Magazine article Screen International

Jake Gyllenhaal Talks 'Stronger' and His Ambitious Producing Plans

Magazine article Screen International

Jake Gyllenhaal Talks 'Stronger' and His Ambitious Producing Plans

Article excerpt

“There was a time in my career where I was a little less conscious of the choices I was making.”

‘Stronger’

Though Jake Gyllenhaal played the lead role in Stronger, a drama about real-life Boston bombing victim Jeff Bauman, he seems more excited to talk about his role as a producer. “I’ve put two-and-a-half years of my life into this movie, far beyond the performance of it,” he tells Screen International. “I’ve learned more about myself producing this film and about the film industry than I ever learned before. I’m more proud of it than anything else I’ve ever made, as a result.”

Stronger is the first release from Nine Stories, the production company he founded with Riva Marker in 2015. With projects already lined up with the likes of Luca Guadagnino and Denis Villeneuve, the actor admits this side of the business comes easily to him.

“I grew up in a world of filmmakers, so there’s a real understanding of the process of casting, financing and location scouting,” says Gyllenhaal, the son of a director (Stephen) and a screenwriter (Naomi Foner). “I didn’t grow up understanding the side of the actor. They were always these strange beasts who were brought onto the island at the last minute; I felt much more familiar with the creation of the film as a whole. I revel in the restless, continual failure with small triumphs that is producing.”

Making Stronger

In 2013, 27-year-old Bauman lost his legs below the knee in the terror attack at the Boston marathon. A working-class Boston local who was at the marathon to win back his girlfriend Erin (played in the film by Tatiana Maslany), he became famous firstly for Charles Krupa’s graphic photo of him after the blast, then for his honest account of his rehabilitation in his memoir Stronger, co-written with Bret Witter.

Gyllenhaal was interested in the role even before Bauman’s memoir hit the bestseller lists. Todd Lieberman at Mandeville Films bought the rights to the story, and an early version of the script by John Pollono found its way to Gyllenhaal. He explains: “I called Erik Feig at Lionsgate and said, ‘I love this role,’ just as an actor at that point. They said, ‘Let’s find a filmmaker first and we’ll come back to you.’”

Lionsgate picked the versatile David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express). He was keen on Gyllenhaal, but financing started to slip, reportedly because it clashed with fellow Boston bombing project Patriots Day, also from Lionsgate with CBS Films. “Nine Stories had just made a deal with Bold Films [which has since been extended until 2020] who produced and financed Nightcrawler, Whiplash, Drive and all those other movies,” says Gyllenhaal. “As Stronger was waning I slipped them the script, said, ‘Do you want to finance this with us,’ and they said, ‘Yes.’ All of a sudden my company was involved in producing a film.” Lionsgate remained as the film’s worldwide distributor, with Roadside Attractions handling in the US.

No ‘BS’

Once in production, one of the tasks for Gyllenhaal and Gordon Green was to ensure the film wasn’t a “conventional inspirational story”. “The alarm bell would ring at times,” admits Gyllenhaal. “Things like music cues, behavioural choices… David and I were very specific about the honesty of moments. A lot of that had to do with his technique - rolling for long periods of time.”

Various people from Bauman’s story were also cast as themselves, including Dr Jeffrey Kalish, his real doctor from Boston Medical Center, and Paul and Greg Martino of United Prosthetics who designed Bauman’s artificial legs. …

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