By Cary Shuman
The stars were out at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown Tuesday night for the Boston movie premiere of “Stronger,” the inspiring true story of Jeff Bauman, who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings in the Back Bay.
Bauman was memorialized almost immediately after the bombings in the Back Bay when a photographer caught a picture of the critically injured man being wheeled down Boylston Street away from the scene in a wheelchair – with a dazed look that let everyone know immediately that day the situation was quite serious.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Bauman in the movie, and Tatiana Maslany, who plays Erin Hurley, Bauman’s then-girlfriend, walked the red carpet Tuesday night along with other actors and Boston celebrities including Lenny Clarke, who has a role in the movie, and Boston Celtics players Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.
Bauman, who lost both of his legs in one of the bombings, was one of 32 survivors who were treated at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Sixteen were amputees.
Bauman praised Gyllenhaal’s portrayal, a superlative performance that is generating Oscar buzz already before the premiere on Sept. 22.
“Jake is a great actor. I saw him on Broadway and he’s amazing, it blew my mind. How he can just play me and do me and jump on Broadway and be Georges Seurat, it’s really cool.”
Bauman was happy to reunite with members of his rehabilitation team at the premiere.
“It’s really an honor to have the premiere at Spaulding. Whoever came up with the idea is pretty brilliant. It’s really great to see everybody that I spent so much time with over the year-and-half that I was an outpatient here. My care was really outstanding. They did their job even though I fought them tooth and nail. The PT here, she did her job.”
Gyllenhaal talked about his portrayal of Bauman. “I think for me it was understanding life without legs, understanding what that feels like and trying to put myself in the mindset, which is close to impossible and I think also trying to understand the pain that he went through. There’s nothing that I can do to ever really figure that out.”
Gylenhaal said he is proud of the movie.
“I’m proud of not just the movie itself, but I think if an audience can feel the energy in a film no matter what, the love that comes from it, even if the scenes are saying something else, you can feel the group of people and how much hard work, how much time, and how much of their heart they put in to this. It’s not just the people you see here today. It’s the entire group of people, all the people who helped us: the city of Boston, Spaulding, United Prosthetics- it’s so many people. I’m beyond proud.”
One of the actors in the movie is former 6-foot-6-inch Boston College football player Nate Richman of Easton, who plays Big D, Jeff’s cousin and best friend.
“It really was an honor to be in the movie and to take a story that had such an effect on everybody in the city,” said Richman. “To have the opportunity to take a true story and dive in to this family and this story that happened to a guy like Jeff, how it affected his life and his family and bring that to the screen so everyone could really see what it was truly like – it was an unbelievable experience.”
Among those also walking the red carpet and being interviewed by the media at the well-orchestrated event were David E. Storto, president of Partners Continuing Care and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and Dr. David Crandell, Bauman’s attending physician and leader of the rehabilitation team at Spaulding.
“It means a great deal [to have provided treatment and rehabilitation at Spaulding] because it’s just a terrific opportunity to help educate the public at large and heighten awareness about the challenges people with physical disabilities have and how with their courage and perseverance and with the importance of rehabilitation they’re able to overcome those challenges,” said Storto.
Storto called Bauman’s heroic journey “amazing.”
“As people will see in the movie, Jeff faced many, many obstacles and many challenges and it was a real, tough course of recovery and to now know him as a I do today and see all that he is doing, the educational program that he’s in and how he loves being with his daughter – it’s very rewarding and moving and emotional.”
Spaulding is considered one of the premier rehabilitation centers in the world and the movie will highlight the outstanding care that Bauman received during his rehabilitation at the facility. The movie is seen as a success story for Spaulding.
“Our mission is to improve quality of life for people with disabilities and this helps us fulfill our mission,” said Storto. “It’s certainly great to have more attention not only about rehabilitation and its importance, but to have people see Spaudling, understand Spaulding, and see this facility that we built four years ago.”
Crandell spoke about how far Bauman has progressed in his rehabilitation.
“I think about the first time I found out about Jeff – it was obviously before he became a patient and like everybody else here in Boston, I saw some of the early images [of the Marathon Bombings]. But unlike others, I knew then that some of these people would be coming to [Spaulding] and we would have to take care of them.”
Crandell said he received a call from Erin Hurley and Jeff Bauman’s surgeon prior to his arrival at Spaulding.
“They wanted to make sure that we were ready to care for Jeff and the other patients that were coming,” said Crandell. “When Jeff arrived, he was in really good shape to begin the early parts of his rehabilitation. He did well, he got seen as an outpatient, he got fit with prostheses, and he was able to then use them. I look at this as the next chapter because it really is sort of an odyssey and he’s still moving forward and I think he has a lot of things he’s going to be doing – so having the movie out there also a way to characterize where he’s gotten to at this point and we’re ready to find out what the next step is going to be.”