Amarillo native plays significant role in 'Patriots Day' film
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"Patriots Day" trailer
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
When it came time to film one of his most pivotal scenes in Patriots Day, Amarillo-born actor Dustin Tucker sort of tossed aside the script.
That's not something he's used to in his career as a professional stage actor in Portland, Maine, nor something he expected in his feature-film debut.
But it's exactly what director Peter Berg wanted.
"(The movie) was scripted, but he is very improvisational in style," Tucker said. "He was constantly, for everyone, off to the side while filming, talking to you, saying try this, do it again, do it again.
"When you're in the moment, it's so different from theater," he continued. "I was afraid at first. How am I supposed to be real with (Berg) talking in my ear like this? But by doing that, he was getting the response he wanted."
Tucker, 37, plays Steve Woolfenden in the film, which was released nationally Jan. 13 following a limited release in December. National Board of Review chose it as one of its top 10 films of 2016. (Here's my review.)
The movie — which stars Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Monaghan, John Goodman and Kevin Bacon — is a docudrama retelling of the 2013 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon; Woolfenden lost his left leg in the blast, which killed three and wounded more than 260 others. His young son, Leo, was in a stroller with his father but wasn't seriously injured. (Tucker can be seen around the 2:00 and 2:30 marks in the trailer above.)
Tucker — who graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy after attending St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Amarillo — was asked to audition for the film by a Boston casting service; the movie was made there, Weymouth, Mass., and other nearby towns.
"I debate whether I go to to those (audition calls) or not, but that one sounded like a pretty awesome chance," Tucker said. "I think the reason I got the job though, honestly, is I kind of look like the guy I'm playing. ... Just luck of the draw, actually."
Tucker — who's currently rehearsing for the one-man show Buyer & Cellar as the lone shopkeeper in the shopping mall in Barbra Streisand's basement — had done some smaller films before, but never one of this scale.
"The first day was so surreal. They don't film in order, and on my first day there, we started off with the bombing," Tucker said. "That was a nice introduction."
The finish line was recreated at Naval Air Station South Weymouth.
"I'm sort of this guy wandering around the lot, looking for someone who had one of those headpieces or something," Tucker recalled. "There's cops everywhere, but then I realize they're not cops, they're actors dressed as cops."
A crew member offered to take Tucker to his trailer — "I'm like, come on now, do you know who I am? I don't get a trailer!" — and then he was shuttled from there to the set with co-star Monaghan.
On set, Tucker saw first-hand the kind of directorial style that Berg has honed on such films as Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, another 2016 docudrama.
"He gives his actors some freedom to try things," Tucker said. "I don't have a lot of experience with other (film) directors, but I think that's pretty cool. He's a great guy."
That freedom came in handy when Tucker, who's now the father of a 6-month-old son, acted opposite young Lucas Thor Kelley, who played Leo.
"In my scenes with the little boy, a lot changed because of the way he reacted," Tucker said. "I had to speak to him like a real person. My lines to him were not necessarily all scripted."
Filming in the Boston area had other challenges — especially being around a populace still reeling from the attacks.
"I believe that there are a lot of people, especially in Boston, who are quite shaken up by the movie and don't like it, and I can certainly understand that. However, I think there were a lot of people that it was almost therapeutic for them," Tucker said. "Everyone was very, very careful. A lot of people in the movie are Bostonians, people who it was very personal for. A lot of them were nonactors. The nurses were nurses. A woman taking care of me in one scene was a nurse on the day of the bombing, who dealt with actual victims. Her husband is a cop who was in Watertown for the shootout (with surviving bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev).
"There were lots of tears. It was very emotional for lots of people."
Wahlberg, in particular, took pains to be sensitive, Tucker said.
"After they'd done the bombing and all the people were on the ground, people who were visibly shaken up and crying, Mark actually went over to a lot of people and checked in on them, saying, 'I know this is hard? Is there anything I can do?' He didn't have to do that," Tucker said.
With the differences in in working for film and working in the theater, Tucker said the experience was educational.
"The whole thing is just so different from theater in a fun way, in a way that I didn't think I could ever work in because I'm so used to theater, to broad comedy, to classical theater," said Tucker, who studied at Amarillo Little Theatre and Amarillo College Theatre School for Children as a child.
"I would never think that this was something I could ever do, and I may never work again in the film industry, but it was a great learning experience."
Patriots Day continues to screen at United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd., and Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive.