Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman in 'Stronger': Get their take from Toronto, watch exclusive new featurette

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Jake Gyllenhaal has developed a reputation for being a committed actor, and his latest role required him to tie himself in knots … literally. In Stronger, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week, the Nightcrawler star plays Jeff Bauman, a Boston native who lost both of his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. (Watch an exclusive featurette about Stronger, which opens in theaters on Sept. 22, above.)

The real Bauman hoped to meet his marathon-running girlfriend, Erin Hurley (played on screen by Tatiana Maslany), at the finish line, but instead woke up in the hospital after the explosions detonated with both legs amputated below the knee. And while Bauman now gets around on artificial legs, Gyllenhaal had to portray the full arc of his subject’s recovery, which meant restricting his own movements by any means necessary. “I tied myself up, and made sure it wasn’t easy to move around,” the actor tells Yahoo Movies in Toronto. “I knew it wasn’t anywhere near the experience he had, but I was trying to get my head around it.”

Fortunately for Gyllenhaal, Bauman was a regular presence during production to offer advice and insight, and function as a kind of study guide for his onscreen counterpart. “Jake really studied me,” Bauman says. “He was really spot-on with the questions he was asking.” Gyllenhaal adds that he also picked up behaviors Jeff displayed and incorporated them into his performance. “I saw how open-hearted he is, and how he speaks to people,” said Gyllenhaal. “So often, he’ll invite them into a conversation in a really beautiful way, because he’s got a big heart. That’s who he is at his core.”

One thing that the actor didn’t tie himself in knots about was trying to master a Boston accent — a dialect that has tripped up many otherwise respected actors. (Looking at you, Leonardo DiCaprio.) “I worked with a dialect coach,” Gyllenhaal explains. “He told me to think of it not as a dialect — it’s an idiolect. It’s how Jeff talks to people, the words and intonation he uses. So it’s not about me going, ‘I’m going to do a Boston accent.'”

Listening to Gyllenhaal’s version of a Boston accent didn’t hurt Bauman’s ears. But Stronger‘s subject does admit to feeling some pain at seeing his life dramatized. “The hardest thing for me,” he says, “was looking at all my poor choices. I was going through something hard, and it affected my relationships. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I’ve grown in the past year, but I was making poor choices and you see it in the movie.”

Bauman’s relationship with Hurley, in particular, was severely affected by the poor choices he alluded to. After getting married in 2014, one year following the bombing and several months after Hurley gave birth to their daughter, Nora, the couple announced their separation in February.

While the split isn’t directly acknowledged in Stronger, Maslany, for one, says it exists between the lines. “It was always about putting both options in the same moment,” she explains. “Being one foot out the door and being fully here. There’s always that tug of war [in Erin] internally, even in the last moments when she’s watching him walk for the first time. Because he’s walking towards her, we know it’s possible, but it’s never going to be easy.”

Bauman also feels that attuned audiences will be able to spot hints of the less-happy ending that has unfolded in real life. “I think anyone watching the movie who is in a relationship can see where it’s heading,” he says. “What kills me is to see our love [from before]. We have a beautiful daughter together, and we’ll be together forever whether we like it or not.”

Watch the trailer for “Stronger”:

 

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