirl, paid no attention to the controversy surrounding her character. She told The Denver Post: “Obviously, it is a very controversial and much more provocative character than I’ve been playing in the past couple of years. But I just think it’s really intriguing and enigmatic and very relevant subject matter. It’s something that happens in current events more often than a lot of us want to admit. I wasn’t afraid of anything having to do with my image because I think it’s a really important story to tell. I wanted to be a part of that in any way that I could be.” 

    Unlike the other actors, Benoist did not get to meet her real-life counterpart. She said, "Everyone on the film that had a real-life counterpart got to interact with them and have conversations or work very closely with them, and obviously that was not something I could do. But a lot of what Peter Berg said to me while we were on set was, 'I don’t want to know what she’s thinking – because we don't.' So that was a lot of what I drew from, that she was just very concealed and we don’t really know a lot about her. It was a challenge."

  • Survivors Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, portrayed by Christopher O'Shea and Rachel Brosnahan

    Christopher O’Shea and Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) took on the roles of then-newlywed couple Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky. During the Boston Marathon, both Downes and Kensky were standing near the finish line when the bombs went off. While both survived, they each lost limbs as a result of their injuries. 

    The couple jointly told Boston Magazine of their portrayals in the film and the actors who played them: “Rachel and Christopher were so sweet together. They brought so much talent to their roles, but they were also truly interested in our own experience. We feel a strong obligation to be representatives of the larger survivor community. The filmmakers somehow found us and asked us to be a part of this, but we hope our story is somewhat emblematic of each survivor’s story.”

    Brosnahan told Movie Extras of how she tread carefully with her role, “We’re all trying so hard to tell their story with as much sensitivity and respect, because it is something that we don’t and will never understand, and I think they’ve been so incredibly generous and courageous to share that with us and with the world."

  • Dun "Danny" Meng, portrayed by Jimmy O. Yang

    Dun "Danny" Meng is another real-life person whose experience during the Boston Marathon bombing was dramatized in the film. A 26-year-old Chinese entrepreneur, Meng was held at gunpoint by bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev for 90 minutes. His Mercedes was carjacked by the bombers, and it wasn’t until they stopped at a gas station, and one of the brothers left the car, that Meng would make his escape. Meng was able to quickly run into a gas station across the street and alert the authorities. 

    To accurately portray the haunting ordeal Meng had to endure, Yang said he and Meng spoke over the phone and met in person. 

    “I started working on the film and doing my homework and research about a month before going to Boston to film, and then maybe a week before going to Boston I got [Dun Meng's] number from production,” Meng told The Hollywood Reporter

    Although trying to convey the character as best as he could, Yang placed more importance on respecting Meng’s traumatic ordeal.

    “We made sure we were very careful at first. I mean, it's a very traumatic event. I wanted to make sure we were respectful, like not conjuring up negative emotions and stuff. But we really hit it off. He's an immigrant, I was an immigrant. We've got a lot of similarities and the same interests so we got to talking. ... He was just so willing to share. Even in Boston, I was bugging him. He was willing to share even the really detailed emotional stuff like what he was thinking at the time and the emotions he was going through at the time. So that was all extremely helpful to help me add depth to that character.” 

  • Officer Sean Collier, portrayed by Jake Picking

    Jake Picking plays MIT patrol officer Sean Collier. Three days after the marathon, Collier was shot and killed during a shootout with the bombers on MIT’s campus. 

    Picking and the crew filmed inside the real-life home of Collier, even dedicating a moment of silence for the fallen officer. According to WCVB, the production crew said, “It is an honor and privilege to be in his home on one Boston day, and they hope to honor his memory and sacrifice."

  • Gov. Deval Patrick, portrayed by Michael Beach

    Michael Beach took on the role of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. The Boston Marathon bombing occurred near the end of his second term in office. 

    “I cannot overstate how much anxiety I had about whether we were at the end of the crisis or in the middle," Patrick said, recalling his experience dealing with the bombings, during a talk at Harvard. He recounted that it was a frightening decision to shut down the city and ask Boston residents and surrounding communities to remain indoors, while law enforcement officers searched for the men behind the bombing.

    “Ordinary citizens stepped up. Folks showed so many acts of kindness and grace,” Patrick told Boston.com of the aftermath. 

    Prior to and during filming, Beach and Patrick formed a close relationship, with Patrick sharing personal details of his life with Beach. “He told me a lot of things that are not in the film about what he was going through personally and the decision that he had to make," Beach told entertainment website We Got This Covered. "He’s the governor, but he’s just a regular human being as well, doing his normal business and how it turned everything around from what he was expecting to do.”

    During filming, Beach developed great admiration for the former governor and how he was able to demonstrate great leadership under stress.

    “I think the added pressure on him as the governor of the state and the decisions he had to make is unique, obviously, and him telling me how pressurized it was to make some of those decisions. … (Shutting down the city) was a needed move, a smart move, because when you find out that they’re trying to move to New York, you can’t allow these monsters to go to another state and go and do what they were doing in Boston. ... He’s a strong man. A very strong man.” 

  • Superintendent William (Billy) Evans, portrayed by James Colby

    James Colby portrays William (Billy) Evans, who ran the Boston Marathon and later found out about the bombings while taking a bath in his tub. In charge of the Bureau Field of Services, he assisted in hunting down the bombers and the capturing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He was the first man to approach the scene where Tsarnaev was hiding under a boat.

    When Colby was asked about Evans he told Boston Magazine: “He’s a good guy. I’ve met him. He’s come up to the office. I’ve given him a tour. And believe it or not, he’s been down to the Shamrock with all of my brothers, and we had a couple of beers together.”

  • Kelby Turner Akin as Officer Dic Donohue

    Kelby Turner Akin plays Officer Dic Donohue, who was shot in his right leg during the pursuit of the two bombers. He almost died after losing a large amount of blood. The gunshot in his right leg severed his right femoral artery and nicked the right femoral vein. Donohue needed immediate surgery and blood donations to have a chance of survival. Doctors had to perform therapeutic hypothermia, in which they cooled Donohue's body to prevent further brain damage or fatal injuries. It took Donohue two months of rehabilitating in the hospital and two more years to grow stronger and healthier.

    In May 2015, Donohue returned to work and was promoted to sergeant. He later retired and began teaching criminal justice at a Boston college and serves as an active ambassador for the American Red Cross.