Is ‘Richard Jewell’ Based On a True Story? What Really Happened?

When the title of a movie is the name of a character, that can mean two things. One, they’re about to tell you the brand new story of this person, after which you will remember their name forever, like John Wick. Or, it is telling the story of a real person whom you should either already know, or deserves to be well known, like Richard Jewell. The new movie is a true story.

Richard Jewell, based on the true story
Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell | Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Richard Jewell was security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics who discovered a bomb in Centennial Park. His actions saved lives, but the FBI spent 88 days investigating Jewell. 

The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) and his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates)’s harrowing ordeal. Hauser and Bates spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about recreating these true events. Richard Jewell is in theaters now. 

Before the Olympics, Richard Jewell worked campus security

Richard Jewell ‘s true story begins in 1986 when Jewell worked as a supply clerk. He moved up to campus security at Piedmont College but got a little overzealous. He’d enter students’ rooms on suspicion of drugs or alcohol.

“I think if I was going to that campus that he was a security guard at, I think I would hate the guy because he’d be trying to break up my fun,” Hauser said. But he was just kind of a stickler for the law and stickler for the rules. I think he was also maybe a little naive and a little lacking in self-awareness and probably didn’t realize some of the pained realities that he then had to face.”

Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser
Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser | Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

For example, Richard Jewell also fancied himself a traffic cop. He tried to stop drunk drivers, which was out of his campus jurisdiction.

“You’re not allowed to pull people over on the highway,” Hauser said. “That’s pretty extreme.”

The Centennial Park concert bombing was just like in the movie

Richard Jewell depicts how much ground the security guard had to cover just in his section of the concert venue. 

“They matched the dimensions of the real park,” Hauser said. “They went into the real park, they matched the dimensions of all the structures and how many people were in that area. And then they found props from the original Atlanta 1996 Olympics and they really just sort of filled it to make it look like the exact genuine article. When you match up photos of the set versus the real location, it’s uncanny.”

Richard Jewell, the true story of the Atlanta Olympics bombing
Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell | Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

The film also shows the explosion and its aftermath. 

“We had all those extras and all those background performers,” Hauser said. “So there would be a moment where I’d have to run around like the bomb just went off and all these people are crying and crawling and some of them were covered in blood and their clothes were torn. It wasn’t very hard to act. It was easy to get swept up in it.” 

On a lighter side, they did also film the crowd dancing the Macarena prior to the tragedy. Did Los Del Mar perform in the true story? Time Magazine reports it was a Jack Mack and the Heart Attack show. Maybe Los Del Mar opened for them.

“That was totally a thing back then that they were doing all the time,” Hauser said. “I recall that happening. You could be at a McDonald’s. If somebody played the song over the speaker, you’d see five, six, seven kids start doing it. That scene kinda cracks me up. I love that little nostalgia bit of laughing at the silliness of our culture in that moment.”

Richard Jewell cooperated with the investigation, maybe too much

When FBI agents (Jon Hamm and Ian Gomez) first ask Richard Jewell to talk to them, he cooperates. He thinks he’s in the law enforcement family helping other law enforcement. From the outside, it looks like the FBI is making him a patsy.

“It’s infuriating,” Hauser said. “He’s very tribalistic in nature. He kind of assumes the best out of his people. You can’t do that. You gotta look at everything as its own isolated incident. Some people are fallible and some people are downright evil.”

Richard Jewell
L-R: Jon Hamm, Ian Gomez and Paul Walter Hauser | Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Entertainment

The FBI almost traps Jewell a few times. He cooperates with incriminating exercises until his lawyer, J. Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) intervenes.

“There’s the naivety,” Hauser said. “You’re patting someone’s back to break your own wrist. You’ve got to be careful about who you allow into your circle. Those guys were never on his team. They were never on his side. They never looked at him as a brother in law enforcement.”

Richard Jewell died in 2007

The FBI cleared Richard Jewell after 88 days in 1996. In the true story, Jewell did go on to join the police force. They caught the real bomber, Eric Rudolph, in 2003 and he confessed in 2005. Rudolph is serving multiple life sentences, but Jewell died of a heart attack in 2007.

“It was sad because he was 33 when it happened and he passed away at 44,” Bates said. “Even to this day, [Bobi Jewell] said she felt that that experience really contributed to an early death for him.”

Bobi Jewell is still alive

Richard Jewell’s mother Bobi is alive and came to the premiere of the film. Bates met with her in preparation for the role. 

Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell
Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell | Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Entertainment

“Because of this story and because of the injustice that was done to Richard, we all felt a tremendous responsibility,” Bates said. “When I met with her, she’s still very, very hurt and very upset about all of it. She brought me a pound cake for my birthday. We sat and talked for a few hours.”

They also reconnected after Bobi saw the film.

“I heard that she had seen it before and we heard that she really loved it,” Bates said. “I saw her swanning up and down the red carpet with her bag of popcorn and I thought wow, after 23 years, she’s got her time in the spotlight and she deserves it. Richard’s looking down and smiling.”