It was just one day after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings that Mark Wahlberg traveled back to his Massachusetts hometown. Three years later, the actor says he’s profoundly changed by the inspirational story of the city and its survivors, which he depicts in his new film, Patriots Day.
“The term hero is redefined for me, that’s for sure,” Wahlberg told PEOPLE Wednesday evening at the Boch Center, where the film held its Boston premiere. “Growing up in Boston, even if you don’t have a lot, you have sports heroes to hang your hat on, and they give you joy and help you through tough times. But to see that from all walks of life, it redefines the term hero.”
Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes are two of the real-life heroes whose story Wahlberg depicts in the film. The young married couple, both of whom lost legs in the bombings (Kensky went on to have her surviving leg amputated as well) also walked the red carpet, alongside their assistance dog, Rescue.
Joining Wahlberg was his mother Alma (who casually picked the lint off her son’s suit as she stood beside him) as well as the film’s director, Peter Berg, and several members of the Boston Police Department and FBI, who captured surviving terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after a manhunt that shut the entire city down. In the film, Wahlberg plays fictional Boston police officer Tommy Saunders.
But with the film’s premiere comes the question of whether it’s too soon after the horrific events to put the story on the big screen — a hot-button issue in Boston, where the tragic events still haunt many. But instead, Wahlberg maintains it’s “not soon enough.”
“These things continue to happen,” Wahlberg said of terrorist attacks. “Even just in Cairo on Sunday — we’re coming together, and that’s standing back up and standing united. Their idea of victory is having us hide in our homes. The real decision, and the most positive thing about it, is how my community responded. The strength, the courage they showed — to be able to share that with the world is something.”
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Director Peter Berg echoed Wahlberg’s sentiments, saying he hopes audiences in Orlando and Paris and New York take away the same thing as those in Boston.
“At the end of the day, this is a film about the power of community, the power of love,” said Berg. “It is an extremely shining example of just how good we can be.”
And while the story is extremely emotional, it’s the strength and resolve of Bostonians that Wahlberg hopes audiences identify with the most.
“I’m excited for people to see. It’s extremely emotional, but I think the joy and the pride is going to triumph,” Wahlberg told PEOPLE. “You’re going to hear lots of chants of ‘Boston Strong’ at the end of this film.”
Patriots Day, co-starring John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan, opens in select cities December 21, and everywhere January 13.