Even before Clint Eastwood’s latest biographical drama, Richard Jewell, arrived in theaters, battle lines were drawn over the movie’s depiction of real-world events. On one side are those who applaud the movie for depicting how mistakes committed by the FBI and the media in the aftermath of the 1996 Olympic bombing led to an innocent man — security guard Richard Jewell (played in the film by Paul Walter Hauser) — being tried and convicted in the public eye. On the other are those who condemn Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray for taking dramatic liberties with the story that play into suspicions of the press and federal authorities that are prevalent in right-wing circles.
In a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment, the stars of Richard Jewell — Kathy Bates and Hauser — sought to find common ground between the two camps. “I don’t want this film to be used in any kind of political way,” stresses Bates, who plays Jewell’s mother, Bobi. “That’s not why Clint made this movie. He made it because he felt it was a real American tragedy and he’s always been drawn to those stories.” Adds Hauser: “This is an isolated incident in which several people in different groups, either by omission of action or inaction, did something wrong and the Jewell family took a serious toll. We’re not making a political statement, we’re making a character-driven film, and the outcome is righting the wrong for Richard.” (Watch our video interview above.)
The agreed-upon facts are these: While working security during a concert at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on the evening of July 27, 1996, Jewell discovered a backpack containing three pipe bombs. Alerting the authorities, Jewell aided with an evacuation moments before the devices exploded — crucial moments that prevented a higher casualty toll. Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell was designated as a possible suspect by the FBI in the days following the bombing. That information that was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde) and swiftly gained national attention. After an 88-day investigation, the FBI cleared Jewell of all suspicion; he later sued multiple media outlets alleging libel, including the Journal-Constitution. (Scruggs died in 2001; Jewell died in 2007.)
In the film’s version of events, Scruggs gets the scoop about Jewell after sexually propositioning an FBI agent (Jon Hamm, playing a fictionalized character). Not surprisingly, the newspaper has objected to that portrayal, even demanding that a disclaimer be attached to the movie when it opens in theaters on Dec. 13.
It's infuriating that movies and shows so often depict fictional female journalists sleeping with sources to get their stories.— Sarah Frier (@sarahfrier) December 9, 2019
In this movie, they're portraying a REAL REPORTER doing so, with no evidence, and she's not alive to defend herself. https://t.co/WQDK8HeMWr
I saw 'Richard Jewell.' With "alternative facts" and a plot twist around fake news that smears a dead female journalist, Eastwood dangerously amplifies Trump's "enemies of the people" rhetoric. Stay away and spend your $$ on your local org. My new column https://t.co/FMwJHLZgU1— Will Bunch 🆘 (@Will_Bunch) December 11, 2019
Wilde herself has taken to Twitter to comment on the role and the controversy surrounding it.
One of the things I love about directing is the ability to control the voice and message of the film. As an actor, it’s more complicated, and I want to share my perspective on my role in the film “Richard Jewell”.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
I was asked to play the supporting role of Kathy Scruggs, who was, by all accounts, bold, smart, and fearlessly undeterred by the challenge of being a female reporter in the south in the 1990s. I cannot even contemplate the amount of sexism she may have faced in the way of duty.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
As a child of journalists myself, I have deep respect for the essential work of all in their field, particularly today when the media is routinely attacked and discredited, and regional papers like the AJC are disappearing on a daily basis.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy “traded sex for tips”. Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
The perspective of the fictional dramatization of the story, as I understood it, was that Kathy, and the FBI agent who leaked false information to her, were in a pre-existing romantic relationship, not a transactional exchange of sex for information.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
I cannot speak for the creative decisions made by the filmmakers, as I did not have a say in how the film was ultimately crafted, but it’s important to me that I share my personal take on the matter.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
Bates says that while the movie makes note of the media and FBI’s mistakes in the aftermath of the bombing, it’s not passing judgement on any person or organization. “I want to point out that it’s not an indictment of the FBI or the media; they just got it wrong. We want the media to tell the truth. We want the FBI to be able to do their work and be appreciated for it. We want to trust our government. All of those elements that we need to have a healthy America.”
Both stars are also aware that the debate over the movie’s politics are clouding its central purpose of honoring the real Jewell. “More than anything, all of us felt tremendous responsibility [to Richard],” remarks Bates, who recently received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. Hauser says that he admires the man he portrays for not giving up on his dream of pursuing a career in law enforcement. “The thing that he was good at and the thing he cared about was turned against him,” the actor says. “My heart went out to him when I saw that.”
Richard Jewell opens in theaters on Dec. 13.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle’s newsletter.