Actor Jimmy O. Yang taps into immigrant experience to portray carjacking survivor in ‘Patriots Day’

Actor Jimmy O. Yang of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” knows what it’s like to be different.

Jimmy O. Yang (left) with Dun “Danny” Meng (right) in Boston. Yang portrays Meng in “Patriots Day,” which plays in theaters nationwide today. (Image courtesy of Karen Ballard.)

Born in Hong Kong to Shanghainese parents, Yang’s family came to America when he was in eighth grade. That experience of crossing international borders helped him relate to Dun “Danny” Meng, the carjacking victim he plays in “Patriots Day.” Meng was working at Cambridge startup and was held at gunpoint by Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He successfully got away and helped authorities locate the suspects.

“We’re both Chinese immigrants,” Yang said, who speaks perfect English along with Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese. “I came when 13. Danny came when he was 20. He had been in the country a few months when he got carjacked.”

Yang spent time with Meng to capture his Sichuan accent, with Meng pleased with his portrayal.

“I’ve seen the movie, it’s pretty real and close to what I experienced,” Meng said.

As the movie was filmed in New England, Yang got to enter Meng’s world, eating together at Gourmet Dumpling House and Yume Wo Katare. Meng is a developer for food delivery app RushRunner.

“It was my first time in Boston and I didn’t know anyone, so Danny was my ambassador,” Yang said. “It was so important to shoot in Boston. We got to see how strong people are in Boston.”

Until Yang was cast in “Patriots Day,” he was unaware of Meng’s role in apprehending the bombers.

“God knows what would happen if I got carjacked and someone pointed a gun at me; I would cry,” Yang said. “But he fought the whole time. He used his intelligence to buy him extra time to survive. It speaks to his intelligence and bravery.”

Meng was trapped with the Tsarnaev brothers in his black Mercedes Benz SUV for 90 minutes, until he escaped at a Cambridge gas station while Dzhokhar paid for gas and Tamerlan fiddled with the navigation. During the drive, Meng spoke about his outsider status in America, while praying to live.

“Each answer could have been life or death. It was like a chess match,” Yang said. “It was not just his legs running, his mind was running.”

Yang was impressed with Meng’s humility and quick thinking.

“He was a real everyday person, doing what he did,” Yang said. “It’s up to the audience to discover he’s a hero.”

“Patriots Day” opens nationwide today.

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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