How did you get the part?
I was in Thailand doing another movie and I got a call saying Clint Eastwood was interested in me for one of the leads of his next film, which was very hard to believe. I had another offer to do a TV show at the time, but Geoff Miclat, who is his casting director, and of course Tim Moore, one of the producers, said, “Please hold off, don’t take any more jobs, we really want you for this movie.” So I held it off and I left Thailand three weeks later and I found myself on the Warner Bros. lot meeting Clint Eastwood for the first time.
What was your first impression? What did he tell you?
Clint saw me coming down the hallway with one of the producers, Jessica Meier, and David Bernstein, his first AD, and he kind of smirked at me and just laughed a little bit, as if it had validated his decision, just meeting me. He could tell that I was Richard Jewell and that was very comforting to see that.
What interested you in the script?
Well, I’m a big fan of Billy Ray, the writer. He wrote one of my favorite films of all time, Shattered Glass with Peter Sarsgaard, so it was an honor just to read that script and feel that I would get to say his words and do this film. And I thought what was a strength of the screenplay was that it’s a very heavy story but there were some comedic moments and some very endearing moments and I liked that Richard was painted as a hero in this story, unlike what happened in real life.
How did you interpret Richard in order to play him?
I never wanted to play Richard Jewell as a country bumpkin or a stereotype of America’s South. I wanted to play him as just a human man and the Southern accent was just a by-product of being born in this region. And I think Sam [Rockwell] and I and everyone involved in the project were portraying the characters very realistic and grounded.
How specific was Clint in giving you ideas beforehand?
I think he wanted me to watch a lot of footage, because he wanted me to have the voice down and he wanted me to have some of the mannerisms. He had seen what I did in the film I, Tonya and he kind of knew that I could play a real guy. But, you know, it’s also it’s not like I was playing a famous sports figure or politician or celebrity. You don’t have to do everything in mimicry. It can really be its own thing and you can really just honor the script. But I did watch a lot of footage and I did pack on some weight.
Who did you meet that knew the real Richard Jewell?
I got to meet Bobi Jewell, his mother, and Watson Bryant, his attorney, and we had a long meeting, a couple of hours, and I got to ask them to tell stories about Richard and ask how they felt about the story itself and what was true and what was missed in the story. And they were able to fill in the gaps. And they said they had full confidence in me because Clint had confidence in me.
Was it at all intimidating working with Clint Eastwood?
Clint is kind and confident and warm to people, so if you are fearful of him, it’s because he is this creative giant and he’s a master storyteller. He’s the cowboy, he’s the lover, he’s the fighter, he’s this icon of cinema. So it is intimidating in that sense.
I think the first Clint Eastwood movie that I ever saw when I was young was A Perfect World with him and Kevin Costner. And as I got older, I really loved Changeling with Angelina Jolie, that is one of my favorite dramatic films. And Mystic River was obviously an unforgettable movie, so is Million Dollar Baby. Clint has always been in the foreground and background and periphery of my movie watching.
What was it like working with him day to day?
The relationship between Clint and I, actor to director, was very open and honest. I could tell him if I didn’t like something, if I needed another take, and he gave me another take, he never cut me off. He had said to me, “I’m hiring you because I trust you and I want you to make choices, be instinctual, trust yourself and play the character as you see it.”
And how was it working with Sam Rockwell?
That was interesting, because Sam Rockwell’s one of my acting heroes. He is to me what probably Robert Duvall or Gene Hackman is to him, you know. So meeting him was very nice to kind of break down that barrier, and we could just talk as people and be buddies. And I remember the first night I met Sam, we were eating chocolate and drinking whiskey on his couch watching Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, and it was one of the weirdest/coolest moments of my life. But what was great about that moment was we were bonding, and we were getting to know each other the way Richard and Watson had. So even the moments where we weren’t working on the script, where we were just hanging out, those became very important influential moments to us having on screen chemistry.
What makes Richard so touching for you as a human being?
I saw a picture of Richard Jewell where he was crying, and it got me emotional just seeing a grown man cry, but it wasn’t just that he was crying. He was such a strong-willed individual who cared about keeping this appearance of being a man and being strong, and so seeing him break down and cry in public in the photo really told me that he had been broken by this incident. This incident broke him. And so I’m moved by this story, because what do you do with a man as broken as him, in this nightmare of a situation, and what does it take to bring him out of the muck and the mire.
What would you like the audience to take away when they see the movie?
If there’s one thing the audience could take away from the film, it is that I hope they realize you can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t look at someone and build up presuppositions and barriers and assumptions; you have to know the facts and you have to give everyone their due diligence and know that justice sometimes takes a lot longer than you would like it to. And in this case, in Richard Jewell’s story, they weren’t interested in justice – they were interested in solving the puzzle and closing the case.
Do you remember the event of 1996? Was it something that you followed on the news?
It wasn’t really in my memory. But I know just like the marathon bombing several years ago in Boston, I know that this means a lot to the city and this is a story that has not left the City of Atlanta. So hopefully this will be further closure, and a correct version of history for them, I think.
Read more about Richard Jewell, the film.