September 10, 2017 / 12:59 AM / 2 years ago

Gyllenhaal taps courage of Boston bombing survivor for 'Stronger'

TORONTO (Reuters) - Jake Gyllenhaal put his “heart and soul” into “Stronger”, a film about Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and in the process found inspiration and a special kinship with Bauman.

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal attends a press conference to promote the film "Stronger" at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Canada September 9, 2017. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

Based on Bauman’s memoir by the same name, the film directed by David Gordon Green centers around his difficult journey toward walking again, his struggle with post traumatic stress, and his bewilderment and reluctance to being called a “hero”.

“No matter what you’ve been through in your life, Jeff shows you that can get through it,” Gyllenhaal said after the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday.

“To me, I couldn’t think of a better movie to put my heart and soul into.”

Gyllenhaal, whose production company Nine Stories chose “Stronger” as its first film, said he was faced every day with the fact that he probably could not do what Bauman did and called him one of the strongest people he knew.

Gyllenhaal admitted to being intimidated when he first met Bauman, knowing the impossibility of matching the reality of Bauman’s experience. But as they spent time together, he quickly saw a connection and why Green cast him for the part.

“We have a lot of similarities,” said Gyllenhaal, but “the friendship came from asking the hard questions. And we continue to do that together.”

A simple query about what shoes Bauman wore the day of the bombing led to an explanation of how he saw his feet and shoes lying on the ground after the explosion.

“That was the moment where I realized how brave he was,” said Gyllenhaal. “To face that - again, talking about what strength is? It’s in those little moments.”

Gyllenhaal said he is often asked when he will play a super hero. “I finally kind of have. To me, that’s how I feel about him.”

For Bauman, the real heroes are those who helped him over the years. “I lost something, but my heroes picked me up,” he said.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Bauman said he saw his life accurately played out in the film, and that the movie’s Toronto opening gave him closure. He was a different person and in a better place, he wrote.

“Everyone is fighting their own private battles without half of the support that I have had,” he wrote. “My hope is that they walk away feeling lifted and inspired.”

Reporting by Solarina Ho; Editing by Mary Milliken

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