'The 15:17 To Paris' Film Uses Real Life Heroes To Play Themselves

New Clint Eastwood film looks to three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack

Thursday, February 8, 2018
By Beth Accomando

On Aug. 21, 2015, three young American men thwarted a terrorist attack on a European train. That act of heroism is the center of Clint Eastwood's new film "The 15:17 to Paris." The novelty of the film is that the three real heroes play themselves.

Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler were friends since childhood in Sacramento, California. The film shows how they used to get into trouble in school and how two of them, Skarlatos and Stone, ended up in the military. But all three decided to take time off from the military and college to backpack through Europe.

The three men, all in their 20s, boarded the Thalys train on its way from Amsterdam to Paris, and during the trip a passenger opened fire in one of the carriages, and when his assault rifle jammed, Stone and his friends took the opportunity to subdue the gunman and prevent anyone else on the train from being hurt.

When Eastwood decided to adapt their story to the screen he wanted the three men to play themselves.

"The whole thing was kind of surreal for us," Skarlatos recalled. "Especially the first day of the train filming was just kind of strange, you know, having the same clothes on, the same people and doing it with your two friends, it is strange to live it twice."

The three friends said that Eastwood made them "partners" in the film so that they could address any inaccuracies they found in the script and make sure that the film was true to what their experience was. But when it came to re-enacting the actual action that took place on the train, the men discovered facts about the case that they had not known before regarding other passengers' points of view. That was because many of the other passengers also played themselves and the film provided a kind of reunion for all of them.

Skarlatos pointed out that "breaking it down and doing it so many times was in a way kind of therapeutic and helped us put it behind us."

For Stone having to shoot that train scene gave him some insights.

"I just remember realizing how much adrenaline played such a factor in the actual moment versus when we recreated it because even just kind of softly wrestling around with Ray in the beginning, like, I would be bumping my elbow on things and hitting my head on the glass. And I was like 'Gee this hurts.' And I don't remember it hurting that bad in the moment. So I realized how adrenaline kind of changes your physical feelings, your mind and how you react to things," Stone said.

Sadler appreciated how Eastwood never tried to "Hollywood it up" and never tried to "over direct" them.

"He would come over and say a joke, and now I'm laughing, and we're just having a beer at a hostel, and he'll walk away, and I would be like, 'Did we start?' And he was already recording us. He was recording us and we didn't even know."

"The 15:17 to Paris" opens Feb. 9 throughout San Diego.