Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Veuve Clicquot
Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Veuve Clicquot

Olivia Wilde tweets about portrayal of late Kathy Scruggs

Screenwriter stands by “every word and assertion in the script”

In a pivotal scene in “Richard Jewell,” Olivia Wilde, in character as the late Kathy Scruggs, purrs suggestively to Jon Hamm, who plays a fictional FBI agent. Her hand travels up his thigh as she pries information from him.

Scoop landed, the movie version of Scruggs asks Hamm’s character where he’d like to go next to continue the evening, and they quickly leave.

Wilde has defended her portrayal of Scruggs, who died in 2001, and recently posted a series of tweets about it.

“The perspective of the fictional dramatization of the story, as I understood it, was that Kathy, and the FBI agent who leaked false information to her, were in a pre-existing romantic relationship, not a transactional exchange of sex for information,” said Wilde, who previously talked about the “extraordinary amount of research” she did to prepare for the role.

Scruggs’ brother and close friends say they were never contacted by Wilde or anyone associated with the movie.

“Perhaps she somehow imagined she was actually a reporter and did a five minute Google search on Kathy’s name,” said Tony Kiss, who worked with Scruggs at two papers before she joined the AJC and remained a close friend. He believes he was one of the last people to talk to Scruggs before she died at age 42.

“I can’t imagine (Wilde) called any of her friends,” he said.

Lewis Scruggs Jr., Kathy’s brother, also was not contacted.

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The movie’s screenwriter, Billy Ray, said in an interview with Deadline that he stands by “every word and assertion in the script.”

Scruggs was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter first with the news, accurate at the time, that the FBI had come to focus on heroic security guard Richard Jewell as a suspect within days of the deadly 1996 bombing in Centennial Olympic Park. 

In the Clint Eastwood-directed film, in theaters Friday, Scruggs is crass and contemptible. She cusses at her colleagues and parades through the newsroom, whooping it up to jubilant applause the day her article about the FBI questioning Jewell ran. In truth, the AJC newsroom was a scene of stunned silence that day.

In the moments after the deadly bombing, Scruggs is portrayed “praying” with her colleague Ron Martz - that she will be the first to learn who the suspect is and that the person will turn out to be “(expletive) interesting.”

Martz was never contacted by anyone from the movie.

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Eastwood shrugged off backlash over the portrayal, telling Atlanta station WXIA at this week’s premiere at the Rialto Center for the Arts that “there’s only so much you can do” when researching a character based on a real person. Paul Walter Hauser, who stars in the movie’s title role, told WXIA that debate over the depiction “sorta came out of nowhere,” as the project was in the works for years.

An AJC reporter was not allowed on the red carpet with other journalists.

Although her portrayal of Scruggs suggests otherwise, Wilde tweeted that she doesn’t believe the reporter traded romantic favors for information.

“Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had,” Wilde tweeted. “That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did.”

In the steamy scene between Wilde and Hamm, she pries details of the investigation from him and then plots the rest of the evening, saying something like “Should we get a room or go back to my car?” 

The real Kathy Scruggs drove a Mazda Miata.

Kathy Scruggs at Athens Academy, left, and during her time as an AJC reporter. She is buried next to her parents' graves in Athens. Photos credits: Courtesy of Athens Academy and Courtesy of Lisa Griffin

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