by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief
On April 15, 2015 Jeff Bauman tragically lost his legs as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing and then fought all obstacles to get back on his own two feet to become an inspiration for not only the city of Boston, but the entire country. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers one of his most powerful performances to date playing Jeff in David Gordon Green’s masterpiece chronicling Jeff’s heroic struggle, Stronger.
What follows below is an interview with both the real Jeff Bauman and his on screen counterpart, Jake Gyllenhaal from 9/12/17, the afternoon before the Boston premiere of their film.
Please note that this interview may be edited slightly for content and clarity.
Q: How much of Jeff’s story did you know before going into the film?
Jake Gyllenhaal: I really had only seen the photograph of Jeff initially before I had read the screenplay. So it was sort of in reverse order in this case. So really, it was just that image, which was a really a generalized image that was sent around via the media. I never thought that in a million years that our lives would intersect in the way that they have. Now you could probably ask me anything about the idiosyncrasies of his family and I’d probably have an answer, but at the time I just saw that image.
Q: So you and Jeff are pretty tight now?
JG: Yup. Unfortunately for him. That is true.
Jeff Bauman: I’m just happy you have a close friend.
JG: (Laughing) Yeah, I know. Whenever asked about my work and then my life, he always says that I have no life. Which is really… great. And no friends.
JG: Yeah, you’re right, I have one.
Q: How much time did you guys spend together before filming?
JG: I mean, we spent-
JB:-A year and a half. Right? Off and on. You were busy doing stuff and you’d come back to Boston and we’d chill and do things, hit comedy shows, go out to eat.
JG: Yeah. Pretty much, yeah. As we got closer to production we sort of set up camp here and we were here for about six months prior to filming. Since I was producing the movie as well, I was driving back and forth from New York. I live in New York. So I was going from New York to (Boston) every few days for about five months. In that period of time, as we were location scouting and we were doing all this other stuff… Casting and stuff like that, we’d go out to dinner, or we would hang out, or go out to Jeff’s house or whatever it would be. It would either be me and (Director) David Gordon Green going over to Jeff or Jeff coming to us, or me going out and seeing Jeff alone. But throughout all of it we always would text. And then, not to say he disappeared, but he disappeared in person when we were shooting. It was just sort of something that happened, but we would text all the time and then we came back into seeing each other more often after that.
Q: Was there any hesitation into turning this into a movie? Were you concerned with how people would see you or your family after this?
JB: I’m not really worried about people… how they see me, I guess. My family is tough. I’m not them. It’s like, where do I draw the line with their privacy? Where do we draw the line to keep the story truthful? I guess that’s probably the biggest challenge going into it. It’s like… Then how far can we go with it? Right now my mom’s kind of sore at me. She is, Ma Dukes is sore.
JG: She was psyched after the reviews came out. Then she was like, “I’m not so sore.”
JB: No, she’s so happy. She’s my mother, she wants me to be successful. But then she’s like, “My apartment is not that dirty.”
JB: “Can you tell Miranda… why is my place so… why is there stuff everywhere?” She’s like, kind of immaculate and very meticulous in what she has in her apartment. It’s like OCD-ish. So she was really upset about that.
JG: With all the mess of the movie and the complications of (Jeff’s) personality and his family, but the profound love of all of them was what we were trying to get at. We knew there was a love there. This guy wouldn’t be here right now without all that love… From the city, from his family, from his friends that they just unquestionably gave him. It was without question and without doubt. But they are not without their complications and neither is he and that was important for us to show. Along with all the complications that come as a result of his injuries.
Q: Have the rest of your family and friends seen the film yet?
JB: Yes, most of them. There’s a lot of people coming tonight that haven’t seen it, so I’m excited for that, but it’s a rough story. It hits home to everybody. During this whole process, I’m an isolated kind of person. That’s why it’s probably so hard for Jake to crack who I was. To figure it out took a long time, because I don’t really open up. I was going through a rough time inside my head as you guys saw in the film. I was in a rough spot.
Q: Has this process been therapeutic for you?
JB: Yeah, in a way. I do a lot of public speaking now and go around and tell my story. I’ve been fortunate to do that and that has been really therapeutic, getting my story out there to a group of people and talking about it. That’s pretty cool. Definitely the movie has been really interesting. Not everybody has a movie made about them and it’s super interesting to be a part of it and to see what goes into it. Then to see the finished product, it makes even me cry. It makes me think about what I went through and where I am now. It’s like, alright I’m here I’m right where I need to be, with my daughter. That’s amazing. The whole thing is pretty surreal for me.
Q: How do you even prepare, physically and mentally for something like this?
JG: (Deep breath) Well, I think there are a number of thi- In truth, I don’t think there’s any real preparation, because the experience Jeff had, (to Jeff) You often say it’s like being sucker punched in a way. There’s not preparation for that experience, you know? All I can say is that the process that Jeff went through, in rehabilitation and even recovery initially, I tried to learn as much as I could about it. I tried to understand exactly what it’s like, what the surgeries are like. I’m not one to just goes, OK, I learned that Dr. Kalish, his doctor, did his amputations and that was it. There were a lot of other surgeries and the details of that. And the painkillers and even that suture scene. That came from us saying that we need to show how painful this is. There’s a lot of that and I just think that where you get an understanding is not just with Jeff, but it’s from the periphery. It’s from everyone around him. It’s from the layers of people that helped. It’s from their experience with other people who have been through trauma. It kind of goes very deep. So there’s a lot of research. There are a lot of talks. Dr. Kalish is in the movie. Odessa, his nurse, is in the movie. Michelle, his Physical Therapist, is in the movie. All of these people are in the movie, not because we always thought that we’d put these people in the movie, but because David Gordon Green and I had a meeting with Dr. Kalish to understand all the stuff he had to do and what Jeff was going through, and in the middle of it David couldn’t cast an actor who could do the doctor part that well. They just kept acting like a doctor and he turned to me and was like, “Hey, what if Dr. Kalish played the doctor?” So we had Dr. Kalish audition for the doctor and he was HORRIBLE.
