Clint Eastwood Q&A: Richard Jewell
By Fred Topel.
Clint Eastwood is 89 and still directing movies, pretty much one a year. And these aren’t easy ones where you just set up the camera and go. These are intense movies with harrowing sequences like Sully, The 15:17 to Paris and American Sniper, along with taut drama.
That is the case of Richard Jewell, which begins at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing and follows the FBI’s investigation of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser). Jewell was the security guard who found the bomb but they spent 88 days questioning him before moving on. The real bomber was caught in 2003 and confessed in 2005. Next year, Centennial Park will put up a plaque honoring the late Richard Jewell.
Eastwood spoke at a Q&A for Richard Jewell at AFI Fest and Gonzo was at the screening to hear him speak. Richard Jewell is in theaters Friday.
Q: How did Richard Jewell’s story find its way to you and what made you want to tell his story?
CE: Well, somebody submitted the script from Billy Ray and they also put the article in, by Marie Brenner, her Vanity Fair story. So I read the story and I thought gee, this is pretty good. Maybe I’d better read the script. And I read the script and I liked it except it had a lot of things in it. I finally went after it. I started chasing it and it was with Fox at that time. I talked a deal up where it would be half Fox and half Warner Brothers. I said this would be kind of cool. So we got it all going and all of a sudden, some exec over at Fox just put a rock in the deal to the point where we all got tired and just walked away. Then four years later, all of a sudden, this last year I said I’m going to take one more shot at that because I really liked it. I felt like the story, the message it has and the message it should have for people as far as innocent until proven guilty,are basic American things. Then all of a sudden we were in gear and all of a sudden, it’s like fate or something because all of a sudden Disney buys Fox. Meanwhile, the head of Disney, Alan Horn, happened to be head of Warner Brothers. He loved the script as well. He loved the project but they couldn’t make it at Disney so finally it all of a sudden fell right back into our lap. And then I was lucky enough to have what I think are the best actors that I could find for those particular roles, the best actors period.
Q: Who brought Paul Walter Hauser to your attention?
CE: I wasn’t really familiar with his work. I did see him in I, Tonya Harding. He played a small part and then I’ve seen him in a couple things, that Spike [Lee] had him in. The look right away, I had kind of had the vision of what Richard Jewell, the look is astounding. They look like brothers. Definitely when you look at him, you know he’s part of the family. A lot of other actors would like to put pillows under them to make them Richard Jewell because it’s a good role, but he was the guy. I liked his performances in small parts and he didn’t disappoint me at all.
Q: Was there appeal to casting an unknown?
CE: I think it was better. I don’t care about the names. If the person’s right, has the right face, I figure somewhere along the line we’ll get something that will maybe get audiences in, but the old days of a name selling a picture is kind of gone in a lot of ways. The name and the picture and the part. It’s hard to believe when you see some pictures out there because they become funny book pictures, where it doesn’t matter so much. In regular stories, biographical stories, you just get the face and the right person. It could be anybody who just suits the role. Anybody in this room could play it if a role’s written and all of a sudden you look at a person, that’s the guy, or girl.
Q: Your name sells movies.
CE: I’m a senior citizen. You have to treat me well.
Q: What is your secret to casting?
CE: Just follow your instincts I think. Casting is the secret to making a film because you get the people that seem to be suited for it. A lot of very good actors come in. I just kind of look at their tape and stuff because if I had to interview every actor personally, I would hire everybody because I’ve been the starving actor. Little things like with Sam [Rockwell], I didn’t see the whole movie but I did where he portrayed the President of the United States a few years back. I met George Bush at a party of some crazy place one time and talked to him for about five seconds. But he, in a matter of five seconds, convinced me that he was the guy and I said what great casting that was. The casting is the whole secret to films. Everybody’s good and everybody’s good in certain things but you find the guy who looks like he fits the role, it’s just kind of an instinct thing.
Q: Is the hope this movie exonerates Richard Jewell?
CE: Yeah, I think it’s a great American tragedy that everybody went after him. I realize how it happened. People, the first time Atlanta’s ever had a huge thing like the Olympics and all of a sudden in two days or three days, all of a sudden they’ve got this horrible bombing going on and they have to get somebody. So they just grabbed the first person who was there and it happened to be Richard Jewell. Everybody sold out. They just sold out. They didn’t offer even the basics of the American system, innocent until proven guilty. And the FBI and a lot of media were unkind. It just shows good people can do bad things and you just have to kind of swing with it but these people, Richard Jewell, was a kind person and he got a bad deal. I’m so happy about the plaque down there and that’s great but I’d like a street named after him. I think he deserves better, even more. That’s just me. It was a story worth telling because it does have drama and it does have people, great people. It has all these great parts. I just wanted this picture in the worst way. I kind of went out, sold a lot of souls to the devil.
Featured photo: From the movie Richard Jewell.