Jake Gyllenhaal takes on notoriously tough roles, but his new movie is Boston strong.

In Stronger, shooting now, Gyllenhaal is playing Jeff Bauman, whose story of resilience went national three years ago after a jarring photo epitomized the tragedy of the Boston Marathon attack.

Bauman attended the marathon to cheer on his then-girlfriend, Erin Hurley, who was running her first race. After the pressure cooker bombs exploded, a photographer documented the 27-year-old being wheeled to an ambulance by a bystander in a cowboy hat.

Bauman lost the lower portion of his legs that day. He also helped identify the suspects from his hospital bed.

“I can’t begin to think about the pain that he has been through. In fact, I have thought about it a lot. I’ve tried to,” says Gyllenhaal, calling from Boston’s Back Bay. “But I don’t know if I would have been able to survive.

I don’t know if I have the strength that he has. And that’s a question that I ask myself every day with this film.”

On the three-year anniversary of the attack, much has changed, and blossomed. Bauman endured multiple surgeries and through extensive rehab and prosthetics learned to walk again. He wrote a book, Stronger, about his experience, and married Hurley (Tatiana Maslany will play her); they now have a 20-month-old daughter, Nora.

The film, expected out in 2017 and directed by David Gordon Green, isn’t about the Boston Marathon bombing, those involved stress, but rather Bauman’s “unlikely path toward a love story, and healing and recovery and acceptance of being deemed a hero when he didn’t believe in himself,” says producer Todd Lieberman.

Gyllenhaal officially met Bauman, who he calls “inspirational,” four months ago. (“I woke up one day and Jake was sleeping right next to me,” cracks Bauman.) Last week, Stronger cameras began rolling at the close of a Bruins game, with thousands of fans staying to watch the film crew recreate Bauman’s first public appearance after being hospitalized.

For Bauman, who attended with his family, it was an amazing sight. “They had the comparison side by side of Erin and I doing it and then Jake and Tatiana, and you couldn’t really tell the difference,” he says. The experience stayed with Gyllenhaal, too. “Half of our crew was in tears,” he says.

Bauman, who has toured the country speaking extensively about his experience, says he has learned to compartmentalize when he revisits April 15, 2013. Mostly. “Sometimes I have nightmares and wake up to explosions, but it hasn’t been like that for a while. Definitely going over this, it’s tough — it’s a tough subject for everybody,” he acknowledges.

What he’s excited about is that Stronger will focus on the Bostonians who gave Bauman strength to walk again, including Carlos Arredondo, the man in the cowboy hat who helped rush him to medics (“He’s one of my best friends,” Bauman says); his doctors who got him upright; and his wife, who stayed by his side.

With Hurley recently back at work full time, Bauman feels gifted by days spent chasing after Nora. “I think she hit her terrible twos early,” he laughs. “She gives me a good workout.”

Hope is what he and Gyllenhaal want to leave audiences with, no matter if attacks occur in Boston or Brussels. “Situations like this are happening unfortunately, horrifically almost monthly if not weekly now,” says Gyllenhaal. “So how do we try and bring into the world a sense of overcoming, of positivity over a situation?”

Adds Bauman: “I want to show people you can overcome a tragedy.”

More photos of Jake and Jeff in our gallery:

Gallery Links:
Official Movie Pictures > Stronger (2017) > On-Set Photos