Not too long ago, childhood friends Anthony Sadler, former U.S Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and former Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos were flying to Los Angeles to meet with Clint Eastwood about the movie he was making about their lives.
In August of 2015 they famously thwarted a terror attack on a Paris-bound train from Amsterdam by tackling Ayoub El-Khazzani, a man who authorities said has ties to radical Islam, who had boarded the train with a Kalashnikov rifle, pistol and box cutter — a story tailor-made for Eastwood's fascination with real-life modern heroes.
The guys thought maybe he was going to introduce him to the actors he'd chosen to play them. All had a dream scenario. Sadler thought Michael B. Jordan would be cool for him, Stone had visions of Chris Hemsworth and Skarlatos had landed on Zac Efron. But Eastwood had another plan: They would play themselves.
"He just sprung it on us!" said Stone.
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"We said yes right away," Skarlatos added. "Then the doubt started creeping in and we asked for the night to think about it."
They ultimately said yes, of course — How do you say no to Clint Eastwood? And three weeks later, after having an acting class request denied from Eastwood himself (he didn't want them to look like they were acting, he told them) cameras were rolling. Their film "The 15:17 to Paris" opens nationwide Friday.
Eastwood has been drawn lately to extraordinary true stories, but usually with seasoned actors interpreting the roles, like Bradley Cooper in "American Sniper" and Tom Hanks in "Sully." The film follows Sadler, Stone and Skarlatos' lives from childhood up to that fateful moment on the train.
For the three Sacramento-area men, it was the experience of a lifetime. Not only were they starring as themselves in a major motion picture, they got to re-trace their trip across Europe with a film budget behind them, seeing all the sights they hadn't seen the first time around. And they got to hang out with Eastwood off set — dinners, drinks, and even gym time with the living legend.
"He's no joke," Skarlatos said. "Spencer and I were talking trash one day about how many dips we could do and Clint butts in and is like 'When I was 75, I could do 25 dips' and we're like, 'Let's see what you can do right now!' The man is 87-years-old and does 10 bodyweight dips out of nowhere."
Stone jumped in: "Most men can't do that in their 20s! People put celebrities up on a pedestal but he lives up to everything."
Re-creating the event itself wasn't traumatic as much as it was surreal — production had found or made replicas of the clothes they had worn that day (and hadn't worn since). Eastwood brought Mark Moogalian, the first man who tried to take down El-Khazzani and was shot in the neck, to play himself too.
"It was a lot of fun honestly. We don't really look at is as a traumatic thing because no one died. It's done such positive things for our lives and given us such good perspective on things too," Stone said.
Sadler said it was like a reunion. Skarlatos added that it felt like closure.
"It's kind of great feeling, like we're finally putting it behind us in a way," Skarlatos said.
And now? Besides hoping to meet actress Margot Robbie eventually, all three are going to try their hand at acting professionally.
"It was the most fun two months of my life, our lives," Sadler said. "If we can make it our careers, why not?"