Jordan Peele's 'Us' is a Creepy Tale That Sadly Mirrors Our Reality

On May 25, 1986, approximately 6.5 million Americans stood hand in hand forming a human chain that stretched from New York to California for an event called Hands Across America. It was a fundraiser project from USA for Africa (the same people who produced the “We Are the World” single the year before) in hopes of raising $100 million to fight hunger and homelessness. The hope was that everyone who participated would donate $10 for the cause. Families stood and sang together for 15 minutes. And then it was over.

I had trouble remembering if Hands Across America really happened or if it was a gimmick for the film when the original commercial for the event flashed on the big screen during the opening of Us. I only vaguely remember the event, which might have to do more with the fact that I have lived in Washington State my whole life and we weren’t involved in the project. I doubt that I’m the only one and I suspect that was also some of Jordan Peele’s reasoning as well whe…

When Clint Eastwood Calls: Working on 'The 15:17 to Paris'

The 15:17 to Paris
Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone playing themselves in
Clint Eastwood's The 15:17 to Paris. (Warner Bros.)


It’s pretty unbelievable to think that on August 21, 2015, a terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris was stopped by the courageous actions of three Americans traveling through Europe. It is almost equally unbelievable that those three young men were asked by Clint Eastwood to portray themselves in a new movie. But he did and when Clint Eastwood calls, you answer.

While recreating the events that happened on that fateful day in front of a camera was a completely new experience for these men, it was also a risky move for Eastwood as well.

“I’ve used non-actors before in smaller parts,” said Eastwood in a recent press release “but not exactly playing themselves or recreating precisely events in their own lives. But in this case, as we kept going through the whole episode on the train, working out the logistics of how it happened and how we could film it, it was like they were performers playing themselves already. They kept showing us how it had all gone so we could be as accurate as possible, and for me to feel comfortable that it would be like seeing the real thing. It seemed like a rare opportunity, having the real participants available and willing, and then giving them a shot at it. I wanted them to be only themselves, nobody else, and I felt they could do that.”

The movie The 15:17 to Paris retells the story of when Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler left Berlin to meet up with Alek Skarlatos in Amsterdam and how they were faced with one of biggest decisions of their lives aboard the 15:17 trai. At the time, Stone was in the Air Force, Skarlatos was in the Oregon National Guard and Sadler was a student at California State University. Together, the three saved over 500 lives on that fateful day.

“It hasn’t been a conscious choice to tell heroic stories or make movies about everyday heroes,” said Eastwood. “I just do the stories that come along and interest me. Some feats are exceptional, and beneficial to society, and it’s nice when you can tell a story like that.”

The film also follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack.

Recently, I got a chance to speak to these life-long friends about their movie-making debut, Clint Eastwood and their faith. Here’s what they had to say:

The 15:17 to Paris
Spencer Stone
Can you describe how it felt to meet Clint Eastwood face to face for the first time? What was going on in your head during those first few moments?

SPENCER: “Never in a million years would we have thought that we would've been involved in the terrorist attack and then two years later be playing ourselves in a movie about what happened, directed by Clint Eastwood. None of us saw coming.”

ANTHONY: “It was amazing. Working with Clint and taking his direction every day, being on one of his sets, that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We wouldn't have expected us to ever be in the film like that.”

ALEK: “Especially going back as far as we do. Knowing each other since we were so young and then going through all the crazy experiences we’ve gone through.”

Since this was your first time acting in front of a camera and most of us will never get that chance, can you share a little bit of what it was like living as a movie star even if it was only for a few weeks?

SPENCER: “The hardest part for us was getting over our own insecurities and being able to completely be ourselves without thinking about what everyone was going to think about it.”
It has been said that your faith played a large role in the events that happened on that train and I’m hoping that we’ll see how in the movie. However, very little about your faith is mentioned in the press materials.

The 15:17 to Paris
Alek Skarlatos
Can you share a little bit about your faith and how that made a difference?

SPENCER: “I was raised in a Christian home, my entire life. I went to church every Sunday with my mom, brother and sister, and Wednesday night church too. I believed [in God] my entire life. God for me is someone that is always there and always will have my back, whether it’s a good or bad situation. And it’s in the Bible, He’s not going to put you through anything that you can’t handle. That’s what I fell back on in the moment on the train. I didn’t necessarily at that second think, ‘God’s got my back,’ but I knew it. There was an opportunity to do something good. I believe those are the times where we’re vessels to be used by Him, to do His work. And it was an honor to do something that good.”

ANTHONY: “I’ve been going to church all my life. My dad is a pastor. We were a strong Baptist household. We went to church every Sunday, all the services. My family is Christian, faith-believing, and I’ve grown up that way. As far as on the train that day, God had His hand on us, because so many things could've gone the other way for us. The fact that they went the way they did, it’s divine intervention. We knew He had His hand on us, because of the calm that we had as we were falling into our different roles that day - looking back on it in hindsight. That calm, I know where that comes from now that I’ve had a chance to evaluate that day.”

ALEK: “I’ve grown up next to Spencer’s family. We went to the same church for the longest time. We all met in a Christian school. I’ve been to church pretty much ever since I can remember. If you look at the statistics of everything that happened, the odds of being in a terrorist attack are astronomical, the odds of surviving it, the odds of surviving it and being the ones that stopped it. There’s so many little circumstances. The odds of our exact situation happening to us are too astronomical to believe that it was purely chance, especially when you look at the fact that we were thinking about staying in Amsterdam another day and we didn’t. The fact that we moved seats from coach to first class. So many different little things that are hard for us even to remember - all the different circumstances that put us there at that exact time and place. It’s too coincidental to be chance. God had a hand in it, because we shouldn't be here today to be honest.”

The 15:17 to Paris
Anthony Sadler
What are you most grateful for being a part of “The 15:17 to Paris?”

ANTHONY: We’re affirming God’s plan on our lives by being where we were supposed to be on the train that day, and the things that have happened since. I feel like I’m finally on the track that I’m supposed to be on. I don’t know what comes next, but I’m on the plan that’s been set for me. That’s a good feeling, I have confidence in knowing I’m going in the right direction. I think it’s our responsibility to take this story and be responsible with it and spread it as much as we can so we don’t waste the opportunity that He gave us. The fact that we survived the train meant we’re to spread the story and it’s meant to touch people, and we’re the three people that were chosen to do that.”

SPENCER: “I’ve never felt like more in my life that I was on the path that I needed to be on at this moment.”

The 15:17 to Paris is currently playing in theaters and also stars Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, P.J. Byrne, Tony Hale and Thomas Lennon.


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