Though he’s best known for his work on “Silicon Valley” as Jian Yang, Jimmy O. Yang is proving he’s just as adept at dramatic work. In “Patriots Day,” which recounts the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Yang shines in the pivotal role of Dun “Danny” Meng. A student and app designer, Meng was in his black Mercedes-Benz when he was carjacked by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev three days after they detonated bombs at the marathon. They were on their way to New York when Meng escaped at a gas station and asked a clerk for help. Because he remembered his car’s tracking number by heart, he was then able to relay vital information to the police and aid in the capture of the brothers. Yang spoke to Variety about tackling the role.
Yang: “I got the audition with Shelia Jaffe, it was just on tape, and then I was called in to meet Pete. To be honest, I didn’t know Danny’s side of the story. I think I might have heard it in passing, but I really didn’t know until I read the script and started doing the research. I didn’t know they were on their way to Manhattan to possibly do more bombings. I didn’t know the details of his escape. If it wasn’t for this guy, who knows what would have happened?
“This is my first feature and my first real dramatic part. Comedy and drama are like two different sports; they both require athleticism but they’re different. I enjoy doing both and found this experience so rewarding. Especially getting to work with Pete and Mark and then getting to meet the real guy.
“I met Danny about two weeks before filming. I had asked for his number and we’d spoken on the phone. At first I was super careful and didn’t want to ask anything too deep or upsetting. So the first phone call was just me getting to know him, and it turned out we have a lot of stuff of common. We both speak Mandarin. We’re both big foodies. We’re both the same age. He’s literally the nicest guy.
“The funny thing is, he hadn’t watched ‘Silicon Valley’ yet but he’d seen me on ‘2 Broke Girls,’ which was my very first job. I only have two lines on that show but I guess there aren’t many Asian people on TV so he remembered me. It’s also one of the most popular shows in China.
“He made himself so available to answer all my questions. I was bugging the hell out of him. He even came to the set. Nobody will really catch this but in the scene where I’m talking to the girl at the pizza place, he’s an extra sitting right next to me at the next table.
“Each piece he gave me really helped with the character. We talked about his state of mind when he ran into that gas station, which is a pivotal scene. People wonder how he had the presence of mind in that moment but he’s a genius and his adrenaline was going. He had this mindset of ‘I’m safe, don’t worry, but you gotta catch them.’
“That’s my only scene with Mark and it was the first day I had ever met him. Mark is taking down the information and he’s just so focused and intense and draws you into the moment with him.
“I was so happy Danny and his fiancée came out for the AFI Fest premiere in Los Angeles. It was a great moment to have all of them there, people like [Boston Police Commissioner] Ed Davis and Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese. It was the first time I’d seen the movie and they brought them all out and Pete gave them a great shout out. He doesn’t like all this attention. Which makes it all the greater that his story is getting out there.”