Richard Jewell Star Jon Hamm Defends Controversial Portrayal of Female Journalist in Film
Jon Hamm thinks people should hold their judgments about Richard Jewell until after they see the movie.
The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on a true story, is facing controversy for suggesting that the real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs — who has since died — had sex with an FBI agent in order to obtain information about Jewell being a suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.
Kevin Riley, editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where Scruggs worked, recently told PEOPLE there’s “no evidence” to support the implication.
The scene has since received backlash, with critics angered over how it paints a disrespectful picture of Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), who was “a really great reporter who was just tireless in terms of developing her sources,” according to Riley.
Hamm, 48, thinks people should see the movie first before judging, as he argues the controversy has been taken out of context.
“It’s my understanding that the people making these accusations haven’t seen the film yet,” Hamm told 11 Alive at the premiere of the movie. “I kind of feel like the irony in that is sort of ridiculous. Kathy is portrayed by Olivia in this film as she was, which is an incredibly nuanced individual. To reduce her to this one thing is not fair.”
“I think that there were certainly suggestions of impropriety with her character, but there are also some suggestions of impropriety with the character that I play and that’s part of the tragedy of this story,” he added.
Scruggs broke the initial story that Jewell — a security guard at Centennial Olympic Park, heralded as a hero for discovering the explosive and alerting police before it detonated — was a suspect in the attack, which killed one and injured over a hundred people.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Eastwood’s drama includes a scene where the fictionalized Scruggs offers to sleep with a federal agent Tom Shaw, played by Jon Hamm. After Shaw gives Jewell’s name to Scruggs, he then asks if they should go to a hotel or leave together, reports the outlet. “While they are never actually seen doing so, it is implied that they do sleep together,” states THR.
But Wilde, 35, who also defended the movie recently, argued that critics are sexualizing her character, and thinks it’s due to Scruggs’ gender.
“I think people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character,” Wilde said. “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.”
“I have an immense amount of respect for Kathy Scruggs,” Wilde told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Yet Riley, who didn’t work at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the same time as Scruggs, still sees the portrayal as disrespectful to her image — and all female journalists.
“To persist in this idea that a female journalist only gets a big story this way is not only obviously completely untrue and insulting to all the women, frankly everybody in this profession but especially women, it’s just concerning” he added to PEOPLE. “I have trouble imagining why that storyline would need to be invented in order to get the powerful messages of what happened in this situation across.”
Richard Jewell is in theaters Friday.