TORONTO — In discussing “Stronger,” the film based on Boston Marathon bombing hero Jeff Bauman’s memoir, Jake Gyllenhaal — who portrays Bauman in the film (opening Friday) — said, “I think a lot of people in Chicago, especially in your working-class neighborhoods, will really identify with Jeff and this film.
“In thinking about your city, I think there’s a similar kind of synergy between the people in Chelmsford [the town in the Boston area where Bauman lived] and people in a number of the various neighborhoods I’ve visited in Chicago over the years — particularly on the South Side.”
Bauman lost both of his legs above the knees when the first of the two backpack bombs exploded, as he was waiting at the marathon’s finish line to cheer on his girlfriend, Erin Hurley. While the couple today are no longer together, they are very focused on co-parenting their daughter, Nora, who was born after Bauman was injured.
“I think many people, leading normal, hardworking lives — but clearly living out of the spotlight — can relate to what Jeff went through,” Gyllenhaal said. “One day you’re completely unknown, except to your family, friends and co-workers. The next day, you’re a national celebrity. That photo of Jeff [right after he was injured], plus the fact he was able to identify one of the bombers, made him the public face of that horrible day — and made him a hero.
“Accepting heroism would be a hard thing for most people to understand, especially when they don’t see themselves as heroes. That would be true in Chicago, or Dallas or Phoenix.”
As for Bauman, he said the process of writing the book [with Bret Witter] and being deeply involved making the film helped with his healing process. “The idea of getting it out — getting my story out — was a big help. Yet, before that, early on, just talking about the traumatic stuff — the loss of my legs — was also what started my healing process,” said Bauman.
It was clear sitting with both Gyllenhaal and Bauman that the two men have truly bonded while making “Stronger.” Naturally, sophisticated special effects were utilized in the filming to make the actor appear to be legless below the knees.
One example of how Gyllenhaal and Bauman share similar senses of humor was revealed in a quip from the actor about the special effects, “Jeff said I was not fully committed to playing him.”
Bauman chuckled and said slyly, “I’m just sayin’!”