THE 15:17 TO PARIS
About The Production
IN THE FACE OF FEAR, ORDINARY PEOPLE CAN DO THE EXTRAORDINARY
"It hasn't been a conscious choice to tell heroic stories or make movies
heroes," says veteran director and producer Clint Eastwood, whose previous two
and "American Sniper," highlighted the efforts of rather singular men. "I just
do the stories that
come along and interest me. Some feats are exceptional, and beneficial to
society, and it's nice
when you can tell a story like that."
Eastwood's "The 15:17 to Paris" is an incredible true story of ordinary
extraordinary action under the most intense, life-threatening circumstances,
recreated for the
screen and portrayed by the men who lived it-and survived to tell the tale.
In the film, one of those men, Spencer Stone, asks in the days leading up to
"Do you ever feel like life is just pushing us toward something, some greater
purpose?" At that
moment, Stone could not possibly have known what was to come just a few days
later, or the
actions he and his friends, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, would take, or
the hundreds of
lives they would save. On that day, in that moment, he was just a carefree young
man taking in
the beauty of a foreign land.
Stone and Sadler left historic Berlin to meet up with Skarlatos in Amsterdam,
trio boarded an afternoon train at 15:17, headed for Paris. The events of that
ride would later
shock the world and reveal these men to be heroes, earn them the Legion of
Honor, and inspire
them to write their story. They came to the attention of Eastwood when he
with the Hero Award at the Spike Guy's Choice Awards in 2016. Eastwood chatted
and offered to read their book when it was finished.
As soon as it was, Stone sent him the galleys.
Despite his long career, Eastwood has yet to rest on his laurels. Instead, he
challenge himself further with each project, and this one would be no different.
boys really stepped up, and their efforts had a big effect on a lot of people.
When we were
casting, we looked at a lot of good actors, but I kept looking at the guys and
thinking, 'Why not
do something unexpected?' Finally, one day I just said to them, 'Do you think
you can play
Having them not only play themselves, but star as the three leads in the film,
would be an
experiment for the filmmaker as well as for Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone.
"Just the fact that our story was going to be made into a movie was
unbelievable for us,"
Skarlatos states. "On top of that, Clint Eastwood being Spencer's and my
favorite since we were
kids watching 'High Plains Drifter' and 'Hang 'em High'... It was amazing to have
Mr. Eastwood be
Recalling his first serious discussion with the director about the film,
Stone says, "I was
sitting on my front porch, super nervous, thinking, 'I'm about to have a phone
Clint Eastwood.' Then he told me how much he loved the story, and things just
went from there.
But we never imagined playing ourselves, so it was a complete surprise when he
brought it up."
After considering they'd have Eastwood steering the ship, all three were on
admits, "We took a couple of days to think about it, but we knew when we left
the room that we
were going to say yes. Mr. Eastwood just gave us the confidence to do it. He's
such a legendary
director and actor."
Like Eastwood, producer Tim Moore was also as interested in the boys' history
as in their
recent heroics. "From what they saw in the news, everybody knew what happened on
but none of us knew that these guys grew up together, went to school together,
got called to the
principal's office together," he laughs, "and still have a very strong
relationship now. They were
just good buddies, average guys, suddenly put in a situation where you find out
what you would
do, what you're made of, essentially."
Moore further acknowledges that most of us would likely not act in the manner
Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler did. "These guys were clearly meant for something
bigger than even
they knew, and that's what I think appealed to all of us, especially Clint."
Dorothy Blyskal, who adapted the book for the screen, was especially
intrigued by her
subjects' upbringing. Stone and Skarlatos had grown up together; Sadler had
as a young teen. None of them was raised with heroic aspirations or great
anything, they could have been viewed as having somewhat challenging childhoods
when it came
to both academics and discipline. Yet each one of them would find it within
himself to rise to the
occasion that fateful day.
