Entertainment

Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a reluctant hero in Stronger

Stronger is not about the Boston Marathon bomb or politics, it's the story of the aftermath and Jeff Bauman's recovery.

Jake Gyllenhaal, left, plays Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in Stronger.

Chris Pizzello/Invision / Invision

Jake Gyllenhaal, left, plays Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in Stronger.

People call Jeff Bauman a hero, but it’s not a label he enjoys.

“I don’t like being called a hero,” he says. “In my eyes, there are heroes I look up to, the people who saved my life, the caretakers, my surgeon and my wife (Erin Hurley), the love of my life. She’s my hero. I lost something but my heroes picked me up.”

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Bauman in Stronger, the story of the man whose life changed the morning of April 15, 2013. Bauman, while waiting at the Boston Marathon finish line for Hurley to finish the race, was standing next to one of the bombers. Gravely injured after the blast he was rescued by a stranger in a cowboy hat and rushed to the hospital where both his legs were amputated above the knees. The tragedy thrust Bauman into the spotlight, making him a reluctant beacon for the Boston Strong movement.

“Through a number of circumstances the movie was hard to get made,” says Gyllenhaal who also produced the film. “Number one, movies like this, stories like this, aren’t being told as much. There is a real balance in this movie of humour and a certain type of depth that I think tonally can confuse people who want something that seems a little simpler.

“I think also, in a lot of ways, when they heard about this story people thought it was too soon or, ‘Who wants to make a movie out of that event?’ In truth, the movie is not about the event at all. That’s why I loved it.”

Stronger is not the story of a bomb or the radical politics that saw it planted at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s the story of the aftermath and Bauman’s inspirational recovery.

“The thing that is most important to me is that people see this movie,” says Gyllenhaal. “We have always been that movie that has a little of that underdog spirit. It has been a long and pretty incredible journey. I just want people to see it because I think today there are so many hard things happening in the world and Jeff’s story sort of proves to people that they can keep going, that they can take another step. That they can survive that minute or that second or that hour that they don’t think they’ll be able to get through. He is a beacon for that and I want people to see that.”

Bauman says he’s proud of the movie but says watching it for the first time was “sensory overload” as it forced him to relive the worst moment of his life.

“I cried a lot,” he says. “I kind of just went, ‘I want to go home afterward and go to sleep,’ and I did. I went home and went to sleep. The next day things hit me a little bit more. It’s emotional for me.”

Bauman may not want to be called a hero, but Gyllenhaal, who became close with the Boston native during the making of the film, says, “A lot of people have asked me over my career: ‘When are you going to play in a superhero movie?’ I feel like I finally kind of have. To me, that’s how I feel about him. He’s a total inspiration to me.”

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