Calvin Klein, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions hosted the Stronger New York premiere at Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on Thursday, September 14.
From the film Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Clancy Brown, Jeff Bauman, Danny McCarthy, Richard Lane Jr. director David Gordon Green, author Bret Witter, Roadside Attractions Co-President Eric d’Arbeloff, Producer Todd Lieberman, Michel Litvak Executive Producers Gary Michael Walters, Riva Marker, Peter McGuigan, and Anthony Mattero were in attendance.
Stronger is the inspiring true story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become the symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff, a 27-year- old, working-class Boston man who was at the marathon to try and win back his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Waiting for her at the finish line when the blast occurs, he loses both his legs in the attack. After regaining consciousness in the hospital, Jeff is able to help law enforcement identify one of the bombers, but his own battle has just begun.
Jake Gyllenhall and Jeff Bauman
So what was your reaction when you heard Jake was gonna play you?
Jeff: It was amazing, it was really cool. I knew that he could bring that intensity to the role, and really kind of get lost in it. You see that, you know it’s just really what he does. And everything that I’ve seen him in, you see him get lost in it. You can see him in it, and it’s fantastic to see that. And it’s a real honor for me to see it, and to actually see the movie. It inspired me, and pushes me. I’m really proud of it, and I’m proud of him. I am, I’m really proud of him. It’s been an honor to get to know him, and see how hard he works. He works really hard.
Jake: I feel the same way about Jeff, and even more so, I think. I’ll never understand the pain that Jeff’s been through. I knew that before I took on this character. I think the way I feel about him, is what everybody says about him. Though it’s taken him a while for him to fit into the suit that they’ve handed to him, you know as a symbol, and also I feel like really as a hero, to even just get to stand again. The other night we were in Toronto. We premiered the movie at the Toronto Film Festival. And there were about 2,800 people out in the audience, and the spotlight came up on Jeff, and he said, “What do I do?” I said, “Get up”. And he got up to his feet, and 2,800 people got up with him. Because I think for the first time, they all realized how hard it was to get to stand up, and what an incredible journey it is, and what he went through to get there, and for me just watching that. We always say this movie is about a guy who just took a few steps, learned how to take a few steps. Sometimes people don’t realize how hard that can actually be. He said in a Facebook post the other day, he said, “It doesn’t have to make headlines to be hard. And that each one of us is struggling with something, or know someone we love that’s struggling.” And he just shows us, like he showed me, that you can get through it. Like he says in the movie, “If I can do it, you can do it”. I learn a lot from Jeff every day, when I stub my toe, or I like cut my finger, and I think about him, and I you know, all the other things that I feel like, they’re relativity of pain is true. But I think he always tells me, “You can get through it. You can get through anything”.
What was the biggest challenge then? Obviously he’s very much alive, does that make it more challenging to play?
Jake: No, I think it’s a huge help for me as an actor to have the real guy there. To watch him, listen to him, talk to him, spend time with him. See his family, talk to them, know how they interact. All of those things as an hopefully somewhat observant person, is extraordinarily helpful to me. Intimidating, yes, because I made this movie for him. That’s who I did it for. And all I hoped when he first saw it was that he would be proud of it. And I feel like he is, so I feel like we’ve done our job.
You took up running for this role?
Yeah. It was new to me, ’cause I’d never done it before, and I always kind of struggled to run, because there’s a real mental stamina that you require … just to push through those walls that you hit physically, and in terms of just your brain getting in the way. It was an important thing for me to get into and felt connected to her. This running, being her private space where she could process things and also a metaphor for her drive and her emotional strength and stamina. That’s kind of what it was.
Did you get to meet her? Did you rely on the book?
I did. I met her early on in the process, and I for sure looked to the book, as well. Erin and I hung out and chatted. She was always really generous in terms of sharing stories with me, and just talking to me about life and her experience. Then, John Pollono had done a lot of work for the script, in terms of sitting with the family and getting a sense of them, and digging in to those small moments that happen between them that are so important and changing.
What attracted you to the project?
The story was just very human, and very relatable. It took it out of this territory of heroes and headlines, and icons and symbols of a certain thing, and broke it down to the minutiae. The things that happen between the people who are involved in these things, that are affected by them. It was about hope, and it was about love and the healing nature of love. I just thought that was a beautiful message. I think that there’s a lot of hate right now in the world, and a lot of division. To have a film that has a hopeful message about survival, and that even people who aren’t necessarily equipped to go through something like this can survive it and thrive and grow from it, is a wonderful message, I think.
Director David Gordon Green
What made Jake perfect for the role?
Well, what I love about Jake is his dedication as a performer, but when I watch movies like Nightcrawler or Brokeback Mountain I see the fragility and even juvenile qualities, playfulness of a young man. I’ll see that when he’s 80 years old and I like to get in there and find an actor that’s willing to play and improvise and still has that 11 year old that keeps kind of popping out of the performance and it was important to try to — as emotional and honest as we wanted to make this story, to truly be honest to Jeff, we had to illustrate the humor that he used as a part of his rehabilitation and Jake agreed to that very openly.
Did he have to learn how to use prosthetics?
Well we spent a lot of time with Jeff and it is a point where you say how does it all work? And he takes his clothes off and shows you how to put on his legs and he’s on the floor, how do you get into your chair? How do you get into bed at night, how do you bathe, how do you go to the bathroom and all these very intimate aspects of Jeff’s life and we didn’t want to shy away from that. The film uses those as tools to convey his story and the difficulty, the hardship and ultimately a perseverance of Jeff Bauman.
Can you speak about collaborating with Tatiana on this? She’s such a fantastic actress.
