AFI FEST Interview: RICHARD JEWELL Lead Actor Paul Walter Hauser
RICHARD JEWELL will screen as part of a Gala presentation at AFI FEST on Wednesday, November 20 at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood.
Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on true events, RICHARD JEWELL is a story about what happens when what is reported as fact obscures the truth. The world is first introduced to Richard Jewell in 1996 as the security guard whose swift actions saved countless lives when he reported finding a bomb at Centennial Olympic Park. But within days, he becomes the FBI’s number one suspect, vilified by press and public alike, with his life ripped apart. Reaching out to attorney Watson Bryant, Jewell staunchly defended his innocence. But Bryant finds he is out of his depth as he fights the combined powers of the FBI, GBI and APD to clear his client’s name, while keeping Richard from trusting the very people trying to destroy him.
Starring Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell, the film features dynamic performances by Sam Rockwell as Bryant, Kathy Bates as Richard’s mom and Jon Hamm as the lead FBI investigator. Oscar® nominee Billy Ray penned the screenplay, which is based on the Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare—The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner. Hauser takes on one of his most challenging roles yet, having given impressive supporting turns in the Academy Award®-winning film I, TONYA and Academy Award®-nominated BLACKKKLANSMAN. Both an actor and a standup comedian, Hauser’s credits also include UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, SUPERSTORE, KEY & PEELE, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA and COMMUNITY.
AFI spoke with him about collaborating with Clint Eastwood and how he prepared to play the real-life role of Richard Jewell.
AFI: What initially drew you to this film?
PWH: The idea of telling a true story with Eastwood at the helm was a no-brainer. I had known that Jonah and Leo were initially going to make it at Fox, so in my mind, it had also passed some artistic form of a quality-control test.
AFI: What was the most challenging part about portraying Jewell?
PWH: The most difficult aspect of playing Richard was having to sift through all of the detailed information that was provided, and make a delineation between what was necessary to the story/screenplay, and what was tertiary to that process, or even irrelevant. Some actors become near-historians about the real people they played. I only studied the man and crafted the character to the degree that Billy Ray and Clint Eastwood needed for the film.
AFI: How do you prepare to portray real life people in your films, such as Richard Jewell and Shawn Eckhardt in I, TONYA?
PWH: I’m sure every time there are differences in preparation. We’re in the YouTube era of me being able to type in “Richard Jewell” or “Shawn Eckhardt” and find footage of them immediately. I always do the YouTube/Google route first as if I’m gaining intel to do a Saturday Night Live-impression. And then I always dig in and find real people who knew the person I’m playing. Between those exchanges and research, I’m then weeding out those initial reactions that would lead to an SNL-caricature, and I move to justify the behaviors that speak to truth, reality and whatever the script is calling for.
AFI: What was the one most profound thing you learned about Richard Jewell while making the film?
PWH: The most profound thing about Richard for me was his penchant for gentleness. He was constantly thinking about helping other people. The only internalized mission for him, or his view of self, was to become the kind of man who can handle any situation with some amalgam of justice, a sense of right and wrong and then also his gentle grace of helping women step over puddles or treating troubled men with humanity. It’s very selfless, and, unfortunately, grace and chivalry are becoming dated.
AFI: What was it like to work with a Hollywood legend like Clint Eastwood?
PWH: I adored working with Clint and his “film family,” from the producing team to the caterer to his ace camera operator, Mr. Campanelli. I should have been more intimidated by him, but I knew my timidity wouldn’t benefit the process, so I was constantly singing and dancing and forcing hugs on him and cracking jokes. I let him see the truest version of me, which made it easier for me to not get swallowed in the presence of an actual icon.
AFI: This movie also stars Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde and Jon Hamm. What was it like to work with such an amazing cast?
PWH: I love our cast. On set, it was an egoless pursuit of how to best tell the story and honor the opinions of the entire team. When we weren’t filming, it was like adult summer camp with meals and breweries and seeing movies together. I’m so grateful for the patience, craft and humor the cast brought to the table. And Rockwell is like, one of my five favorite actors ever. What Chris Walken or Robert Duvall is to Rockwell, is what Rockwell is to me.
AFI: Where do you draw your artistic inspiration from?
PWH: My artistic inspiration? You’re making me feel smart. And worthy. These are new feelings! My artistic inspiration comes from everywhere — a video of a dog sleeping, a depressing album from “The National,” a UFC PPV or going back home to Michigan. Everything gets sucked up, stored away and unconsciously parceled out. Weirdly, I could point out moments onscreen and go, “Oh, that was the barista who looked like he wanted to kill me.”
AFI: How does it feel to be bringing this movie to AFI FEST for its world premiere?
PWH: AFI FEST is a big deal. When the announcement was made, my social circle reacted with manic enthusiasm, so I know that premiering at AFI is a privilege and a useful shockwave to attract audiences to the film. I’m ecstatic to be involved in the event, and at having it at the Chinese Theatre is surreal.
Tickets to all films in the AFI FEST program lineup are available here.
RICHARD JEWELL opens in theaters on December 13. Watch the trailer below:
Watch the trailer below: