‘Stronger’s’ Jeff Bauman: It Took a ‘Long Time to Really Realize the Power of My Story’

Stronger Jeff Bauman portrait
Bill Kidd for Variety

Jeff Bauman was enjoying a self-professed “ordinary” life in Boston, until the day in 2013 when a bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where he was waiting for his then-girlfriend. Bauman lost his legs that day but gained a new path — one which led him to write his story in the 2014 memoir “Stronger.” It has now been turned into a feature film, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman. “The bombing was only 15 seconds of my life,” Bauman says. “What’s important is the people around me.”

When did you realize the importance of sharing your story?

It took me a long time to really realize the power of my story. I was fighting a lot of battles that were in my own head and just taking direction from the people around me that were looking out for me. I met [author] Bret Witter about four months after I had gotten blown up, and I was really on the fence about doing anything because it was so early [but] I met Bret, and Bret was just a really cool guy. He’d done inspirational books before, and he also just did “The Monuments Men,” which I’d enjoyed, so I was like, “OK, Bret’s cool, let’s try this.” My family said I probably wasn’t going to get another opportunity like this so I should probably do it. So I said OK, and it was really stressful and there was a lot going on, but it kept me busy.

When the book first came out, I started to get really good feedback on it, and I went around the country, public speaking, telling my story to corporations and colleges. So then I realized that it is a pretty crazy story, a pretty crazy event that happened to me. And I really realized the power of it when I started seeing more violence all around the world. Violence towards anybody really hurts me deep down because it’s something that happened to me, and it’s hard. But I’m still here. And I’m a dad and I have a lot to live for. I did before, but I was kind of more alone before, and now I have my daughter, and I’ve got to continue my life, so I love the fact that Jake and everyone wanted to capture that part of my life and show how hard it was. I know it’s hard because I went through it, and it’s still hard, but to really capture it like they did, it’s really wonderful. I’m really proud of it.

Was it an easier decision for you, then, to agree to a cinematic adaptation?

The movie, I felt the same way, but it was a little later on — about a year and a half or two years after — and I was getting used to my new life. I thought I could take it on. But I also thought, “They’re never going to make this movie, so I’ll just go along with it until they give up on it.”

Why did you think they wouldn’t make it?

That’s just who I am, I guess. I didn’t think my story was important enough. And I heard there was going to be another marathon movie, too. But they kept wanting to do it, and Jake came on, and he was really passionate and into it, and I saw they really cared and were going to do it. Everyone on the movie just really cared, and that’s why I got pumped up about it.

As a consultant on the film, how involved were you in casting some of the actors who would play your real life family and friends?

David Gordon Green entertained my thoughts because that’s who he is. You can literally call him at any point and offer ideas, and he’ll entertain it because he’s an awesome guy. So he listened to me about everything. Jake did, too, but Jake was more studying how he was going to play me. Dave was taking everything in in a different way.

How did you help the actors embody your loved ones once they did come on board?

We’d go out and have fun, go to see comedy shows, just get to know each other. Tatiana [Maslany] would come, we’d go out as a group. They’re awesome people. So they got to know me before. When shooting started, I only went to the offices and hung out on their off-time. The movie set was a little too intense. Two hundred and fifty people were trying to do a job, and I didn’t want to interrupt.

The set was probably intense because of the high level of emotions they were capturing, as well, right?

That’s what’s so powerful about the movie: there’s a lot of levels to it. And that’s what gets me the most, I think. That’s what I work on in therapy. The relationship between Erin and I, that’s a real relationship, and it’s heart-wrenching, and we were bawling our eyes out watching it. They were spot-on with how they did it. And then the movie has so many other things, like the triangle with my mom and Erin and me. It was funny at some points because it was so real. The movie had me laughing, and it had me crying.

Has the process of making the film, or even watching it and Jake’s version of you within it, been therapeutic for you?

It’s been a good experience, but I think therapeutic-wise, that’s hard work you have to do to keep yourself mentally healthy and physically healthy. I’m dealing with that personally on my own, but it’s been cool to get new friends and a whole different support group, too, now. There’s Jake and Dave or Todd Lieberman or anyone that was involved. I still talk to them, and they’re there, which is really nice to have. And I still have my mom and my dad and my best friends, my brothers, Erin, my daughter Nora. It’s added to my support group.

What do you hope people learn from you and your experience?

With the book I just thought people were going to learn a lot about me. People started to do book reports on my story, and I was like “Cool, that’s really interesting.” I’m proud of that, but I didn’t set out looking to do that. I wasn’t in that mindset with the book. But with the movie I just want people to really appreciate their own lives. I know they’re going to spend a lot of time in my story, but I want them to compare and reflect on their own lives and be grateful for what they have. I want them to be uplifted and to know that if they’re going through something hard, and everybody is, it will get better and you can get through it. That’s the message of the movie. We’re always going to adapt to our new normal, and if I can do it, anyone can definitely do it.