Stars of 'Richard Jewell' defend controversial Clint Eastwood drama: 'We're not making a political statement'

Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·6 min read

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.)

Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Paul Walter Hauser in Clint Eastwood's controversial new drama 'Richard Jewell' (Photo: Claire Folger/Warner Bros.)
Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Paul Walter Hauser in Clint Eastwood's controversial new drama Richard Jewell. (Photo: Claire Folger/Warner Bros.)

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.

Wilde herself has taken to Twitter to comment on the role and the controversy surrounding it.

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.”

Hauser plays Richard Jewell in the movie's recreation of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing (Photo: Claire Folger/Warner Bros.)
Hauser plays Richard Jewell in the movie's recreation of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. (Photo: Claire Folger/Warner Bros.)

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.

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