She is, just infinite range and diversity. One of the strongest actors I’ve ever worked with and I just really loved it. It was there from the very first time I got her in a room with Jake, I just knew that she was the one that could go toe-to-toe and greet him with strength and vulnerability at the same time and I think it was a, just a beautiful actress that I want to work with again and again.
When I heard about the film, I thought this is tough navigating between a martyrdom and heroism. It could be kind of a tragedy.
It’s a delicate balance. You’ve just got to follow your heart and make a movie that in my mind glorifies the real struggle and the perseverance of a character, rather than any sort of headline or the event. I wanted that to be a distant backdrop and have our characters and the intimacy become our epic.
Now your known for your humor so how did that come into play in this film?
Well I’m always cracking jokes on set and there’s a time when that’s really welcome in an environment like this because on a day-to-day basis it could be pretty emotional and pretty intense on set and sometimes you just need to shake it off, lighten up a little bit and so I think it was a really valuable asset. In addition to that, we tried to infuse all the characters with their own wits, sense of humor, because I think it’s a very natural thing within the community of Boston and the culture of Boston is to be able to have that and I wanted to make sure that that’s evident in our film.
Producer Todd Lieberman
Speak about getting the tone right.
There’s a whole creative team that figures out the best way to attack it. For us, and for me, it was always a very personal story, and there was something really compelling to me about a guy who was called a hero, who didn’t believe himself to be a hero. Then finds through the journey, and accepts that mantel in a different way than he did, and what he assumed that mantel to be. There’s something really compelling about that, and something I’ve never really seen portrayed in a movie. That normally, when someone’s called a hero, it’s for a certain reason, and you go through it. But, this movie dives into the complications of what that means in front of the camera, and then what it means for real when the camera’s not on.
Speak about collaborating with Jake on this.
Jake’s amazing. Not only is he the brilliantly skilled actor that we all know him to be, but he’s very astute in creative terms, and so we obviously brought him on as a producing partner, and he was exceptional all through the process. There was a really good checks and balances with he and I. Because, I respect him so much as a creative artist, and we found a real good mutual respect working together. A lot of times, even if we would disagree on something, we’d end up with something better, because both of our sides of the equation came into play.
The film has moments of humor as well. Can you speak about that?
I don’t know if you’ve met Jeff yet. But, when you do meet him, he’s magnetic, and he has an incredible sense of humor. That’s one of the important things that we wanted to make sure we actually infused into the film was, his sense of humor. Because, he’s got an extraordinary one. There are, obviously, very emotional parts of the movie, and parts of the movie that are stressful to watch. But, we have many release valves in there, that lighten it up with a sense of his gallows humor, and it’s throughout.
Richard Lane Jr. plays Sully
You were in the army before you went into acting?
I was in the Army a little while ago.
And this is your second film right?
Yes, my previous film was called What Doesn’t Kill You, directed by Brian Goodman and that was with Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke and I had the chance to share a scene with them and it kind of gave me a head start, as far as preparing for a role with someone as great as Jake, because he’s one of the best actors of his generation.
What was key in creating the role for this movie?
I was in Boston during the bombing, in South Boston and actually I’ve had the great opportunity to run for the Martin Richard Foundation. So he’s an eight year old from Dorchester who passed away in the bombings so even while we were filming I had a few days off and I ran for the second time for the Foundation and I got a chance to know the Richard Family a little bit and they’re really, they’re incredible. They’re an incredible example of inspiration to people and they push on no matter what and I’m very proud of the family and what they do for the city of Boston and for the example that they set all around the world as well.
And speak about collaborating with David.
David is great. David’s from Texas so he’s like a down-to-earth guy. Easy to talk to, great to work with, he’s a very hard worker. I mean he’s made great films before in the past. Manglehorn is one of them with Al Pacino and he’s just a great person. A great director and he did a great job with this film. He took his time with it and put a lot of thought into it as to the sensitivity of the issue and wanted to make sure that Jeff’s story was told in the proper manner and I’m really proud of the job that he did and I’m proud of Jake and Tatiana and the rest of the cast, and Miranda. And the whole cast and crew, everyone was great and hopefully people will see it on September 22nd and really enjoy because I know I did.
You have a lot scenes with Jake?
Yes a pretty good amount. Pretty much I’m in it from beginning to end and Jake is phenomenal. He’s one of the best actors of his generation and I just really enjoyed working with him.
Pretty amazing second film to be with such a cast and a director. Are you pinching yourself?
Not yet, it hasn’t really sunk in yet but yes, I’m very fortunate and I’m very blessed and very grateful to have had the opportunity to be in this film and hopefully people love it. I know I do.
Can you speak about what attracted you to be involved with the project?
I play Kevin, Jeff’s boss at Costco. It was a great experience. I mean selfishly I got to spend a couple weeks in Boston, which was awesome and I’m looking forward to meeting Jeff tonight, I didn’t get to meet him on set, but it was just a great experience. The cast is great, the crew is great. Such an inspiring story. I was happy to be a part of it.
And how was working with Jake?
Jake was great. Jake was great. We didn’t have a whole lot of scenes together, but you know, he was a busy guy. He was a producer and star of it, so his plate was full but he handled it really well.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
I hope and I’m sure that people will just be inspired. It’s a true story and I’m sure it was told beautifully and I can’t wait to see it.
Additional guests included: Annaleigh Ashford, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Phil Burke, Rebecca Dayan, Kristine Froseth, Maggie Geha, Jane Hanson, Richard Kind, Thomas McCarthy, Katie Paxton, Alina Puscau, Amy Rutberg, Joshua Safdie, Isiah Whitlock and Helene Yorke. A dinner party followed at Lincoln Ristorante.
The powerful film hits theaters on September 22, 2017.
Photo Credit: Dave Allocca/Starpix