"I'm always rooting for the underdog," she relates. "What drew me to their
story was the
back story-their faith, their relationship with their mothers and how they raised
these men who
triumphed, these heroes who affected so many lives. That's what made it so human,
and so interesting to me."
"They really are just average guys, and I think that's what is so special
about them," offers
producer Kristina Rivera. "They did something extraordinary, but they could be
brother, anybody's friend. Everyone knows a Spencer, an Alek or an Anthony."
Producer Jessica Meier adds, "These young men really do complement one
There's a balance to their friendship, their different personalities, how they
work together and,
of course, how they came together in a split second to change the fate of that
In addition to striving for reality in the casting of the leads, Eastwood and
his team were
also determined to shoot the film in as many of the actual locations as
possible. That meant
taking the production across Italy and France-coincidentally filming in and
around (though not
actually on) the two-year anniversary of the real event-and on a real train
exactly like the one
they'd ridden that day.
Eastwood surmises, "These are regular people, like the majority of us out
there, who get
the gift of life and do the best we can with it, and maybe we get lucky. That
day, the stakes
couldn't have been higher, but these guys all ended up doing the right thing at
the right time.
They could have been very unlucky, but they took charge of their fate. It's all
about what fate
hands you...and how you handle it."
Once you begin to discover who you are, then you will really realize
how you have been given authority over your life.
All in their early 20s at the time of the incident, Spencer Stone was in the
Air Force, Alek
Skarlatos was in the Oregon National Guard, and Anthony Sadler was a student at
University, Sacramento. Sadler had met Stone and Skarlatos-already friends and
since early childhood-in middle school. In the film, a younger Anthony,
portrayed by Paul-Mikel
Williams, meets Spencer and Alek (played by William Jennings and Bryce Gheisar,
coming out of the principal's office...a place that seems all too familiar to the
In reality, Sadler grins, "I think we just lined up alphabetically by name
and they happened
to be the two guys next to me."
"We just clicked with Anthony," Stone recalls. "He likes to have a good time,
social, but also just be at home and chill. Alek is an introvert as well, but
also really goofy and
funny. We connected when we were younger mostly through sports, playing war,
basketball. At the end of the day, we're just three regular guys, nothing
special about us."
Of his lifelong friend, Skarlatos says, "Spencer is really a little bit of
both Anthony and
myself. The script did a good job of summing up our childhood together, how we
met and the
struggles as well as the fun we had as we grew up."
Through showing them young, at home and at play in the woods behind their
film also hints at how Stone and Skarlatos might have developed their early
interest in the
military. The latter continues, "We had this excellent history teacher in middle
school, and his
enjoyment of the subject rubbed off on us, piqued our interest, and it just kind
from there. All through high school, history-especially military history-was a
Following through on that passion after graduation would lead them both
tactical drills and combat exercises that would eventually play a critical part
in their ability to act
during the attack on the train. Stone's jiu-jitsu and medical training and
of firearms and security had become second nature to them, and were key to the
outcome that day.
Still, any retelling of a true story requires some artistic license;
conversations on screen
between Sadler and Stone while traveling through Europe, for instance, would
become more or
less reflections of what had happened, as neither could recall word for word
what was said two
years earlier. The act of retracing their steps proved both surreal and
cathartic for the group.
"It was an amazing experience just being able to go through the process of
making a movie
with Spencer and Alek," Sadlerstates. "Add to that being with Clint Eastwood,
taking his direction
every day, being on those sets... This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that
we would never
have expected to be part of."
Eastwood is known for running a tight ship, while also putting everyone at
ease on set, an
ideal environment for the three newcomers. "I think the hardest thing a
professional actor can
do is play himself," he surmises. "It's easier to hide behind a character than
put the real you out
there for the world to see. But the more time I spent with the fellas, the more
I realized that they
are the backbone of the story. I felt they could do it, and make the audience
they'd gone through better than anyone else.
