Paul Walter Hauser found out firsthand how passionately director Clint Eastwood felt about his movie on Richard Jewell, the security guard who discovered the bomb in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics concert – only to be smeared as the deadly explosion's prime suspect.
Hauser met with Eastwood in April to discuss the unfairly maligned hero, now the subject of "Richard Jewell" (in theaters Dec. 13). The filmmaker shared a first look with USA TODAY ahead of the film's first trailer, which arrived Thursday.
"Clint seemed broken up about the story of Richard Jewell. It still bothered him years later," says Hauser, 32. "He sounded like he was hurting for that family, and wanted the story to come out."
Who is Paul Walter Hauser? He starred as grandiose bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt in 'I, Tonya'
Eastwood, 89, walked away from the meeting knowing he had found the perfect actor to play Jewell, alongside Sam Rockwell as the security guard's crusading lawyer Watson Bryant and Kathy Bates as Jewell's mother, Bobi.
The director didn't even ask Hauser, best known for playing bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt in "I, Tonya," to audition.
"So we met, and I thought, “That’s our guy, that’s him,' " Eastwood said by email. "Not only does he look enough like Richard, but he has an 'every guy' quality that I felt would allow him to disappear into the part."
Hauser grew out the mustache, donned the familiar white baseball cap and packed on 30 pounds to play Jewell, whose face was featured on every newscast and front page after the shocking domestic terrorist attack. The quick-acting Jewel spotted an abandoned green knapsack containing the bomb and brought it to police attention as he started moving visitors away from the area.
The devastation would have been much worse if Jewell hadn't raised the alarm. The explosion killed one and wounded 111.
"The moment he knew there was a bomb in Centennial Park, Richard was all hands on deck, throwing people out of the way, alerting everyone," Hauser says. "Had he not said anything, who knows how many people would have died?"
But the FBI (Jon Hamm plays an agent) and the media (Olivia Wilde stars as a reporter) aggressively profiled Jewell as a suspect.
"Elements of law enforcement, put under pressure, found what they deemed to be evidence to fit a previously decided upon narrative," Hauser says. "This is a guy that got screwed over."
The crew shot many scenes in the original Atlanta locations, including Bobi Jewell's apartment. On July 27, the anniversary of the attack, filmmakers re-created Jewell's actions as the crime unfolded.
"So that night, 23 years later, I was in Centennial Park, pretending the bomb was going off right where I stood," Hauser says. "That was powerful."
The drama has already generated enough excitement at Warner Bros. studio to expedite the editing process and ensure the awards-friendly release date, which surprised even Oscar winner Rockwell.
"I’ve never had this kind of turnaround. It’s incredible," Rockwell says. "No flies on Clint; he's done a lot movies and doesn’t mess around."
Jewell was exonerated and died in 2007 at age 44. (Eric Rudolph is serving a life sentence for the attack after pleading guilty in 2005 for the bombing and three others.) But Eastwood believes "Richard Jewell" will draw attention to his true story.
"Richard is long gone," he says, "but this is really a tribute to him."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Richard Jewell' trailer reveals Clint Eastwood's latest American hero