In Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie, Stronger, he plays Jeff Bauman, the Boston resident who lost both his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and became an icon when a photograph of him was published in the aftermath. Bauman also helped FBI agents identify one of the terrorists who planted the bombs. Gyllenhaal joined Bill Simmons on the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast to talk what it was like to play Bauman. The two also touched on Gyllenhaal’s experience filming Brokeback Mountain.
One scene in Stronger involves a reenactment of Bauman carrying out a “Boston Strong” flag at a 2013 Bruins game.
“That was the first day,” Gyllenhaal said. “We shot that the first day. Because we didn't know if the Bruins were gonna make the playoffs—and they didn’t—and so we needed the Bruins game.”
The production team went to a Bruins game to shoot the scenes, starting with easy ones in the press box. When the game ended, they sent out an announcement asking fans who were in attendance to remain in their seats so that the team could shoot the scene on the ice. But it was risky—Gyllenhaal thought that few would stay and the scene wouldn’t work.
“I'm definitely a cynic. And I thought, ‘No one’s gonna stay.’ And we get down there, I get in the wheelchair, and I’m there with Tatiana [Maslany], who plays [Bauman’s then-girlfriend] Erin in the movie. And our crew’s there, and our camera crew. And they make the announcement, the lights go down, and they roll me out, and I realize that three-quarters of the stadium has stayed. And they’ve all come down, including Jeff. And they’re all cheering, like, ‘Jeff, Jeff, USA!’ And I just got overwhelmed, just by proxy, by the love they have for Jeff. That was the craziest, most beautiful send-off you could ask for. I just thought, ‘Man, this city.’ And that was it, that was how we started.”
Later in the podcast, the two discussed Brokeback Mountain and how Gyllenhaal feels about the movie now.
“It’s beautiful. I mean, you know, for me and for all of us who made that movie, it’s a ... making a movie is a very different experience from watching that movie. The process of [making] it was particularly special. What I remember from that is, like, little things. Like watching Ang Lee do tai chi in the morning, and were all living in our trailers right next door to each other.”
The movie became a cultural phenomenon—something no one on production expected as they were making it.
“And it wasn’t necessarily that we knew we were doing something special, like what it became. We had no idea anyone would see the movie. … At that time, no one was really telling stories like that. I think we just went, ‘Yeah, it’s a beautiful story and we want to tell it.’ And I don't think any of us knew the phenomenon it would become. It was a phenomenon, it was crazy when it came out. To me, I think relationships are made not in the outward success, but in the connections. So we were all very deeply connected due to the process of that.”
Gyllenhaal made similar connections on the set of Stronger.
“It is an absurd job that I do. It can be stupid. But it can also open doors and show you the world in a way that you have never seen before. I never thought I would meet Jeff Bauman when I saw that photograph of him. I saw that photograph of him and I was devastated, I was angered, I was hurt, but who knew that I would meet him two years later and he’d be one of my friends and I’d make a movie about him?”
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.