15:17 to Paris: Eastwood on How and Why He Cast the Real-Life Heroes

In the spring of 2017, acclaimed Oscar winning director Clint Eastwood met Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler to get details about their takedown of an armed ISIS recruit on a crowded train heading from Amsterdam to Paris.

At the time, Eastwood was considering professional actors to play the real-life trio whose story formed the basis of his new film The 15:17 to Paris when it hit him that he need look no further.

“I was going over and over it with them because I wanted to get as much accuracy as I could into the film, and one day it just crossed my mind as I was looking at him. I don’t want to sound Norma Desmond-ish, but the faces just fit.”

“I wonder if they could do it?’ I think there are some wonderful actors around that could’ve played this, but there’s something about this particular project and the heroism that was involved and the way they handled the thing that is just kind of unique, so I thought I’d try that here. And I just said, ‘I think I’ll take a shot at it.'”

With a $30 million budget, Warner 15:17 to Paris, which opens February 9, marks the first time in years that a major studio film has taken risks on real-life protagonists.

Total Shock

“Just total shock,” Stone says of his reaction when Eastwood suggested the three guys might be best suited for the material. “It was something that I never thought about even in my head, even as family and friends were like, ‘Who’s going to play you in the movie. Are you going to play yourself?’ And I was like, ‘C’mon. Of course we’re not. That’s stupid.’ When Clint asked us, we were just so taken aback.”

Eastwood himself has used nonprofessionals before, albeit in supporting roles in Gran Torino.  Given that film’s box-office performance ($270 million worldwide on a $33 million budget), Warner agreed.

“There might’ve been a little discussion as to whether they thought it was a good idea, but nobody expressed it to me,” says Eastwood. “I guess they felt I’d been doing this for 60-something-odd years, and I could maybe make a decision.”

The 2012 thriller Act of Valor, which earned $81 million worldwide off a $12 million budget, starred Navy SEALs whose last names did not appear in the credits and were not revealed in the film’s  marketing.

The entire cast is full of the real-life people — from gunshot victim Mark Moogalian to Moogalian’s wife to extras — who reenacted the event that sparked international headlines.

A few actors like Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer and Tony Hale also appear. Eastwood compensated for the lack of professional experience by doing “a massive amount of improvisation.” He adds, “A lot of times I start the camera when nobody knows it, and keep it running when nobody knows it. You have little tricks that you favor over the years.”