“Though I will say that Jeff changed my life, and I think that his story does give people hope and I think that that is more than important, it’s essential right now.”
Following the press screening for STRONGER, the true story of Jeff Bauman who lost his legs at the knees after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Jake Gyllenhaal arrived to talk to us about his physically demanding portrayal of Bauman in the biography which he produced. Gyllenhaal spent a year with Bauman before filming started, although he was never on set, the pair texted and called each other.
Gyllenhaal worked with Tim Munich, a dialect coach, and together they watched and studied Bauman’s interviews. By listening to his voice Gyllenhaal was able to learn “his behaviour and sort of the essence of who he was”.
Gyllenhaal delved further into what he learned from Bauman: “I think just seeing him in the world when I first met him, you know, seeing how he functions in the world was an important part of this whole process, the physical world, how he relates to it with his legs, how he relates to it without it, without the genium legs that he wears to walk around now. I met him and he was in them, but he couldn’t really walk more than half a block in them when I first met him.” He added, “What I learned from him, I think, is what he says to that man at the Red Sox game, you know, if I can do it you can do it. And I think also doubt was an enormous part of his journey, I think him just not believing in himself for a very long time which is something that I can relate to and somewhere where he and I really, really deeply connect. And also to just really truly, like, never give up, and the irony as a filmmaker in this process is that same idea. You know, just constant roadblocks all the time, and somehow having the story be about a guy who never does that, just in my mind made what I was doing so futile, but just made me keep going.”
Gyllenhaal continued to sing Bauman’s praises: “If someone recognises me it’s because I am connected to a large group of people who have created a story and the power of storytelling. I think what Jeff represents for people is something much deeper and in my opinion much more profound, and he’s actually somebody, even as I wrestle with my own sort of sense of being known, that has made me resolve to realise what you bring to people when you are the face of a story or whatever, because what he brings to people is this tremendous hope, like, he just brings this sense of the impossible, getting beyond the impossible. And you really do feel when you’re with him, it’s strange to talk about him without him, but you feel like you’re touched with him.”
While visual effects were used, Gyllenhaal commends all of his “extraordinary team”: “an incredible special effects makeup team that, you know, made moulds of my legs and then also our costume department who figured out how to present those legs in shorts with my actual legs, you know, and then the props department who created this wheelchair device that was incredible along with the visual effects department and the makeup department. People are like, “Oh, the visual effects are amazing” and I’m like, “It’s actually not all that, it’s everybody.” I know you all know that, but it’s very important to say that because that’s how I feel.”
Gyllenhaal identifies one scene that he was particularly nervous about: “I think the scene in the car where she and I get in an argument about her telling me that she’s pregnant and then subsequently crawling across the ground. There’s this weird mergence of fiction and reality in those moments. I love Jeff, you know, it was hard for me to know I love Erin and Jeff, to know how much they love each other and how brutal they were to each other in that moment and then at the same time being with an actress where both of us knew the stakes were very high. And that was two nights of shooting that”.
Gyllenhaal was asked if he would consider directing: “Yes, I would love to do that because I’m extraordinarily presumptuous and I feel like it’s only fitting,” he jokes. “It would be a great honour to do something like that though I know you have to have a story inside of your heart to be able to tell.” As for the type of director he would be, “I would try and dress nicely.” Now on the topic of directors, Gyllenhaal took the opportunity to applaud David Gordon Green who he referred to as “literally the least toxic person I’ve ever met in my life. He is a true collaborator and he is somebody who sort of in all of this was always trying to figure out how we could illicit love out of all of the moments that seemed full of tension and seemed like they were gonna explode in a bad way, and he was always undoing them. It was extraordinary to watch. I adore him.
STRONGER is released in UK cinemas on December 8th 2017. Listen to the whole Q&A below.