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About The Production

"It hasn't been a conscious choice to tell heroic stories or make movies about everyday heroes," says veteran director and producer Clint Eastwood, whose previous two films, "Sully" 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 individuals taking 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 the event, "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, where the 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 presented them with the Hero Award at the Spike Guy's Choice Awards in 2016. Eastwood chatted with them, 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 seeks to challenge himself further with each project, and this one would be no different. "These three 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 yourselves?'"

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 the one."

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 conversation with 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 board. Sadler 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 the train, 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 that 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 befriended them as a young teen. None of them was raised with heroic aspirations or great expectations; if 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, so relatable 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 anybody's brother, anybody's friend. Everyone knows a Spencer, an Alek or an Anthony."

Producer Jessica Meier adds, "These young men really do complement one another. 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 train ride."

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 California State University, Sacramento. Sadler had met Stone and Skarlatos-already friends and neighbors 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, respectively) coming out of the principal's office...a place that seems all too familiar to the smiling young Sadler.

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, is really 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, playing 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 homes, the 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 of snowballed from there. All through high school, history-especially military history-was a favorite subject."

Following through on that passion after graduation would lead them both through the 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 Skarlatos's knowledge of firearms and security had become second nature to them, and were key to the successful 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 understand what they'd gone through better than anyone else.

"I've used non-actors before in smaller parts," he continues, "but not exactly playing 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 made it seem doable," Skarlatos says. "We've gone through a lot of crazy experiences together, and 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 us, the 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 automatically did what we did, all three of us. And Mr. Eastwood would check in with us while we were 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 flashback moment, because everything was the same-same man, same clothes, same amount of blood even though 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 triggered an adrenaline rush in me, which made it easier to feel the same emotions I felt the day of," Skarlatos says.

"It showed me just how much the details matter-clothes, people, train attendants... Everything was done so well it made us feel like we were on that train again," notes Sadler.

In addition to creating an exceptionally detailed physical environment for the trio, 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 director would often have the cameras start to roll while they were on set but in the midst of general 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 established 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 the movie, 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 got an 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 seriously."

Greer had the opportunity to meet the real-life Joyce, describing her as "so happy and 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, both women were impressed with their grown up onscreen "sons." Greer notes, "Spencer is definitely the 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 my questions 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 combo to play them," Stone cites.

Skarlatos adds, "I had dinner with Jenna the night before we shot the airport scene 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 nice, wonderful person."

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 significant, 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 Americans 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 realized they 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 Afghanistan, Stone was also in the military, but in Texas, and Sadler was in college back home. The trip through Europe was intended as a reunion of sorts, and plans were often made on the fly, including the trip to Paris, which almost didn't happen.

Rounding out the cast, Thomas Lennon appears as Principal Michael Akers, P.J. Byrne as Mr. Henry, Tony Hale as Coach Murray, and Jaleel White as Garrett Walden. Mark Moogalian, 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, though the 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 our backs."

"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 train...that's divine 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 there."

Whether it was a guardian angel riding on their shoulders or pure luck or something in 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 Italy and 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 Stone house.

Other footage captured in and around that city included scenes set at the Oregon Airport; Atlanta International Airport; Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston Army Base, which was really Robins Air Force Base; the Stone home and the wooded play area behind it; Sadler's college dorm room; the younger boys' middle and high schools, along with numerous other classrooms, training rooms and rec rooms; a hotel room in Sacramento; and a club and a pub in Amsterdam.

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 five different 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 around the 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 maintaining 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 route, backwards, 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 photography Tom 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 equally narrow workspace of an airplane.

"The entire Thalys organization was wonderful in helping us deal with the uncharted logistics of shooting a feature film at 300 kilometers an hour on a train," Stern remarks.

Meier admits it was a challenge, for sure, but a great experience. "Being in Arras to recreate those moments made those scenes as authentic as possible, and that was just amazing 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 finding streets 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 designer 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 grins.

"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 gone through 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 movie."

While "The 15:17 to Paris" recreates a heroic moment in recent history, Eastwood also felt that making the film, telling the story of these heroes, was an opportunity to explore 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 these boys 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 and came together, one, two, three, and saved a lot of lives that way. If they can do it, so can we."


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