Olivia Wilde speaks out on Richard Jewell controversy: 'I want to share my perspective on my role'
The actress, who portrays late journalist Kathy Scruggs in the new Clint Eastwood helmed film, spoke out on Twitter on Thursday in response to a brewing controversy over the film’s suggestion that her character had sex with an FBI source for information.
The plot point has sparked a flurry of responses, beginning with the Atlanta Journal Constitution demanding Warner Bros. issue a disclaimer with the film to say Scruggs, who died in 2001, did not have sex with a source for information in real life. Warner Bros. responded with their own statement “vigorously defending” the film against the paper’s claims. Now, Wilde is wading into the conversation directly on social media.
“One of the things I love about directing is the ability to control the voice and message of the film. As an actor, it’s more complicated, and I want to share my perspective on my role in the film Richard Jewell,” Wilde’s Twitter statement began.
Wilde expressed her respect for her character and for journalists at large. “I was asked to play the supporting role of Kathy Scruggs, who was, by all accounts, bold, smart, and fearlessly undeterred by the challenge of being a female reporter in the south in the 1990s. I cannot even contemplate the amount of sexism she may have faced in the way of duty,” she wrote.” As a child of journalists myself, I have deep respect for the essential work of all in their field, particularly today when the media is routinely attacked and discredited, and regional papers like the AJC are disappearing on a daily basis.”
Wilde’s parents are both award-winning journalists. Her father, Andrew Cockburn, is an editor of Harper’s Magazine and her mother, Leslie Cockburn, is an investigative journalist who has produced numerous pieces on 60 Minutes. Her grandparents, Claud and Patricia Cockburn, were also journalists.
The actress went on to vehemently deny any suggestion that she believed the real Scruggs “traded sex for tips,” stressing her own research and her interpretation of the relationship. “Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy ‘traded sex for tips.’ Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did,” Wilde noted. “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.”
She also took care to express the views as her own, noting her ultimate lack of creative control over the final product. “I cannot speak for the creative decisions made by the filmmakers, as I did not have a say in how the film was ultimately crafted, but it’s important to me that I share my personal take on the matter,” she continued.
Wilde also addressed previous remarks she’d made toDeadline about the issue, where she said, “I think that we are still struggling with allowing for female characters who aren’t entirely quote-unquote likable. If there’s anything slightly questionable about a female character, we often use that in relation to condemn that character or to condemn the project for allowing for a woman to be impure in a way. It’s a misunderstanding of feminism to assume that all women have to be sexless. I resent the character being minimized to that point.”
In her new statement, Wilde clarified her remarks, writing, “My previous comments about female sexuality were lost in translation, so let me be clear: I do not believe sex-positivity and professionalism are mutually exclusive. Kathy Scruggs was a modern, independent woman whose personal life should not detract from her accomplishments. She unfortunately became a piece of the massive puzzle that was responsible for the brutal and unjust vilification of an innocent man, Richard Jewell, and that tragedy is what this film attempts to shed light on.”
Wilde concluded by expressing how her views might differ from others on the project. “I realize my opinions about Kathy, based on my own independent research, may differ from others involved with the film, but it was important to me to [make] my own position clear,” she finished.
For his part, director Clint Eastwood stands by the film’s implications. At the Atlanta premiere of Richard Jewell, he told local news station 11 Alive, the depiction of events is not unreasonable. “There’s only so much research you can do. You can’t live inside the people because they no longer exist,” he said. “We know as much as anybody knows. Kathy Scruggs was a very interesting personality, and she seemed to, and she did define the answer to it, so how she did it, nobody will ever really know. It could have certainly happened this way.”
Star Paul Walter Hauser defended the issue less vigorously at the premiere, but instead expressed dismay at the timing of the AJC‘s complaint. “I think the feeling is that it sorta came out of nowhere. This project has been around for about 5 years. It was a very famous screenplay. It had [Leonardo DiCaprio] attached to it at some point,” he said. “They could have done their digging. It was the last minute decision by the AJC, and while I appreciate their opinion I’m not going to let it be a shrouded or shadow over the celebration of this moment for the Jewell family.”
The film follows the titular security guard, and the media frenzy that erupted when he became the FBI’s prime suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. In the movie, Wilde’s Scruggs is shown attempting to trade sex with Jon Hamm’s FBI agent for the tip that Jewell is their lead suspect. The scene in question prompted AJC Editor-in-Chief Kevin Riley to speak out in defense of Scruggs and her legacy. The AJC even hired Hollywood attorney Martin D. Singer to send a letter to WB and Eastwood demanding that the filmmakers release a statement acknowledging that the portrayal of Scruggs in the film is not based on facts.
Warner Bros. issued a statement in response to the AJC, saying, “The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material. There is no disputing that Richard Jewell was an innocent man whose reputation and life were shredded by a miscarriage of justice. It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast. Richard Jewell focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The AJC’s claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them.”
Despite the back-and-forth, many journalists have spoken out on social media against the depiction of a female journalist trading sex for information. Wilde has now firmly declared she doesn’t believe Scruggs did so, defending both sex positivity and professionalism in her statement, while distancing herself from the scene’s implications.
Neither Warner Bros. nor Eastwood immediately responded to EW’s request for further comment.