By Carisa Cegavske / The News-Review
ROSEBURG, Ore. — The wait is almost over to see Roseburg hero Alek Skarlatos on the big screen in “The 15:17 to Paris.”
Skarlatos plays himself in the film, as he and two friends re-enact the day they saved hundreds of lives by thwarting a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train. “The 15:17 to Paris” was produced and directed by four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood. It premieres Feb. 9.
Alek and his father, Emanuel Skarlatos, attended an early screening of the film in Los Angeles.
Alek’s stepmom, Karen Skarlatos, remained at home with the flu and wasn’t able to see it, but said her husband thought the movie was good.
“We hope for all three of the boys that the movie’s a big success,” she told The News-Review in late January.
Alek and his friends have already gained a lot from the experience.
“They’ve met so many interesting people, and Alek has surely enjoyed the contact he’s had with Mr. Eastwood, and that in itself was a very special thing,” Karen Skarlatos said.
The movie adds dramatic tension by telling the story of Alek’s childhood friendship with the other men who helped subdue the would-be terrorist.
“The whole focus is the relationship of the three boys and the bonds that they built early on to develop such trust with each other that they could act in unison for such a fateful day,” Karen Skarlatos said.
Alek Skarlatos’ child self is played by Bryce Gheisar, who previously appeared in the film “Wonder,” with Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts.
Skarlatos, a former member of the Oregon National Guard’s Charlie Company, has been good friends with former U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone since the two were children in Sacramento. They became friends with Anthony Sadler when they were all in middle school. Skarlatos moved to Roseburg when he was 16 and graduated from Roseburg High School.
All three men play themselves as adults, including portraying the events that took place during the fateful trip they took together to Europe in the summer of 2015. On Aug. 21 of that year, Stone and Sadler left Berlin to meet up with Skarlatos in Amsterdam. From there, the trio boarded a train at 3:17 p.m. (or 15:17 in military time). It’s from that train, which was headed for Paris, that the film takes its name.
Skarlatos and his friends jumped into action after Ayoub El Khazzani of Morocco opened fire on the train. Khazzani was armed with an AK-47, a handgun and a box cutter. The three men subdued the shooter, with the help of Briton Chris Norman, who also plays himself in the film. Stone was injured in the attack. His neck was stabbed and his thumb partially severed.
To add an element of realism, the train scenes are actually filmed on the same type of train, as it takes the trip they took, but in reverse, going from Paris to Amsterdam.
Filming on the train was pretty intense for Skarlatos and his friends.
“That day, replaying that scene, almost triggered an adrenaline rush in me, which made it easier to feel the same emotions I felt the day of,” Skarlatos said, in a written statement provided by Warner Bros.
Skarlatos and his friends were thrilled to work with Eastwood.
“Just the fact that our story was going to be made into a movie was unbelievable for us,” Skarlatos said. “On top of that, Clint Eastwood being Spencer’s and my favorite since we were kids watching ‘High Plains Drifter’ and Hang ‘em High’ … It was amazing to have Mr. Eastwood be the one.”
His stepmom, Karen, isn’t portrayed in the film. His mother Heidi Skarlatos, however, is played by Jenna Fischer, best known for portraying Pam Beesly in the long-running TV show The Office. Skarlatos was pretty happy about working with Fischer.
“I was a fan of ‘The Office’ and I think I’ve seen every episode, and she not only lived up to any expectations I’d built up in my head, she was even better,” he said.
By now, Skarlatos is used to being in the public eye. Since he and his friends performed their heroic deed, Skarlatos has received the French Legion d’Honneur and the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Medal. He was welcomed at a New York airport by 200 New York City police officers after landing in the U.S. for the first time after the incident. He appeared on the TV competition Dancing with the Stars, and took third place. And he co-wrote a book about his experience.
Karen Skarlatos said Alek recently bought a home in Roseburg, and after he does some touring to promote the movie, she thinks he will settle down back home. She said it’s likely Alek will be in Roseburg when the film premieres.
She feels very thankful Alek and his friends remain standing to tell their story.
“Things could have turned out very different. We thank God every day that it turned out the way it did,” she said.