Dun Meng’s life changed in a flash in April of 2013, when the Northeastern University graduate student was hijacked by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers and Boston Marathon bombers.
Fearing for his life, Meng sat in the driver’s seat of his black Mercedes SUV and followed orders while elder brother Tamerlan held a handgun. Later ordered to move to the passenger seat, he waited for the opportunity to escape, and took off on foot until he reached the neighboring gas station.
“I never had any experience like that before,” Meng, now 30, tells PEOPLE.
Three years later, the events of that week in April 2013 were recreated on the big screen for the new film Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, which depicts the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt to track down the terrorists. In the film, Meng is portrayed by Silicon Valley star Jimmy O. Yang, whom he spoke to several times in English and Chinese before filming began.
“He really wanted to get into it,” Meng says. “He wanted to put himself in that situation where it fees like it was him.”
Meng also recalls his experience with the film’s producers and its director, Peter Berg, combing over his every word exchanged with the brothers. While Tamerlan remained cryptic, younger brother Dzhokhar seemed “just like a very young student. He was normal,” says Meng, even asking if he could plug his iPhone in the car.
And while the hijacking was terrifying, the first few days after the event were some of the hardest.
“I had a very difficult time with what happened,” Meng explains. “I wanted to feel like I’m safe. I didn’t want to go out of my room.”
It was with the help of others that Meng found the ability to return to normal life, relying on those around him to lend an ear.
“Fortunately, a lot of people helped me,” said Meng. “I had to talk to Red Cross people, they counseled me, and I reached out to my friends. My professors even, they helped me a lot and got me through it. It’s very important to talk to some people you trust.”
Survivors of the bombing, meanwhile, paid tribute to Meng’s bravery in the face of terror.
“I don’t know if we could have the bravery that he demonstrated,” bombing survivor Jessica Kensky said at a press conference for the film in Boston.
Now running his own startup company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Meng says that despite the horrific experience, he knew it was important to get on with his life.
“Whatever happened three years ago, it’s three years ago,” says Meng. “I still have to keep living my life.”
Patriots Day is in limited release now and expands nationwide on Jan. 13.