It was only right at the end of my phone interview with The 15:17 To Paris’s actors-cum-real-life terrorist foilers Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler that it suddenly became apparent why they couldn’t turn down Clint Eastwood’s offer to star as themselves in the film, even though they had no acting experience.
“It’s important for people to go deeper than the headline,” Sadler insisted. “As far as us spoiling the terrorist attack the movie does a really good job of showing just how ordinary we are. Hopefully you can identify with one or all three of us, and hopefully this film can inspire people to overcome adversity in their real lives.”
This was the reason why the trio had collaborated with Jeffrey E. Stern on the book of the same name, and it was also the reason why the trio had sought out Clint Eastwood at the Guys Choice Awards to pitch their incredible true story to him as a film.
“After reading our book he realized the craziness of the whole thing and how truly lucky we are to be alive,” recalled Stone. “I think it was just one of those stories that he typically likes. He even told us that he stopped working on another project to work on ours.”
Still, it was never their intention to even appear in the film, let alone lead it.
“That was a pretty 11th hour decision on Clint’s part,” explained Skarlatos. “They had been casting for over a month and then just 3 weeks before filming they called us down to Burbank. We just assumed it was to talk to the actors.”
Instead, the Oscar winning director wanted them to recreate the events on 21 August, 2015, when Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler, Mark Moogalian and Chris Norman subdued Ayoub El Khazzani as he tried to open fire on a crowed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris.
But rather than having any concern about reliving the near tragedy, the trio were instead more daunted by appearing on screen.
“It wasn’t anything that traumatic for us,” Skarlatos remarked. “Nobody died the day of the attack. We are lucky that not one of us got PTSD or anything like that. There was obviously doubt about us acting because it was such a risk. But eventually Clint gave us the confidence to say yes.”
Surprisingly, Eastwood told Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler not to take any acting classes ahead of their big-screen debuts, though, insisting, “I just want you to do it as you did it.”
The trio soon calmed and settled into their roles in front of the camera, with Skarlatos admitting that they “just enjoyed the process,” especially as it gave them the chance to do most of their European trip again. This time with one of the most successful filmmakers and actors in Hollywood history in tow, too.
Clearly they couldn’t be happier with the end result, especially as “The 15:17 To Paris” is grounded in a reality that highlights their heroics, but doesn’t make them out to be super-human.
“A lot of people think that it is some trait that just the three of us have,” noted Sadler. “But the film does a good job of showing that we are just three ordinary guys and people will be able to identify with that.”
“Hopefully people will know that they are capable of the extraordinary as well. You just never know until you are in that situation. Hopefully this film will inspire and let people know that is impossible.”
“The 15:17 To Paris” is released on February 9.