Peter Berg's Patriots Day would be an intense and compelling movie even if it weren't based on a true story. The fact that the events that transpire in the movie happened in real life only serve to make the story even more fascinating, and more engaging. One of the most intense moments in the entire film is the carjacking scene between Tsarnaev brothers (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff) and Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) towards the climax of the story. I recently had the opportunity to ask Themo Melikidze and Jimmy O. Yang about how they prepared for the sequence, and they revealed that on-set dynamic was as intense as it looked in the film. Yang explained:
It was tense. We made sure we didn't really hang out beforehand so the scenes would come off spontaneous and authentic. So during the car-jacking scene we worked a few days on that scene but the first day it was very tense. We stayed in character the whole time, even between takes. And the great thing about Pete is he always puts actor first. He kept the momentum going, he wasn't worried too much about setups or things like that. You know? He made sure our momentum was going, that the suspense was there, so the momentum just kept building during the day. It was a tough day of shooting.
It seems that the key to maintaining a legitimately antagonistic on-screen relationship is pretty simple. All you have to do is be antagonistic towards one another. Themo Melikidze and Jimmy O. Yang share some seriously dark dialogue exchanges in the tight confines of that car, and Peter Berg allowed them to work at their own pace to maintain the tension and intensity of the scene. By focusing more on their dynamic (both on-camera and off) over the composition of a given shot, Berg was able to let this confrontation play out naturally.
If you have seen Patriots Day, then you already know that their preparation paid off. The back and forth between those two characters very much plays out like a battle of wits, and the actors owe those outstanding results to their preparation and Peter Berg's patience as a director.
Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff obviously didn't have any real opportunities to consult with their characters before taking part in the film, but Jimmy O. Yang certainly did. I asked him what it was like to meet the real Dun Meng after his harrowing experience, and the insight the Silicon Valley actor received from his real life counterpart really helped him understand the stakes of the sequence, as well as the importance of every line of dialogue. Yang continued:
It's like a really mental chess match, Every answer that he gave was life or death for him. If he gave the wrong answer he would've gotten shot in the head.
Patriots Day is currently in theaters, so make sure to check it out!