Interview: Alex Wolff on Auditioning for Patriots Day – “I knew in the back of my mind, if it comes around, I’m going to be the guy.”
Peter Berg’s latest movie, Patriots Day is about the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 that killed three people, and injured over 200 others. The bombs were placed inside backpacks and exploded 12-seconds apart as runners approached the finish line. The bombers responsible for the attack were 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tamerlan would die of gunshot wounds, and a tense search for Dzhokhar ensued in the town of Watertown, Massachusetts.
Patriots Day stars Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and Michelle Monaghan. It focuses on the lead-up to the events that took place that April, and the subsequent manhunt. I recently caught up with actor Alex Wolff who plays the younger Tsarnaev brother. Wolff was on the set of Jumanji, about to wrap.
Alex Wolff remembers what he was doing when the Boston Marathon bombings happened. He remembers what he was doing in 2013, and recalls watching the chase, and seeing the pictures on the news.
Wolff also recalls how he and his family received text messages saying how uncanny his resemblance was to terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and he thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until Wolff saw Dzhokhar on the cover of Rolling Stone that, “I knew in the back of my mind, if it comes around, I’m going to be the guy.” Wolff says of the 19-year-old Boston student who went on to become one of the two Boston Marathon bombers.
A few years later, Wolff received a script about the Boston Marathon. He says when he got the screenplay, there wasn’t a mention of Tsarnaev by name, but rather as a “hip-hop inspired kid, obsessed with his older brother, and had dark features.” Wolff says, “I thought it was perfect for me.” He adds that having an older brother himself made it easy for him to relate to the role that he was about to audition for. “I could relate to wanting to please my older brother.”
Wolff Googled the Boston Marathon bombing and realized he was going to be auditioning for the role of Tsarnaev. He says, “I formed a whole character. He [Tsarnaev] reminded me of kids who I grew up with. He idealized the American dream, sleeps around, talks with hip-hop lingo, and wanted to make money.” Wolff adds that while he was researching Tsarnaev, he found a video of him 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 said.
When it came to audition, he went in with a nerf gun and met Themo Melikidze who plays Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Melikidze was auditioning for the older Tsaranaev brother, and the two hit it off immediately. They immediately started talking about hip-hop music, and they started boxing around. Wolff says, “At one point, I picked up the nerf gun, pointed it and locked eyes with Mark Wahlberg.”
Wolff got the part of the younger Tsarnaev brother, and Meikidze got his part. One of the key scenes in the film is the shoot-out scene at a climax of the manhunt to capture the brothers. “We shot that scene for a week.” He says. “Peter (Berg) made it so easy to get through. He’s one of the best directors out there.” Continuing, Wolff says, “He is actor-centric because he was an actor himself. He doesn’t yell cut and whisper notes, he keeps it rolling and yells tougher and harder.”
Wolff says he spoke to several police officers who were present and their insight proved invaluable for his work on that scene.
Filming Patriots Day proved to be an educational experience for Wolff. He draws comparisons to New York, where he was born, and says, “New York is similar, even though it’s a big city, it’s tight and there are neighborhoods that are closely knit.” He adds, “I learned that Boston was the same. Its community is close, and it showed me how strong they were. It’s such an awesome place where the people are cool.”
Wolff has completed work on a few upcoming releases including; The House of Tomorrow, Jumanji, and My Friend Dahmer, in which he plays Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school friend Derf, who see the friendship deteriorate as Dahmer slowly transforms into a serial killer.
Patriots Day is on limited release.