"I've used non-actors before in smaller parts," he continues, "but not
themselves or recreating precisely events in their own lives. But in this case,
as we kept going
through the whole episode on the train, working out the logistics of how it
happened and how
we could film it, it was like they were performers playing themselves already.
They kept showing
us how it had all gone so we could be as accurate as possible, and for me to
feel comfortable that
it would be like seeing the real thing. It seemed like a rare opportunity,
having the real
participants available and willing, and then giving them a shot at it. I wanted
them to be only
themselves, nobody else, and I felt they could do that."
"Going back as far as we do and having the natural chemistry we do as friends
seem doable," Skarlatos says. "We've gone through a lot of crazy experiences
playing ourselves is definitely another-but it's really the icing on the cake."
Stone adds, "At the end of the day, the natural dynamic between the three of
authenticity of our friendship on and off the screen, will be 100 percent the
truth. That is
something we didn't have to recreate, that's just us."
It's that natural relationship that, according to Sadler, enabled them to act
so quickly that
day. "Each of us had our role, and because we know each other so well, we just
did what we did, all three of us. And Mr. Eastwood would check in with us while
shooting, asking us how did this or that happen, if it wasn't this way tell me
and we'll change it.
That made us more comfortable with the whole process of acting for the first
time, knowing he
wanted to get the story right, down to every last detail."
With the details nailed down to the letter, Stone recalls that during the
critical scene on
the train, "when Mark [Moogalian] was 'bleeding out,' it felt like I had a true
because everything was the same-same man, same clothes, same amount of blood even
it wasn't real blood. I think we all just felt really in the moment."
Both Skarlatos and Sadler agree. "That day, replaying that scene, almost
adrenaline rush in me, which made it easier to feel the same emotions I felt the
day of," Skarlatos
"It showed me just how much the details matter-clothes, people, train
Everything was done so well it made us feel like we were on that train again,"
In addition to creating an exceptionally detailed physical environment for
Eastwood eased them into their performances by establishing a relaxed
atmosphere. Known for
his calm manner when initiating "action" in a scene, for these newcomers the
often have the cameras start to roll while they were on set but in the midst of
conversation. He says, "We'd start filming and I'd just tell them casually to
segue into the
dialogue or the intent of the scene, just catch them in the middle of whatever
they were doing
and go from there. Much of this film is a series of improvisations, but
improvising as themselves
so they didn't have any tension."
While the three men were acting for the first time, they were surrounded by
actors in the other roles, including Judy Greer as Spencer's mom, Joyce, and
Jenna Fischer as
Alek's mom, Heidi. The actresses had been friends for 19 years, but this was
their first time
working together, as well as their first time working with Eastwood.
Greer confesses, "I have to be honest, the reason I was most excited about
and I'm sure everyone says the same thing, was Clint Eastwood. I'm a huge a fan
of his and I have
always wanted to work with him, and so that was a major factor. Plus, he's
quick. He knows
what he wants. He's very decisive. All of which makes the work a real pleasure."
Fischer wholeheartedly agrees, adding, "Clint Eastwood is really funny. He's
amazing sense of humor, which surprised me because I wasn't anticipating it, and
he keeps the
atmosphere on set really light-hearted, yet at the same time takes the work
Greer had the opportunity to meet the real-life Joyce, describing her as "so
bubbly, and such a fierce supporter of her children-a real mama bear, she fights
the good fight.
She's Christian and she has a very strong belief system that guides her; her
faith is a really
important part of her life."
While most of Greer and Fischer's time on set was with the younger actors,
were impressed with their grown up onscreen "sons." Greer notes, "Spencer is
kind of guy who's got your back-and not just because of what he did on the
train. He's a good
person, a sweet person, and during the time I spent with him he always answered
very honestly and with a great sense of humor and humility. I think he and the
other guys brought
the ultimate in authenticity to their roles because they know better than anyone
how they felt in
that moment, what they were thinking and how they reacted."
"Judy and Jenna remind me so much of my mom and Heidi, they were the perfect
to play them," Stone cites.
