Clint Eastwood with actress Olivia Wilde, who plays Kathy Scruggs, in "Richard Jewell". Picture: Claire Folger
Clint Eastwood with actress Olivia Wilde, who plays Kathy Scruggs, in "Richard Jewell". Picture: Claire Folger

Clint Eastwood explains why he agreed to direct 'Richard Jewell'

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Mar 14, 2020

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When making a movie based on a real-life event, the narrative becomes a tricky juggling act between fact and necessary cinematic liberties. 

When the latter prevails, it heralds the downfall of a movie. 

However, having a seasoned storyteller like Clint Eastwood behind the lens is most advantageous. He has experienced the art of storytelling from various vantage points. 

While he wasn’t completely au fait with the documented events of 1996 at the Atlanta Games, Eastwood did his homework before working on "Richard Jewell". 

He said: “Before working on this picture, I didn’t remember the details too much.  I can’t think of where I was at the time, but I remember when they said that they had a guard who found the bomb, who was a hero and then a suspect.  

"I remember that, but I didn’t know too much about it, and in hindsight, I had forgotten about it. But when I read the article and the script, it seemed like a really interesting subject for today.

“Because, like (back) then, people are still quick to judge today, without thinking of the consequences.”

Clint Eastwood on the set of "Richard Jewell". Picture: Supplied

To put South African audiences in the picture, this movie is based on Richard Jewell, who, in 1986, left his job as an office supply clerk to pursue a career in law enforcement. In 1996, having moved around from several jobs, he was employed as a security guard at the Olympic Games.

On July 27 in the same year, he came across a suspicious package, later confirmed to contain a bomb ahead of a  Jack Mack and the Heart Attack concert. As such, the entire security team, joined by police officers and FBI agent Tom Shaw, evacuate the area. 

Initially celebrated as a hero, Jewell’s popularity takes a turn for the worse when he is labelled as a possible suspect and the situation starts spiralling out of control. 

This movie is based on the Vanity Fair article, "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell", by Marie Brenner as well as Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen’s novel, "The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle".

Peeling back the layers of his titular character (played by Paul Walter Hauser), Eastwood explained: “He was a guy who was obsessed with being a police officer, and law enforcement was his dream. 

"And so here he was out there working – it wasn’t exactly living his dream being out there as a security guard, but it was at least partially law enforcement. And then he was the one who was smart enough to discover, actually by intuition, the bomb and what it was. Nobody else cared. They didn’t think it was anything – they thought he was crazy. So, it’s kind of a “one guy against the world” story and an everyman-turned-hero story.”

Clint Eastwood pictured on set with Paul Walter Hauser. Picture: Supplied

He added: “It was a bad deal, you know.  It was just a real tragedy. I don’t see it as a political story but much more of a human story; about the little guy against the world, David versus Goliath.”

On casting Hauser, he revealed: “He was our only choice for Richard, and it was a big opportunity for him to be the main protagonist of a movie. And he really took to it, he’s just terrific.  He learned everything he could about Jewell. He listened to him on the newsreels and so forth, and really got him down.”

As for Olivia Wilde’s role as Kathy Scruggs, he shared: “Yeah, she’s a fascinating character, she was obviously very tough, managed to always be ahead of the game, in terms of investigating.  When Olivia read the script, I think she saw a chance to do a lot of things with the role.”

Kathy Bates is cast as Jewell’s mom, Bobi, and Jon Hamm as FBI Agent Tom Shaw.

The loved ones of the real Richard Jewell gave the movie their stamp of approval. 

Eastwood confirmed: “I think they all thought it was good that we were doing his story because it’s a tribute to Richard, who is long gone. He only lived to 44 years of age.”

On this movie being his 38th directorial undertaking, he noted: “The greatest satisfaction is when you do a scene and it comes out the way you wanted it to, or it had the feeling that you wanted it to. 

"I want them (audiences) to see what a tragedy is and see how things can get out of kilter and a lot of people can suffer from it because people are always covering their rear ends, you know, and that’s not always the right thing to do.”

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