When Jeffrey Pugliese heard a Hollywood team was making a movie about the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, and wanted to portray him in it, he was taken aback.
“What, me?” he says. “I’m just an average guy, y’know. It was humbling.”
Pugliese, a Watertown, Massachusetts, police sergeant who helped track the bombers, is one of scores of police officers, FBI agents and innocent bystanders whose stories come alive in “Patriots Day,” a riveting, fact-based film from director Peter Berg, starring Mark Wahlberg and hitting area theaters Jan. 13.
Though Wahlberg’s character, a Boston police sergeant, is an amalgam of several officers on duty that day, many of his co-stars — like J.K. Simmons, as Pugliese — play real people.
“I had no prawblem — they tried to keep it as accurate as pawssible,” says Pugliese, in the quintessential Boston tone that Simmons and other actors on set had to master.
Pugliese spent days on set, consulting with Berg about police procedure, and multiple screenwriters conducted scores of interviews with other investigators and real-life witnesses.
“It was like wading through an ocean of information,” says co-screenwriter Joshua Zetumer. “There could be 10 movies made about this case.”
Co-screenwriter Matt Cook, who served two combat tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, credits Berg with keeping everyone focused.
“He was laser-guided in what he wanted to say with the movie, which is about love, and about first responders, police, the city of Boston, coming together,” says Cook.
The film incorporates actual footage of the bombing, but the crew also painstakingly re-created locations in and around Boston. For Pugliese’s scenes, they used the sergeant’s own house, minivan and — yes — those are his meatballs and sauce simmering on the stove. (The crew, he says, kept helping themselves and there was almost none left by the end of the shoot.)
Each of the actors met with their real-life counterparts. Simmons and Pugliese spent some 60 to 80 hours together on- and off-set, says Pugliese, who considers the actor a friend. “My wife saw the movie and said, ‘Boy, does he have you down — he even walks like you,’ ” says Pugliese, laughing.
Respect for the real people who risked their lives was paramount. As Cook explains, “We hope people around the country see this movie and walk out feeling . . . more compassion for each other — a real sense of community.”