LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10: Clint Eastwood arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Mule" at the Village Theatre on December 10, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Clint Eastwood’s movie re-creates Centennial Olympic Park bombing

Filmmakers lured to Georgia by the state’s generous tax credits love how metro Atlanta and beyond can be made to look like just about anywhere. Urban street scenes or rural farmland shots, fancy penthouses, rustic shacks, malls, cul-de-sacs, airports ... no problem. 

In Clint Eastwood’s latest project, though, Atlanta plays itself. 

“The Ballad of Richard Jewell” filmed overnight in Centennial Olympic Park, re-creating the festive atmosphere undone by Eric Robert Rudolph during the 1996 Olympics.

Production folks are always proactive about alerting area residents, businesses and passersby when a scene will involve simulated gunfire. For “Jewell,” they made sure folks knew the emergency vehicles scheduled to respond to loud noises in the park were part of the movie.

The film stars Paul Walter Hauser in the title role, along with Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde. Eastwood directs.

We had no access but director James Gunn did:

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Clint Eastwood has been one of my heroes for a long time. His films, both as a director and actor, are an enormous influence. Unforgiven is a cinematic lynchpin for me, a movie that blew my mind the first time I saw it and has continued to do so every one of the 25 or so times I’ve seen it since - but his influence as a director goes all the way back to his debut with Play Misty for Me. That’s not even to mention his work as an actor with Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, two other directors I adore, and his work in gems like In the Line of Fire, Magnum Force, and Where Eagles Dare. Hell - I even, somewhat embarrassingly, know all the words to all the songs in Paint Your Wagon. So when The Suicide Squad producer Peter Safran and I got the opportunity to hang out with Clint on the set of his new film, The Ballad of Richard Jewell, I was nervous. After all, they say never meet your heroes. But in person, Clint was kind and easy to talk to. And we got to talk a lot - about his directing style, his new movie, the movies he’s made previously, and more. Clint has a Buddha-like serenity in the middle of the madness of filmmaking, and I got to watch him take charge of an enormous set with a quiet authority - soft words that ripple giant waves. He showed his crew the kindness, loyalty and respect they deserved (and they love him for it in return.) In short, he was just the kind of guy I’d hope he’d be (also, the movie looks amazing and Paul Walter Hauser - @pwhauser - as Richard Jewell is killing it.) So as far as the whole “don’t meet your heroes” thing goes, my experience is 8 out of 10 times you SHOULD. Thanks for inviting us into your home, Clint! I’ll try and take a little bit of that serenity as I walk into the explosions and falling structures of The Suicide Squad.

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That’s “Kenny Rogers” on stage behind them, by the way. The filming we watched before it started pouring involved musical performances of the era.

Eastwood’s spent plenty of time here in recent years, filming “The Mule,” “Trouble With the Curve,” “Sully” and “The 15:17 to Paris” in Atlanta or elsewhere in Georgia. 

“The Ballad of Richard Jewell” is based on a Vanity Fair article and upcoming book about the man who alerted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to a backpack containing a pipe bomb the night of July 27, 1996. Jewell’s quick action meant hundreds of people were able to get away before the device exploded, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 others.

Federal and state law enforcement focused on Jewell as a suspect in the days after the bombing. The Justice Department released a statement clearing Jewell — and Rudolph, serving multiple life sentences, ultimately confessed.

Several media companies were sued for reporting that Jewell was a suspect. In 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld a previous court ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jewell died in 2007 at age 44 from a heart attack brought on by heart disease and diabetes.

The movie uses the code name “Kiki” and it was scheduled to conclude its Centennial Olympic Park filming segment overnight.

Here are a few photos of the set. Notice the Olympic banners:

Photo: Jennifer Brett

These folks are extras portraying people in the park the night of the bombing:

Photo: Jennifer Brett

You can tell it’s a concert scene from the 1990s. People are watching the stage with their eyes instead of through their phones:

Photo: Jennifer Brett

Giovanni Di Palma of Gio's Chicken Amalfitano and Antico Pizza Napoletana hosted a gathering for cast members as filming began:

Photo provided to the AJC
Photo provided to the AJC

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