Mark Wahlberg and his frequent filmmaking collaborator, director and screenwriter Peter Berg, have often worked together on fact-based features — including “Lone Survivor” and this year’s “Deepwater Horizon” — but the pair’s latest take on a true life story proved to be a very different experience for both actor and filmmaker. In Berg’s “Patriots Day,” the horrific events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its bloody aftermath unfold on the big screen, bolstered by deep-dive reporting, actual surveillance footage and a very large cast of characters, many of them based on real people.
At a luncheon held in the film’s honor today at Manhattan’s Lotos Club, Wahlberg, Berg, co-star Kevin Bacon and producers Michael Radutzky and Scott Stuber participated in a half-hour chat moderated by film journalist Dave Karger that focused on how hard it was to bring the film to the big screen, the extraordinary amount of research that went into crafting it and why the film hasn’t totally eased Wahlberg’s Bostonian heart.
“It was extremely difficult. I remember the next day landing in Boston, and everything just felt and seemed different,” Wahlberg said when asked how the bombing effected him. “It’s such a small community, so everyone knew someone who was directly effected by this. I find it more and more difficult to speak about it now,”
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He continued, “Pete and I have made movies about real events in the past, and it almost becomes easier once you’ve made the movie, but this particular story, it’s becoming more and more difficult to talk about after the actual shooting [of the film]. It still gives me hope and makes me feel extremely optimistic about the future. But, yeah, it’s difficult.”
Part of that difficulty might be due to Wahlberg’s dedication to getting the story right. In the film, Wahlberg plays an amalgamation of different Boston detectives, though the film’s script and the actor’s performance pull mainly from two different detectives, both of whom he felt a tremendous responsibility to play respectfully. But that wasn’t even the half of it.
“There were the two people I was responsible for portraying in the movie, but there was an entire city that was holding me personally responsible and accountable if this movie wasn’t handled with the proper care and sensitivity,” Wahlberg said.
Although Berg and Wahlberg have plenty of experience making movies about people placed in horrific situations, “Patriots Day” presented them with the unique opportunity to tell a true story stepped in risk and danger that didn’t center on people who were used to that sort of thing, the kind of people they’ve previously chronicled in their earlier films.
“In the case of ‘Patriots Day,’ this was us. These were people who had absolutely no experience in law enforcement or military,” Berg said. “Just good old folks who were there to see a marathon and have fun and enjoy a beautiful day. And they got attacked viciously, and they weren’t prepared for it. It was different, and it was harder.”
Berg may not be Bostonian by birth — although Wahlberg did announce that he was now an honorary one, a tough gig to snag — he also admitted to feeling a different kind of pressure to make “Patriots Day” as respectful and real as it could possibly be.
“This film, for me, was by far the most intense experience of my career,” Berg said. “To go into an environment like [Boston] three years after such a horrific act of terrorism and met people who are still reeling from those emotional scars and still, in many cases, deeply in the grief process was humbling and very inspiring. [It] was something that made me get up a little bit earlier every morning, stay up a little bit later and kept me on the phone with Mark at 4 in the morning because I was aware of his intense focus and [the] pressure.”
He added, “It’s definitely been the project of my lifetime.”
Born and bred in Boston, Wahlberg felt particularly attuned to the expectations of his hometown, and he also knew they were counting on him to deliver something honest and emotional.
“When they heard that I was going to be kind of the face of this movie, they were relieved, because they knew now that I was the guy to go and get if it didn’t turn out the way they expected,” he added with a laugh. “That was an enormous amount of pressure, but I take great pride in coming from Boston, I take great pride in how the people of Boston responded. It was nice for the world to get to see what Boston Strong really means.”
“Patriots Day” will open in limited release on December 21.