David Gordon Green opens up about directing Jake Gyllenhaal in new drama Stronger...
With a portfolio that includes slacker comedy Pineapple Express, fantasy spoof Your Highness and madcap Al Pacino vehicle Manglehorn, you wouldn’t think director David Gordon Green was a natural fit for the big-screen re-telling of the story of Jeff Bauman, a young man who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing and must adjust to his new life, but he’s done a superb job.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Bauman himself with Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany playing his on/off girlfriend Erin, Miranda Richardson and Clancy Brown also take key roles.
With the film now out on DVD, we spoke to Gordon Green about making the film, how he got Gyllenhaal ready for the role and the practicalities of putting disability on film…
How did you first get involved in the project?
“I got sent the script. It came at an odd time because I had been looking at something really funny to do and was really determined to find a comedy and then this script came in and it knocked me on my ass.”
What was it about the script that had that effect on you?
“You don’t see movies like this very often. It wasn’t about the headlines, it was about characters in the shadows and the aftermath of a catastrophic event. Not the extraordinary moments, but the ordinary moments and it was so intimate and insightful and really entertaining. It might seem like I was looking for a comedy and I stumbled into a drama, but I found a lot of light and humour in this script. It changed my direction completely and I totally committed to it, it became such a passion project.”
When did Jake get involved? Did you consider anyone else to play Jeff?
“He was my first and only thought. When I read it I knew it needed someone who could bring drama and intensity, but also a boyish innocence. Jake isn’t known for comedy, so I thought it would be good to play with that. And, the more I got to know Jeff, the more playful he seemed and we really tried to incorporate that into the character. Jake embodies so much, he’s got this amazing range. My movies are quite varied, they’re hard to pin down and Jake is the same, he can disappear into his work.”
How did you get him physically ready for the role?
“There are videos of Jeff taking us through it all step by step, how he gets in and out of his wheelchair, how he uses his prosthetics and how he exists at home when he doesn’t want to apply them. Jeff was such a beautiful part of the movie, he was so generous and we did everything we could to be respectful, Jake was able to capture so much of him.”
How did you set about pulling off the technical aspect? It must be challenging to make it look like someone doesn’t have legs?
“For me, it was very easy, but I was able to rely on an incredible visual effects team. Some shots were more complicated than others. Sometimes it was as simple as having Jake wear green socks and we’d do one take with him going through in a wheelchair and one take without the chair and then we’d digitally erase his legs. Other times it’s a lot more complicated. Getting in and out of the bathtub was tough, we had to construct three different bathtubs.”
“One that he’d pass his legs through as he’s being helped in, then we’d add a wall in digitally, another one where he’d slide his legs through so he could be lying down from where his knees would be and then a working functional tub. In those situations you have to be guided by technicians as to what they need, we just wanted to make it lot as raw and natural as possible.”
Tatiana Maslany’s Erin is a huge part of the story, when did you settle on her for the role?
“We just did auditions. I’d heard of Orphan Black, but I’d not seen it. I saw her first reading and I was blown away and then I watched the show and I got her in a room with Jake and the chemistry was there. It’s a complicated role. On paper, it could just be a love interest, but we needed someone three-dimensional, she has to challenge him and say very difficult things to him. She’s a driving force for the narrative and Tatiana was incredible. She and Jake absolutely went toe to toe and there are some really intense scenes.”
You filmed it in Boston, where the events took place, was that something you felt was important to do?
“It was essential. A movie like this, you can smell when you’re being manipulated and the story is being over-sentimentalized. It needs to be down and dirty. We invited the Boston community into this movie and we tried to open up. It’s a celebration of survival.”
What was the most challenging scene to do?
“The recreation of the explosion. It was all-day and it was just one shot and it was very intense with a lot of logistics to look after. We had a local crew and local background actors and we wanted to make it feel vivid and visceral. It was a day full of emotion, but with a lot of technical and ethical decisions all at once. I’m proud of what we did and it doesn’t matter how many times I watch that scene back, it’s still difficult to watch, it’s got such emotional impact.”
Finally, you’re going from Stronger into a new take on Halloween, how’s that all coming along?
“I’m polishing the script right now. It’s a real change of pace. I’m excited. It’s a huge title, it’s a movie that inspired me to get into movies in the first place. It’s an honour to be working with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis and it’s a real responsibility. We’re very close to the start, we’re prepping it now.”