The story centers on Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs in the explosion and became the face of the Boston Strong movement.
Inspired by a true story, Stronger follows the journey of Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, as he adjusts to his new life and becomes the symbol for fighting against terrorism.
The film is largely based on Bauman’s book by the same title, and shows the aftermath of the bombing in a way it has not yet been seen onscreen (Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, focused on the event from multiple perspectives). Stronger, which will hit theaters Sept. 22, has already started generating award season buzz for its star, Jake Gyllenhaal.
With the film’s focus on real-life people, check out the cast below and see how they prepared for their roles.
Before that fateful day of April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman was living in Boston and working at a Costco deli counter. He had been dating Erin Hurley for almost a year when he went to the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon to cheer her and her roommates on as they finished the race. With Erin a mile from the end, two bombs went off where Bauman stood, and he was carried to an ambulance by those around him.
Bauman woke up the next day at Boston Medical Center after a series of surgeries and found both of his legs had been amputated. He immediately told his family that he had seen the bomber and became an essential part of the FBI investigation to identify Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the latter of whom was convicted of the crime in 2015.
He soon began his recovery, which is the primary plot of the film, and was given state-of-the-art prosthetic legs so he could learn to walk again. Bauman quickly became the face of the “Boston Strong” movement when photos of him at the marathon went viral, and he made appearances at a number of Boston sporting events in the wake of the bombing.
"I don't like being called a hero. In my eyes, there's heroes I look up to. People who saved me — my caretakers, people at Boston Medical Center. My surgeon. The people that pulled me off that ground, who pulled me out. Those are my heroes. The police. The paramedics. Those are the true heroes," Bauman said at a Toronto International Film Festival press conference for the film.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who portrays Bauman, said that he is one of the strongest people he knows because of how open he has been with his story.
"I've been asked over my career, in interviews, 'We hear you almost played this superhero ... when are you going to make a superhero movie?' I feel like I finally kind of have," Gyllenhaal said at a TIFF press conference.
Erin met Jeff in 2012, just under a year before she would run in the Boston Marathon. In his book, Stronger, Bauman describes her as the more responsible one in the couple, saying, “When I met Erin, she had known who she was and what she wanted. That was one of the things I loved about her.”
Bauman dropped her off the morning of the marathon, and she wouldn’t see him again until he was in the hospital, having survived the bombing and multiple surgeries to remove his legs. Hurley quickly took on the role of her boyfriend’s full-time caretaker, quitting her job to be by his side in every step of the recovery.
“She was my driver, errand runner and reacher for things on the top shelf of the refrigerator. She emptied my pee cup,” Bauman said of her in his book.
Bauman and Hurley married in 2014, welcoming a daughter that same year. The couple announced they were divorcing in February 2017. Tatiana Maslany, who plays Hurley in the film, told the Toronto Star that initially she put Erin on a pedestal, seeing her more as a character than a real person.
“It was just amazing how generous she was with her time and with her life and her story. But also I really just related to her as a person… and (was) kind of moved by how similar we were,” said Maslany while premiering the film at TIFF. “We were very similar in age and we’ve deeply loved someone… (The bombing) is obviously something I’ve never experienced, but all of the nuances of their relationship are relatable to me.”
Jeff’s parents divorced when he was 2 years old, and he was largely raised by his mother, as he describes in his book. Patty Bauman worked a series of odd jobs when Jeff was growing up and struggled financially, often working double shifts as a waitress and struggling with alcohol abuse.
“She liked to drink. Some in the family want to make more of it than that like maybe she needed drinking to take the edge off, but that was the way I always saw it: Mom liked to drink,” Bauman wrote in Stronger. “Never during the day, but every night.”
Jeff was living with his mother prior to the bombing, and would return to her apartment after he was released from the hospital. He writes in his book how she often fought with Erin over his care and what he should be doing as part of his recovery.
Miranda Richardson, who portrays Jeff’s mother, told IMDb at TIFF that, “I didn’t get to meet Patty until quite late on, so that was also interesting because she was inevitably not how I thought she was going to be and yet there was a lot I took her from her as well.”
After Jeff’s parents got divorced when he was young, he didn’t see his father regularly. In his book, Bauman says Big Jeff fought for visitation rights but since he didn’t live very close, the two mainly saw each other during the summers. His father remarried and had more children with his second wife. After the bombing, Big Jeff become more involved in Bauman’s life and provided support during his recovery.
Erin’s older sister Gail was also at the Boston Marathon to support her on the day of the bombing, but was far enough away from Jeff that she didn’t get hurt in the explosion. Bauman said in his book that it was Gail who found Erin after the race and told her that two bombs had gone off, even though they didn’t yet know that Jeff has been impacted. She and Erin were very close and she provided support to her sister as she became Bauman’s caretaker.