Skarlatos adds, "I had dinner with Jenna the night before we shot the airport
together, just so I could get to know her, and we talked for two hours straight.
She was so nice,
a great conversationalist and a great person. I was a fan of 'The Office' and I
think I've seen every
episode, and she not only lived up to any expectations I'd built up in my head,
she was even
better. She's a nice, wonderful person and she's playing my mom, who is also a
Fischer says the feeling was absolutely mutual. "Alek is an American hero and
I was kind
of overwhelmed meeting him. I'd never met a person who has done something so
such an act of heroism. I didn't want to ask him too many personal questions-but
I also wanted
to know everything!
"Of course, I remember when this happened, the news stories about the three
travelling through Europe who thwarted a terrorist attack," she continues, "so
when I heard they
were making a movie about it, I was intrigued. When I read the script, even
though I knew the
ending, I found it to be just a moving and suspenseful story, and I was struck
by the number of
coincidences, of serendipitous events that came together that day. I also hadn't
were friends from childhood, and from my perspective the shorthand they shared
was a very
important element to their success."
Serendipity indeed. In truth, it had been quite some time since the three
friends had all
been together; Skarlatos was in the military, based in Oregon but stationed in
was also in the military, but in Texas, and Sadler was in college back home. The
Europe was intended as a reunion of sorts, and plans were often made on the fly,
trip to Paris, which almost didn't happen.
Rounding out the cast, Thomas Lennon appears as Principal Michael Akers, P.J.
Mr. Henry, Tony Hale as Coach Murray, and Jaleel White as Garrett Walden. Mark
the real man who was shot by the terrorist, Mark's wife, Isabelle Risacher
Moogalian, and fellow
passenger Christopher Norman play themselves in the film.
Ray Corasani plays the attacker, Ayoub, who attempted to fire at Stone,
primer in the bullet-whether by luck or divine intervention-failed to go off.
Ayoub did manage
to stab Stone deeply in the neck and partially severed Stone's thumb before
Stone, Skarlatos and
Sadler subdued him.
The three friends still feel it was good fortune, more than their heroics,
that saved the
day. "The way I look at it," Stone says, "we had an opportunity to do something
and we took it.
I looked down the aisle and saw Ayoub there, and saw that a lot of the people
near him were in
shock. Thankfully, we were all three able to act. And obviously God was watching
"Everything leading up to the attack, like the skills we learned in the
military, our civilian
hobbies, added to how lucky we got-the primer didn't go off in the bullet,
Spencer survived a
stab wound, being able to save Mark's life," Skarlatos considers. "There were a
lot of strange
coincidences coming into play that day."
"All the things that fell into place, that got us to that moment on that
intervention, that's fate," Sadlersays. "It's just a summary of everything in our
lives to that point,
coming together; just regular guys in this unexpected situation, but like we
were supposed to be
Whether it was a guardian angel riding on their shoulders or pure luck or
between, Eastwood says, "Whatever you believe, however you interpret things in
life, these guys
were meant to do this and to survive it."
On August 24, 2015, Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler and Norman all received the
Legion of Honor
for their actions. While the actual footage was utilized for the sequence, there
were only a couple
of angles filmed that day, so the ceremony was also recreated for the film at
the elysee Palace,
and the various shots were cut together seamlessly by editor Blu Murray.
Fight or Flight
Production on "The 15:17 to Paris" took the cast and crew to various parts of
France, but first they would spend a few weeks on U.S. soil. They began just
north of Los Angeles
in Santa Clarita, California, which doubled as the Afghanistan desert where
Skarlatos had spent
time in the service, before moving to the Atlanta, Georgia, area to film
numerous scenes in the
Other footage captured in and around that city included scenes set at the
Atlanta International Airport; Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston Army
was really Robins Air Force Base; the Stone home and the wooded play area behind
college dorm room; the younger boys' middle and high schools, along with
classrooms, training rooms and rec rooms; a hotel room in Sacramento; and a club
and a pub in
From there, the overseas adventure began, much as it had for Stone and
Sadler. "We just
followed their trail," Eastwood says. "We went there to do it just as they had
done it, and we
had a good crew with everybody on the same page."
