Stronger is receiving its UK cinema release this week. This powerful but surprisingly humorous film tells the true story of Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing and rebuilt his life. He also struggled with a new identity as a national hero after helping police track down one of the perpetrators.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Bauman and the director is David Gordon Green. His diverse CV includes Pineapple Express and Our Brand Is Crisis. He’s soon to add horror to the list with a much-anticipated sequel to Halloween.
We chatted to David about the making of this impressive drama and the challenges inherent in realizing someone’s real-life trauma onscreen…
THN: What brought you to the project initially?
David Gordon Green: The humour and the depth of the story. I found it complicated, with layers – it wasn’t what I thought when I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings. It was the shadows and the aftermath of characters dealing with their situation long after the headlines had faded. I really liked the exploration and the perspective on that. Certainly, we have our recreation and acknowledgment of the event, but it’s more about the human connection in the wake of that and how it affected people.
How did you strike a balance between the humour in the film and the harrowing subject matter?
It was realized in the memoir and the screenplay. The casting was really helpful. I tried to cast people who had a sense of humour, so when we wanted to lighten up and make it more playful we could. There’s plenty of improvisation. If you know these characters, these people we’re portraying, they use humour as a defense. When times are tough they’ve got balls and when they’re struggling with something humour takes the pressure off. Sometimes at the end of an intense take, we’d try something more playful and absurd. In editing we spoke of what that balance would be, how to make it appropriate.
How did you and Jake Gyllenhaal prepare when realizing Jeff Bauman as a character?
We both became very close to Jeff. Jake spent a ton of time with him. It’s a two-hour movie and while we couldn’t show everything, we tried to find the essence and had our own objectives within that. We were learning how Jeff used his prosthetics, in a technical sense, then how he feels about it. On one level it was very technical, the questions we’d have for him and on the other, we’d be trying to get to the honest depth of the emotion. What someone suffering from PTSD and living through an event like this, who are thrust into the spotlight, becoming an international celebrity… how that feels. The strangeness absurdity… sometimes the darkness of it.
What did Jeff make of the finished movie?
He’s talked about it quite a bit, he’s promoting it with us and is very supportive. It’s funny listening to him talk about his experience watching an interpretation of his story. Because he didn’t read the screenplay, he was frequently on set and was a part of the production but he never truly knew what we were doing, even though it was based on his memoir. His taste is more for big popcorn movies, rather than films like Stronger. Then we showed it to him with about twenty of his friends and family. The great validation came from watching him and Erin together and knowing it was a difficult viewing experience but that they were supportive of it. They felt we as filmmakers had been respectful to them and their environment and that was very important to me.
How did Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany come to be cast (as Jeff’s mother Patty and girlfriend Erin)? What was their on set dynamic like?
Having strong female roles drove the narrative in a lot of ways… Jeff is a passive character being thrust into these events without making choices. He’s got these determined women on either side making choices for him. Tatiana is an actress I saw an audition of and fell in love with it. Then I saw Orphan Black and fell in love with the ability she has. Then we got her in the room with Jake and the chemistry was evident.
Miranda is an actress I’ve loved since forever. I remember seeing her in Damage and The Crying Game… Enchanted April. I saw her hosting Saturday Night Live and thought ‘What a strange diverse career she’s had so far.’ So I wrote a letter asking her to play this part. One of the joys of my career was working with her. She has such a great sense of humour and was so surprising in her nuances and mannerisms. We had a blast working together.
What’s the latest with Halloween…?
I’ve been working on the script today. We’re prepping it and finding locations. I’m very excited to embark on my first horror film. I think it’s going to be something that’s respectful of the heritage of this property, working with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m excited to be involved.
Have you cast Michael Myers yet?
Um… no comment. (Laughs)
It’s just I’m 6’3, I thought I could take a crack at it.
(Laughs) I’ll keep you in mind. There’ll be some good news on all those fronts very soon.
Stronger is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th December. Read our review here.