Halfway through the movie Stronger, there’s a scene that stands out and sticks with you. It’s when Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Jeff Bauman sits in a bar with Carlos Arredondo, the hero who saved him during the Boston Marathon bombings.
In the film, Arredondo’s character is played by Carlos Sanz, whose moving performance is just as emotional as Gyllenhaal’s performance. Sanz has a five-minute scene in which he tells Bauman about his own son who died during the Iraq War. “Helping you made me feel like I could help my son, and for that I am grateful.”
I caught up with Sanz to talk about how playing Carlos inspired him, and about his conversations with director David Gordon Green who advice on how to keep it real helped to center and fine-tune his approach to the role of Carlos Arredondo.
Your key scene is so intense and moving and you give such an emotional performance. How did you get into the role of Carlos Arrendondo?
What’s interesting is that when I got the material I really connected with it. There’s something about Carlos Arrendondo and his extraordinary fortitude that really had an impact on me. It took me a while to get through the material because it was just so heartwrenching. Once I did, I felt it was a part of me and I wanted to bring a truth and reality to the role.
What material did you have access to?
I watched some interviews with Carlos mainly to get the accent and his temperament. I remembered him from the photographs but knew very little about him. I imagined this person who was broken and devastated. I watched these interviews and he’s not, he’s actually very loving and very giving. That’s primarily what I did.
Our director David Green asked if I wanted to meet Carlos and I passed on that mostly because I didn’t want to do an impersonation. I met him towards the end of the shoot and he was actually so warm and loving that I think it would have colored my performance so in that way it worked out well.
How did you flesh out your character and what did you say to David?
I had a lot of conversations with David who was adamant about keeping him real and keeping him centered. The words are incredibly beautiful and John Polano did this great job with Carlos. It’s interesting that you bring him in so late and there’s this five-minute monologue of this guy telling his story. David stressed how he wanted Carlos to be real and how broken he was. This meeting between his character and Jeff was as much for him as it was for Jeff. He knew he had to talk to him and thank him for being there. It was important to keep that sense of incompleteness of the person. We did a lot of different takes and what ends up in the movie is spectacular.
What was important for you to get right about the bombing and rescue?
The production team did a great job. There were so many actors in so many stages of injury with lots of smoke and blood everywhere. Jake is brilliant and in the bombing scene, he is the guy. David would tell me not to lose the sense of urgency and adrenalin. You don’t know what you’re going into. Carlos didn’t know if there was another bomb, there was just this big explosion. To keep that intensity, each time I ran into it, there was an overwhelming sense of desperation. What works and I think it happens in real life is what you want to do is control your emotions and to focus on those who need help because if you go crazy you’re not going to be of any help. It was that kind of situation to keep that kind of state.
Our cinematographer was working around the people and comes around to you and it looks beautiful, but it was all choreographed. David had this idea of what he wanted and it masterfully played through every time we did it.
Playing a character like that will have an effect on an actor, no doubt, so how did it affect you?
I really didn’t think that it did affect me. It made me appreciate of the fortitude of the human spirit. I’ve had some family tragedies but sometime later his words would come back to me and I found that I became a caregiver. It really resonated with me which is a strange thing, and that’s what I pulled from playing him.
What was it liking seeing Stronger on the big screen for the first time?
I was so moved by it. I got to the end of the movie and I was in tears and I thought it was just so beautiful.
I remember having a brief discussion with John the writer and what was so beautiful about it was that it’s a subject that could be very difficult, but there’s humor and all the characters are very human and the performances are incredible. By the time you get to the end, I feel you leave a bit of a better person after you’ve seen the movie.
I think that’s it. It left you inspired.
For me, one of the things I found important was that Carlos Arredondo is an immigrant to this country and he’s an American hero and given the climate we’re having in this country, I think it’s important to show that these people exist and they thrive and they’re important to the very fabric of the country. It’s not part of the movie and it’s not meant to be, but for me, it’s important to see that kind of character.