Clint Eastwood has built a career on ‘no bullshit’ so it’s not really surprising that his latest creative move has been to cast the real-life heroes behind the story of new movie ‘The 15:17 To Paris’ – but it was still a massive gamble, as he tells RISING.
On 15th August 2015 a terrorist appeared on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, armed with an assault rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol and a can of petrol. A French passenger tackled him and wrestled the AK47 away from him but was shot through the back with a pistol. The 25-year old gunman then opened fire in the train carriage packed with unsuspecting passengers, but his AK47 jammed. What happened next inspired Clint Eastwood to tell the story in film, as the 87 year old tells RISING with his trademark grizzled tone, delivering clean, sharp responses with a warm edge. There's no bull with Eastwood – standard.
The 15:17 To Paris is an extraordinary movie, not only because it tells the story behind the extraordinary bravery of the three unarmed, off-duty American soldiers, Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, who took down the terrorist, but also because Oscar-winner Eastwood took a gamble by casting the heroes as themselves. Known for pushing the boundaries, Eastwood says: “You never learn unless you accept those challenges.”
RISING When you told the studio execs you planned to use the real guys instead of actors, what was the reaction? CLINT EASTWOOD, DIRECTOR ‘They weren't happy, no. I think it was the last thing they wanted to hear coming out of my mouth, haha! But they trusted me, trusted where I wanted to go with this and nervously agreed.’
RISING Why did you decide to film the story this way? CE ‘It just hit me one day. What if? And it seemed to make sense to me. I'd been speaking with actors, good actors, who would have served their story well but this is their story. And who better to tell their own story then the men who actually went through it and lived it? You can produce that level of reality, but sometimes you're putting actors into a level of reality that they can't possibly imagine and conjure those emotions. I wanted this story told with the most precise accuracy there could be. By having the guys involved, telling their own story, takes it to another level. instead of having it simply acted out.’
RISING Isn’t it quite a risk to cast non-actors with no experience – yes, they went through it but they had no experience of a set and how it all works? CE ‘You sound like [a Warner exec]! It was a big risk, I know that. And I knew that going down this road, I had a few say to me: “What are you thinking?”
What made our boys run at a terrorist who's pointing a gun at you?
RISING And what about the men themselves – wasn’t it traumatizing for them? To relive the event? CE ‘I think it was more cathartic than traumatic for them. Helping them breakdown what happened and what it could have been. There were four, five hundred people on the train that day. The terrorist had nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, this could have been a horrific, unprecedented attack. But thanks to the good fortune with these weapons jamming and the quick thinking and actions of these guys, they saved a lot of lives. One man was shot, and thankfully survived, due to the actions of these boys. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’
‘I don't know if I could claim to do the same. I think like most people, I probably would have jumped under my seat. So what made our boys run at a terrorist who's pointing a gun at you?’
RISING How did you originally approach them – did you think they'd refuse? CE ‘I thought maybe some would say no. I didn't believe all three would agree, I wasn't expecting that. I met them and asked straight out, no messing around, “would you play yourselves?” They sort of said yes straight away, I know they were a little shell shocked by the question but they got with it. And I felt they had a natural gift and I wanted to see what they could do with it. They had charm and ease, and I wanted them to go into this without too much contemplation or thought. I just wanted them to live it as they did, tell their extraordinary story.’
RISING What advice did you give them before filming started? CE ‘They asked me if I they should take acting lessons and I said no. I didn't want them to look like they were acting. They had this. They lived through it, I knew they could do it. I wasn't smart enough to know for sure they could but they had good attitudes. They had good egos about it. I didn't want them to train or prepare, I wanted them to be themselves. Just be yourselves, that's all I asked.’
RISING You shot this on an actual working train, like the Thalys model – didn’t that make life harder for you? CE ‘I didn't want guys on either side of the train, rocking it on palettes, that wouldn't have worked. But it’s tight on those trains. And they go fast, 160-180 mph. The space to shoot is narrow but those were the challenges presented. It was all very experimental. But you never learn unless you accept those challenges.’
‘There were people getting on and off. We had six-minute windows to do these scenes and I don't think anyone knew we were shooting anything, it was an operation in stealth!’
RISING You are in your late eighties now and are constantly working, how do you keep going and do you ever think you'll retire? CE ‘I think I assimilate and absorb that energy from the people around me, haha! That's how I keep going. I enjoy doing it. I've had suggestions I should retire from enemies as well as friends: “why don't you quit this?” It's what I do, why would anyone want to quit what they do? What am I going to do if I retire? How will I fill my day? Play golf? I like to play golf but I won't like it if I have to play it to fill my day. I'll start to resent it. I don't want to resent golf, I want to keep enjoying it.’
RISING Your son Scott is enjoying great success, going from strength to strength, are you proud? CE ‘Yes, I am. He's going great. He's working, consistently it seems and that is success right there, in this industry: consistency.’
RISING You’ve worked with all your kids who are actors, how is it directing them? CE ‘They listen. I think because they're related, they have to work even harder. But they listen, they take good direction, they're good actors. I've probably demanded more of them than I do of other actors because you demand more of your children. You don't want them slacking off. I'm very proud of what they've done and continue to do. Very proud.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for *The 15:17 To Paris, out in cinemas now…