Rome Film Fest: Jake Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bauman Discuss PTSD Healing in 'Stronger'

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Jeff Bauman (left) and Jake Gyllenhaal

"Isolation is huge when you go through something traumatizing," said Bauman of surviving a terrorist attack.

David Gordon Green’s Stronger is based on the true story of Jeff Bauman, who became a symbol of national hope after surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The screenplay was written by John Pollono, who adapted the book by Bauman and Bret Witter. 

The movie, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman and Tatiana Maslany as his girlfriend Erin, does not shy away from the physical hardships of Bauman after he lost both legs above the knee. But it also shows his mental struggle with PTSD after the bombing, a topic not frequently explored in film.

Bauman, who was in Rome with Gyllenhaal to promote Stronger, said that indeed what he loves most about the pic is how Gyllenhaal was able to portray the psychological pain of surviving a terrorist attack.

“He portrays the stuff that I didn’t tell him. I think he saw a lot in my face and what I was going through," said Bauman. "It shows the dark stuff.”

Bauman said that while the movie perfectly shows how he overcame physical hurdles after the attack — where something as simple as learning how to get out of bed or take a shower was a huge struggle — it was often the emotional struggles he contended with that were the most difficult.

“I pushed Erin away. Isolation is huge when you go through something traumatizing. You tend to want to isolate and kind of hide in your hole and kind of just go away," he said. "To get out of that hole and really put yourself out there is really a tough thing to do, and it’s something that I’ve been working on for three years.”

While Bauman became a symbol of survival for many Americans, the face of "Boston Strong," it did not come easy for him. “For the first two and a half years, I was drinking and partying a ton because it was an escape to go away and not face what was going on in my head," he said. "Jake portrayed that in the movie to a tee. It made me cry.”

Bauman said that it took him a long time to accept his situation, and spoke of the importance of treating mental health issues. “As for now, I haven’t drank in 16 months and I see a therapist on a regular basis, and that’s huge. I didn’t do that at first. I thought, 'Let’s go to the bar and drink. Let’s go watch the Sox,'” he said.

“You do have to work on yourself and work on your mental health really hard. And I should have put that first right out of the gate. Watching the movie, I see all of my mistakes,” said Bauman. “Now I’m in a different life. I’m a great father. I don’t drink and I don’t party. And I take care of myself mentally, and that’s huge. I feel really healthy.”

Gyllenhaal said that, as an actor, he has previously played a Marine and a police officer, and as a result he has worked to learn about PTSD in order to fully portray the characters he takes on.

“You learn things that you’ll never play in the movie, but it’s important to understand the character as a whole,” Gyllenhaal said. “I have a number of friends who have been in the military and a number of friends who work in law enforcement, and a number of people outside of that in different situations they’ve had in their own life, traumatic situations that have many different forms."

Throughout his research, there is one piece of advice the actor overhead from a soldier that has continued to stick with him. “Just treat everyone like they’ve had a broken heart,” he said. “I think that goes for every human being in the world.

"We all know someone who is struggling, or we ourselves are struggling with something," Gyllenhaal continued. "And I think that Jeff shows us that even though he continues to struggle, and we all do in different ways, that we can get through it.”