Olivia Wilde Blames Clint Eastwood for the Whole Trading Sex for Tips Scene in ‘Richard Jewell’

Olivia Wilde wants you to know she doesn’t agree with Clint Eastwood and wouldn’t trade sex for information as a reporter. This flip-flip comes after Wilde previously said sexuality is just one part of a woman’s personality and suggests we shouldn’t focus on one act or scene.

Eastwood’s new movie Richard Jewell just opened this past weekend to great reviews. Wilde stars as Kathy Scruggs, a then-reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One scene implies Wilde’s character traded sex for tips with an F.B.I. agent portrayed by Jon Hamm. The New York Times summarizes the scene:

…Using crude language, he implies that he would not give her the name of the leading suspect in the bombing even if she were to have sex with him. After the reporter’s hand climbs up his thigh, he relents, saying the F.B.I. was looking into Mr. Jewell, a man who had been hailed as a hero in news reports for his discovery of the bomb, a heads-up move that led to the clearing of the park, greatly limiting casualties.

Wilde defended the scene to Hollywood Reporter:

“I think people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character. We don’t do that to men, we don’t do that to James Bond — we don’t say James Bond isn’t a real spy because he gets his information sometimes by sleeping with women as sources. This is very specific to female characters…”

So while she says that she wasn’t suggesting female reporters need to use sex to get information, she also said that sexuality was just one part of her female character’s personality. In other words, yea, she used sex to get information, but don’t get so wrapped up by it.

Former colleagues have defended Scruggs, who died in 2001 at 42, and called the portrayal as “appalling.”

Kevin Riley, current editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said:

“The idea that a reporter would sleep with a source — while that’s a common way for Hollywood to portray it — in fact is an appalling breach of ethics, and you would rarely find that happening…I get that there are examples, but we all know this is not how journalists really work. Journalism is really hard work — developing sources, talking to lots of people and finding out whats really going on.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution even asked for a retraction.

“We hereby demand that you immediately issue a statement publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters…We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.”

Probably realizing this wasn’t going over well, and also likely to protect her brand, days later Wilde went on Twitter to further explain herself. I can summarize her multi-part tweet in a few words: “Clint Eastwood did this, not me.”

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 my my own position clear.

Basically, she doesn’t believe Scruggs traded sex for tips, but she’s only an actor and it was Eastwood’s decision to film it this way. Yet, she filmed the scene where her hand creeps up Hamm’s leg. She’s a director herself, surely she knew what Eastwood wanted to convey with that scene. If she really believed this didn’t happen, why didn’t she stand up to Eastwood? She shouldn’t have even filmed the scene. Of course, it’s gonna be hard to stand up to a director, especially someone with Eastwood’s stature, but she should’ve tried.

Creative license is one thing, but when it comes to affecting someone’s image, that’s another. That’s ironic, considering the theme of Richard Jewell. In The New York Times review of Richard Jewell, the reviewer observes:

This is a morality tale — in a good way, mostly — about the vulnerability of the individual citizen in the face of state power and about the fate of a private person menaced by the machinery of publicity.

Replace “state power” and “publicity” with Hollywood. Entertainment shapes our perception of people. Since this scene happens in a Hollywood movie, it carries greater weight than a former colleague’s testimony to Scruggs’ character in a random newspaper.

People who see this movie will think what Eastwood wants them to think. And Wilde, even if she says she’s just the actress in it, has played a part in shaping people’s perception of Scruggs and women in general.

Both Eastwood and Wilde, without evidence, have portrayed Scruggs as someone she’s not. Richard Jewell, without any concrete evidence and based on gossip, was named as the suspect in the Atlanta bombings and will live with that label forever. Oh, the irony. In fact, Jewell didn’t commit the bombings. But Eastwood won’t be making a movie called Eric Robert Rudolph, will he?

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JM Skinner
JM Skinner
4 years ago

Did the writer of this article know that the AJC was sued by Jewell? And lost?