Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany: From Strength to Strength

February 12, 2018
In the new film Stronger, Jake Gyllenhaal plays real life Boston Marathon Bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, who must rebuild his life after losing both his legs in the terrorist attack. We spoke with him and his co-star, Tatiana Maslany, about the challenge of bringing real life to the big screen.

Jake, you’ve recently started your own production company. Why was this a story that felt like it was the perfect way to debut the new company?

Jake Gyllenhaal: It came about in a very circuitous way. Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman at Mandeville developed the project from Jeff’s [Bauman] book, and it really started as their baby. And then, I came initially on as an actor. And then, through the world of independent financing and independent filmmaking, it looked at many different times like we wouldn’t be able to make this movie. And I had just recently started a relationship with Bold Films, who financed the film Nightcrawler that I did, and we started a production company and came to them and said ‘Hey, can you help us out here?’ And they did, and through that relationship we started to produce the movie alongside Todd [Lieberman] and his company. So that was sort of how it all came about. I always look for stories that are relatable, but ultimately about something bigger than the story itself, and this just happened to be the perfect story in that way. It’s something that, no matter what you’re going through, I think you can relate to. No matter what you’ve been through in your life, Jeff shows you that you can get through it. And for me, I couldn’t think of a better movie to put my heart and soul into.

Jake, can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Jeff, and how that formed while you were trying to learn about the character of Jeff Bauman?

JG: Well, I was really intimidated to meet Jeff. I think there’s no way that any of us could really match the reality of what he, and Erin and his family went through in this journey. So, I think there was a sense for me, inevitably, always of fraudulence. No matter how hard we tried we’d only get so far. So, I was intimidated when I first met him, but I was surprised by the fact we share a real similar sense of humour, even though he’s a lot funnier than I am. And also, there is just something about our connection. David [Gordon Green] was right in wanting me to play this part, because we have a lot of similarities, the two of us. And we have since, over time, going through pretty difficult questions, and researching this role, I’ve become closer to him as a result of that. The ironies of friendship came from asking him the hard questions, initially. And we continue to do that together, even to this day. Jeff’s been through so much in his life, and he’s come through, and this past year’s been an amazing year for him. I’ve been honoured to be there, through the tough questions.

Tatiana can you speak to playing a person who is with us still, who will be watching the movie. Is there a sense of responsibility that you feel to them, or is what’s on the page the part that you’re playing, and you have to divorce yourself from the real person?

Tatiana Maslany: Erin Hurley, who I played in the film, was extremely generous in involving me in her life and bringing me in and answering my questions. And just relating as two young women in this space and time in our lives. She was just very relatable and very generous to me. And then, on top of that, it is an artistic interpretation, and by no means did I want to do an impersonation of her. It was more how I, in my own experience, related to her, and could connect to her. And I think that’s what so beautiful about the screenplay as well, is that it makes these stories feel so relatable, there are these small moments that happen between people that are just very human. The other thing I would say is that Boston was an incredible place to film. I felt this real openheartedness in us being there, and us doing these difficult things in public spaces. Like doing the marathon scene, and having all these extras there for six hours with us while we were running this last little bit, and having extras running with me the whole time, who wouldn’t stop, who didn’t stop for six hours, who were so committed to this story, and wanted it to be authentic. And I think that really is Boston, it felt like the spirit of the city was so alive in those moments.

For Jake and the cast, being involved in this, your idea and perception of what it means to be stronger, how did that change through this

JG: For me, there are all these ideas, but what I seem to see from Jeff, and generally what I’ve learned from this movie is that being vulnerable, being open and doing exactly, like in the big macro of this movie, allowing his story to be told, which is a profound vulnerability. But in little moments too, everything he shares with you guys, about his family, and their imperfections, and the imperfections in himself, that makes him one of the strongest people that I know. And I think that the commonest perception, and also, something that is perpetuated in movies a lot about what strength is. A lot of people have asked me over my career, in interviews with journalists, they’ve said, ‘we hear you almost played this superhero’, or ‘when are you going to do a superhero movie?’, or something like that. And I feel like I finally kind of have. So, to me, that’s how I feel about him, because he’s open, and he knows that in order to live, like the character says in the movie, he has to show all those things. And he does every day, and he’s a total inspiration to me.

TM: Yeah, I think it’s very much the same, that idea of infallibility being strength somehow. That strength, especially with female characters, is often like, they’re strong because they either have masculine traits, or are invincible or there’s all these other trophy things. What I love about this story is the doubt that is in it, the love and hate co-existing, the unknown. I think that moment when we went out on the ice, being like ‘are we ready for this’, are we ready to step into these shoes? We were thrown in before we really even knew. That strength in the base of all of those question marks I think is what is strength to me, what is more compelling, and is a strong character or a strong person.

In bringing your characters to life, what was the most difficult part of creating, and portraying someone that is living today?

TM: What the film does is break down that idea of the hero, and for me, looking at Erin, and sort of putting her on a pedestal, as opposed to allowing for, as you were saying, all the flaws and the humanity of it. Disassembling that, and really finding the nuances of the emotional life, and the complexity of this triangle, I think was the thing. Shedding this nobility which I could put on somebody I admire, and who I revere, and instead defending every aspect of them, was I think the most difficult for me.

JG: That’s a very hard question to answer. I mean… this is a movie about community in my opinion, it’s a movie about a group of people that get each other through the unfathomable. And, allowing that love in, that connection, and that intimacy, the overwhelming nature of that, almost every day in the story. And being in the position of playing someone that you know in yourself, you probably would never have the strength to be in your real life. When I think about what’s difficult, it’s that I know that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do what Jeff did, in a way. Though, he would say, like he would say to anyone else, that you could. But I was faced every day with this sort of fraudulence, which was a great teacher to me. And I would just say, this community of people, this group of people, is some of the hardest working people I’ve ever worked with. That’s the spirit I know in a lot of ways, of Boston. It’s the spirit of what got Jeff through, and he works hard every day to make sure that he can get stronger and walk faster. But, I have to say, this group of people, along with all the other people you don’t see up here who made this thing happen, are some of the hardest working. To get this movie made, and to have it get to where it is, to be here today, to be talking about it, is pretty incredible. And, I’m grateful for that.

Stronger is in cinemas from February 15, 2018.

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