Stronger is currently on general release in the UK, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays the real-life role of Jeff Bauman, who became the center of world attention after being seriously injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing. Sadly he lost his legs but he was an inspiration to many after helping police track down bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
He then wrote a memoir about his experiences coming to terms with the tragedy, which the production is based on. We got on the phone to chat with him about what it was like having his life turned into a movie and the close bond he developed with Gyllenhaal and the cast and crew…
THN: How were you approached about a movie based on your story?
Jeff Bauman: I got a call from Todd Lieberman and Scott Silver from Mandeville. They were with John Pollono the screenwriter, who’s actually from my area. They said, “Hey, we want to turn your book (of the same name) into a movie.” I said “Woah, okay. That’s cool.” And I really didn’t think too much of it until John came out and spent a lot of time with Erin and I. Then it kind of just snowballed from there, it got bigger and bigger. Then Jake wanted to play me and his production company ended up probably funding most of it, which is really cool.
So Jake Gyllenhaal was around a lot of the time?
Yes, two years. He took the project under his wing, pushed hard and he’s still pushing hard. He’s a good friend to have. Pretty amazing.
What did you go through in terms of collaborating with him on the performance?
At first, he was asking lots of questions and seeing how I would move. He just watched a lot. We hung out a lot, he would watch me in real life. So I think he got most of it from that, I know he’d read my book. And then we worked on the physical stuff, we worked with the special effects crew one day doing certain things, like getting in and out of the chair, getting my legs on and off. Doing certain things, stuff like that. He really learned a lot during that day.
He’s pretty amazing, we were just in Rome at the Rome Film Festival. He knows what I have trouble with, like uneven surfaces, and he’ll stand in front of me so if I start to fall I can use his shoulder. He’s one of my close friends, he’s pretty cool.
Did you watch as they were shooting?
I worked with David Gordon Green and would go to the offices when they were filmmaking. But the shooting was a chaotic time. They had two hundred and fifty people on one set with semi-trucks. They move fast and they shot long hours. They had, probably, thirty days to shoot the whole movie. I would go to set and take pictures and say hi but when they were shooting I just had to step back, it wasn’t part of my job.
One of the things I like about the film is its humour – David Gordon Green told me he did some improvisation with the actors. That must have been nice to see.
I think in a real-life story, I mean especially with my family… there’s a lot of laughter. I don’t drink anymore but there’s a lot of drinking and trying to find a way to cope with what happened. You have to use humour to bring the situation up a little, you know? It was cool to be in a room with two thousand people who are dying laughing. That was really funny.
It’s a strong depiction of a family, as well as your own personal story.
Yeah, it’s really cool to see it from their perspective too. It makes you see the whole situation. Seeing it from the perspective of my parents and Erin, I saw what they went through too. I hate to say it but I was kind of focused on myself, trying to deal with what happened to me and I didn’t know what other people around me went through. When I saw the movie I could see that. It was really powerful.
In fairness you would be focused on yourself but that’s very interesting.
I know it’s a film about me but it’s not really about me. It’s about everyone around me. Mainly it’s about me going through something very traumatizing, dealing with a lot of stuff in my head. That’s the beauty of it, it’s there but it’s also doing a fantastic job of shifting the focus on other people. That’s really amazing that they can do something like that.
What was it like finally seeing this version of your life on the big screen? Did you feel a bit detached from it?
No, especially recently. Jake and I have been pushing the movie. We didn’t have too much marketing money or advertising at all! He and I advertised it so I feel very involved on that front! I feel really lucky that I get to travel and do all that. We worked really hard at trying to market it ourselves. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a nomination. We’ve got our fingers crossed about that. I feel super involved in the project. It’s my life.
It’s real, I can’t hide from it. It’s a very powerful movie and everyone who worked on it poured their heart and soul into it. David Gordon Green is an amazing guy. We’re still very close, we’re like a family.
Do you think you’ll carry on with movie production after the experience?
(Laughs) I don’t think so. I don’t know though. David asked me to do something… I think he wants me to be in the new Halloween movie! I think that’s hilarious. For now, I gotta focus on being a father full time and get back to school.
Stronger is now on general release.