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Olivia Wilde is defending her portrayal of a female journalist who trades sex for information in Clint Eastwood’s drama Richard Jewell, saying she felt a “certain responsibility” in playing real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs, who died in 2001.
“I have an immense amount of respect for Kathy Scruggs,” Wilde told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet of the Gotham Awards on Monday. “She’s no longer with us, she died very young, and I feel a certain responsibility to defend her legacy — which has now been, I think unfairly, boiled down to one element of her personality, one inferred moment in the film.”
Eastwood’s pic delves into the real-life story of security guard Richard Jewell (played by BlacKkKlansman actor Paul Walter Hauser), who was working at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park in July 1996 when he discovered a backpack containing pipe bombs and sounded the alarm, helping clear the area. However, the bomb detonated, killing one person and injuring dozens of others. Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell was soon the FBI’s prime suspect.
Wilde plays Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist Scruggs, who first reported that Jewell had become a suspect in the case, unleashing a media frenzy. The film shows Wilde’s Scruggs offering to trade sex for the name of the suspect with an FBI agent, but Kevin Riley, the paper’s current editor-in-chief, said there is no evidence that this transaction ever happened.
“I think people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character,” Wilde added. “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, we’ve seen it over and over again, and I think that Kathy Scruggs is an incredibly dynamic, nuanced, dogged, intrepid reporter. By no means was I intending to suggest that as a female reporter, she needed to use her sexuality. I come from a long line of journalists — my mom’s been a journalist for 35 years — there’s no way I would want to suggest that.”
Wilde portrays Scruggs in Richard Jewell as loud, brash and hunting for “something crime-y going on anywhere.” She offers to sleep with FBI agent Tom Shaw (played by Jon Hamm) in exchange for information about the investigation, asking if the two should get a hotel room or go back to her car. While they are never actually seen doing so, it is implied that they sleep together.
“I do think it’s interesting that when audiences recognize sexuality within a character, they immediately, when it’s a woman, allow it to define her, and I think we should stop doing that and allow for nuance,” Wilde said. “It’s sort of a misunderstanding of feminism to expect women to become pious and sexless.”
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