"Clint really wanted to open this film up, give it a lot of scope," Moore
offers. "So, for the
time we were in Europe, we took full benefit of the locations, almost like a
travel guide, because
that's what the guys had done. They were over there to have fun, see the
country, the sites. We
couldn't go every place they went, but we managed to make it to quite a lot."
Following a quick, one-day shoot in Rome with a small camera crew that hit
locations to capture some of the real scenery, the full production then got
underway in Venice,
shooting at the Santa Lucia train station; on the Grand Canal's vaporetto, or
water bus; at the
Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello; Campo Santa Maria del Giglio church; the
Gritti Palace hotel;
and St. Mark's Square (aka Piazza San Marco).
From there, the production moved to Paris, utilizing several locations in and
city, including: a section of Rue Gerard de Nerval; Charles de Gaulle Airport,
substituting for the
airport in Frankfurt, Germany; the elysee Palace, a hostel along Rue Aristide
Bruant; the exterior
of the Hotel de Marigny; and the Gare du Nord, one of the larger rail stations in
the Paris network.
Being able to shoot at the Arras Station was quite a coup, yet critical for
Eastwood's realistic vision of the film. The producers were able to secure a
Thalys train where
the real trip took place-on a different track-and film the sequence in motion.
"Some people might go the safe route and build a train on a stage," says
Rivera, "but not
Clint Eastwood. He wanted the real thing, so we got it, and we did the whole
starting in Paris and heading to Amsterdam, with a stop in Brussels."
Shooting on a real train was one of the bigger challenges for director of
Stern and his team, due to the limited timetable of the ride, and especially the
tightness of the
aisles. Stern had experience, though, having previously shot "Sully" in the
workspace of an airplane.
"The entire Thalys organization was wonderful in helping us deal with the
logistics of shooting a feature film at 300 kilometers an hour on a train,"
Meier admits it was a challenge, for sure, but a great experience. "Being in
recreate those moments made those scenes as authentic as possible, and that was
for us. We were even able to recruit several of the same first responders from
that day to
recreate their part in the event as well, which was really special."
While shooting in and around Paris, the filmmakers were also tasked with
that could match Berlin and Amsterdam, and additional parts of Rome as well,
since the trio had
gone to these areas but the main production would not. Moore credits production
Kevin Ishioka with capturing the right look and feel, regardless of locale.
"Kevin really made it
look like we had indeed been to all of those places-just like movie magic is
supposed to do," he
"Upon reading the script and envisioning the events that occurred, I could
not help but
get an overwhelming sense of responsibility to the accuracy of its portrayal,"
says Ishioka. "I felt
like a journalistic reporter, needing to get the story right so that the
magnitude of the event was
not lost. Hopefully, the audience will get an understanding of what the boys had
to face such an ordeal."
The efforts of the filmmakers and crew paid off for Stone, Skarlatos and
Sadler. "Being in
the actual locations really helped set the tone and reestablish the environments
for us," Stone
observes, almost feeling like they'd come full circle. "All the tourists around
us, plus the people
of the different countries, made it feel like we were just on that vacation
again, not there for a
While "The 15:17 to Paris" recreates a heroic moment in recent history,
felt that making the film, telling the story of these heroes, was an opportunity
something more. "This was a revered event in France and America, and it came
along at a time
when we're asking ourselves how we would react under adversity," he says. "What
did was to show that the common man can not only have great instincts, but act
on them. Sure,
they were prepared in that they had some military and medical training, but they
weren't on a
battlefield, they weren't prepared for this. They just saw something happening
together, one, two, three, and saved a lot of lives that way. If they can do it,
so can we."
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