Like many Americans, Jake Gyllenhaal experienced a range of emotions upon seeing the close-up photo of a rattled Jeff Bauman being wheeled to an ambulance moments after the Boston Marathon bombing, the 2013 terrorist act that killed three people and injured hundreds.
“I knew Jeff from the photograph,” Gyllenhaal says. “Through the eyes of the media and objectivity, I had the feelings that many others had, including hurt, anger and confusion.”
But humor was actually what triggered his decision to play the 27-year-old survivor, who became a symbol of his city’s resilience, in the movie “Stronger.”
When Gyllenhaal picked up the script, he first noticed the wisecracking Bauman clan’s ability to laugh through their collective pain.
And when he started reading the Bauman’s book (written with Bill Witter) on which the movie is based, he says he was laughing at page three.
“Then you got into the difficult times, and I was still laughing,” he says. ”I was so moved by it and who he was– loving and lovable and thoughtful and complex and complicated. That’s really what got me, to be honest.”
To capture Bauman, who was among about a dozen people who lost limbs in the tragedy, Gyllenhaal observed and listened to the amputee for an entire year before film production began.
In an effort to get a better understanding of him, Gyllenhaal and director David Gordon Green even watched Bauman move around without his prosthetic legs.
Perspective — the fact that Bauman became “lower than most people” — is another issue the came up, as well as the fact his parents treated him like a child, overwhelming him with worry and love, says Gyllenhaal, who found shades of complexity in the role: “Besides the physiological aspect, you’re also navigating the emotional part of it, altogether making it more complicated and interesting.”
Today, Gyllenhaal has a deep respect for Bauman’s perseverance.
He says, “Here’s a man who thought, four years ago, laying in a hospital bed, that he wouldn’t be able to ever walk again; that he lost his life when he lost his legs. Now everyone will know how much strength, pain, courage, love and joy got him to stand up. I wish he were here with me, because you’d see him standing and walking around and making you laugh. That’s what inspires me about him, even to this day, and that’s the reason I wanted to tell the story.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Written by: John Pollono
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes