Olivia Wilde defends 'Richard Jewell' over scene where journalist offers sex for information

Ben Arnold
Olivia Wilde as Kathy Scraggs in Richard Jewell (Credit: Warner Bros)

Olivia Wilde has had to defend herself in a backlash brewing over new movie Richard Jewell, directed by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood.

Wilde plays late journalist Kathy Scruggs in the movie, which delves into the case of security guard Richard Jewell, who was targeted by the FBI in 1996 after he discovered a pipe bomb in a backpack at the summer Olympic games in Atlanta.

Read more: Richard Jewell trailer

Despite being the first to report the bomb and sounding the alarm, the bomb detonated, killing one person and injuring many others – with Jewell later becoming the FBI's prime suspect.

In one scene in the movie, Wilde' Scruggs, who wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and who broke the story of the FBI investigating Jewell, appears to trade sex for information from FBI agent Tom Shaw, played by John Hamm.

Jon Hamm, Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Barbara "Bobi" Jewell, and Clint Eastwood attends the Richard Jewell premiere (Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)

Though the sex scene isn't shown, it's implied that the couple do sleep together.

The newspaper's current editor Kevin Riley went on to tell The Hollywood Reporter: “There has never been any evidence that this is how Kathy got the story. This came out of the blue.”

Wilde has now defended the way the movie tells the story.

“I have an immense amount of respect for Kathy Scruggs,” Wilde told THR. “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.

“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, we’ve seen it over and over again, and I think that Kathy Scruggs is an incredibly dynamic, nuanced, dogged, intrepid reporter.

Richard Jewell, cleared of suspicion in the Olympic Park bombing, and his mother Barbara, face the media as Jewell's attorney Lin Wood addressed the press conference in Marietta, Ga., Monday, Oct. 28, 1996 (Credit: AP Photo/Ric Feld)

“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.”

She added that she thinks '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'.

“It’s sort of a misunderstanding of feminism to expect women to become pious and sexless,” she went on.

The movie stars Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, and is adapted from a 1997 article from Vanity Fair headlined 'American Nightmare', which revealed the trauma that Jewell and his family suffered in the media scrum.

Jewell was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Also starring Kathy Bates and Sam Rockwell, it's released in the UK on January 31, 2020.