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David Gordon Green on making Stronger, his first true-life story

By Piers Marchant
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David Gordon Green has always followed his own path. His filmography jumps around from place to place like a topographical map of the Baltics—hitting everything from indie dramas (George Washington, his first feature) and Seth Rogen-led stoner comedies (Pineapple Express) to more avant-garde experimental material (Prince Avalanche). His new film, Stronger, a biopic about Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal in some of his finest work), is most definitely a big-studio film, but even within those strict confines, Gordon Green manages to clear out a lot of clichés and empty patriotic ramble. We asked him a few questions about the film, which is now playing at Ritz 5

You’re from the deep South, but this story is utterly Bostonian, a place that is famously difficult to get right for an outsider. Any worries that it wouldn’t feel authentic? That the accents would be off?

Not really. I mean, certainly the dialect coach was there to make those adjustments and corrections. And our crew is from Boston. They would have called “Hollywood bullshit” on it really quickly. I haven’t heard anything negative about it yet, but again, I’m from the South. I do the same thing when someone pulls out a “y’all” and a “yonder.” I get a little suspicious of some of that, but these are great actors and the story is more than that, so hopefully it’s not a distraction.

Was it hard to make a film where the people portrayed are very much alive and watching?

This is the first movie I’ve ever made where I really did make it with real subjects and an audience in mind. It’s the first true-life story, so I had an obligation ethically to make something that honors them. Then, I really wanted the audience to take something away, to make an experience that invites an audience rather than frustrates them.

Is it right to say a big part of Jeff’s character arc is his coming to accept that for better or worse, people consider him a powerful symbol of hope, even if it’s against his wishes?

He’s a dude and he didn’t ask for this shit.

He didn’t, but so much is expected of him. Is he adjusted to it now?

He embraced the fact that he could be a healer in some ways, because someone can say, “Hey, this isn’t a superhero going through this. What a miracle it is.” It’s like, “Oh, he was just this guy that was roasting chickens and watching the ballgame, and that’s what I do.” People see themselves in him, no matter what their background is and no matter what their frustration or devastation is. People connect to this guy. He has that ability that just comes with charisma.

You’ve said you didn’t want to put your audience through such a rough ride and leave them without hope. But you are also the same dude who made Snow Angels, one of the saddest films I’ve seen over the last decade. Have you softened up?

First Snow Angels was adapted from a book, a work of fiction. It was a great performance piece and pleasure to make it, but more of a darker interest that I had in the study of dramatic filmmaking. That was a tough one. Now that I have kids, I don’t really think I can watch that movie.

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