JB: He’s a great Surgeon.
JG: Yeah. He couldn’t say the lines, but then we were like what if he just talks to my character like he would to any patient, the way he talked to Jeff and the way he talked to Jeff’s parents when he had to talk to them and tell them the news. Sure enough we shot the scene and there’s Miranda (Richardson) and Clancy (Brown), playing Jeff’s parents and Dr. Kalish walks in the room, just as he would walk in the room to tell Jeff’s (real) parents the same thing. And they respond that way. It wasn’t written. And the same thing in that suture scene. He’s just telling me how it goes and the nurses are walking around and talking to me the way they would talk to me normally. All of those people ended up in the movie and it’s a result of trying to understand and prepare myself for the situation.
Q: How does the dynamic work for you with the director as an actor and as a producer?
JG: Like, how do I relate to the director as an actor or do you mean how do I participate? Are you asking what is it the fuck that I actually do? (Laughter) Is that what you’re asking me in a much more articulate way? Like, why are you here?
Q: We were all wondering. But there had to be additional responsibilities as a producer.
JB: I could see it. He was all over me like a fuckin boss.
JG: I know, I know. I have a lot of experience, I’ve been doing this for a while now. I’ve been an actor for a while now and I grew up in a family who happened to make films, so it’s a family business. And I love the other aspects of making movies besides acting. I’ve produced a couple of films but this is the first film that my company has produced. So there’s a lot at stake for me and (it’s) a really important story already, as is. But there’s other things at stake for me, you know? As a result I put my heart and my soul into it because this story needs to be told and not a lot of people would have made it and it was hard to get made. In terms of involvement, it was a 24/7 job. I didn’t have a day off for… a good year. As soon as we knew this film was going to get made me and my producing partner we scoffed at anybody who got a day off, because we certainly didn’t. I think the same thing with Todd Lieberman. The three of us and David Gordon Green… it hasn’t stopped and it doesn’t stop until this movie comes out and even then it won’t stop, you know? I was involved in almost every discussion every step of the way. This isn’t a vanity project for me. This is a project that has unluckily gotten my blood and sweat and tears and I’m a smelly guy. That’s just part of it but I love it. I love making movies.
JB: This isn’t a vanity project?
JG: No, but I think people think that with actors producing movies and stuff like that. I would say the person that sacrificed the most to get this movie made is Todd Lieberman, the man who bought the rights to the book and developed it and brought (screenwriter) John Pollono on and made those first early and very difficult choices when certain people didn’t believe in it. We joined up and when we joined up we realized that movies like this don’t get made that often because… it’s just a changing world. But we knew in our hearts that it was a move that people would see and it needed to be told.
Q: How do you take a local story that might have success here in Boston and turn that into global success?
JG: Every story is a local story. Do you know what I mean? I mean, I don’t think Thor is a local story.
JG: Unless you’re from Rock-in-ock or whatever the hell land he’s from, you know?
JB: You know what hit me? I was thinking that, but then we go to Toronto and twenty-eight hundred people stand and they clap. And so many have liked it and took something from it. I was thinking the same thing. How do we get out of Boston? I was scared about Toronto.
JG: I don’t think you guys realize what an inspiration you are. Maybe that’s what it is. I think maybe that’s the feeling and that’s a wonderful thing. I think there’s that thing in Boston, there’s a humility, but there’s also a strength and this small town nature, but it is global. His story is about anybody that is struggling, anybody who is in a space and doesn’t feel like they can get out of it, anybody who has lost anything, you know? We are all struggling or know somebody that is struggling and Jeff said it on his Facebook page, It doesn’t have to make headlines to be hard. I think that’s the reason why this story is for anyone. It’s the reason why, at a certain point, that we have to go door to door. because this is the type of movie that we don’t have a lot of opportunity or budget to get it out there like a lot of movies. So, we are, we’re going door to door. I’m convinced that if I have to go to people’s houses and take them off the couch and drive them to the theater to see this story, I will do it.
JB: I will, too.
JG: We’re walking there together. Every time I tell his story… When this trailer came out it was so crazy. The response to this trailer all over the world… I was in Spain and people knew about that trailer. I went down a rabbit hole of watching trailer reactions. I can’t believe people film themselves watching trailers. It’s like amazing narcissism, but it’s like really incredible because I went down that crazy rabbit hole for like three hours.
This (one) girl I saw had thirty-eight followers on her YouTube page and she was like, “I have those wrist things on my wrist every once in a while and it’s because I have arthritis in my wrists and maybe you guys see those sometimes. Sometimes I have pain so bad that I don’t want to got outside, but something like this makes me realize that I can go outside.” That’s what Jeff brings out. You can get through to a better place than you thought you could. Even when you’re in the darkest place. I don’t see how that’s not everyone’s story.
Q: What was the first thing you said to Jake after seeing the film?
JG: I can tell you that, it was a text.
JB: Good job.
JG: Yeah you did, you wrote good job. I was like, “WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?!”
JB: Yeah, I said good job and went to sleep. For three days.
Q: Thanks guys, congrats on the film.
Stronger opens nationwide Friday, September 22.