Movies

Olivia Wilde’s Defense of Richard Jewell Doesn’t Make Sense

Here is the scene the actor says is not “a transactional exchange of sex for information.”

Olivia Wilde as Kathy Scruggs in Richard Jewell
“Give me something I can print, Tom,” the journalist says in the script. “I’ll treat you right.”
Warner Bros. Entertainment

For weeks now, controversy has surrounded the way Clint Eastwood’s new movie, Richard Jewell, portrays Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, who died in 2001, as sleeping with a source. But on Thursday evening, Olivia Wilde, the actor who plays Scruggs—and who had previously stood by the movie’s portrayal in the face of criticism—offered a new defense of the scene in which her character offers sex to an FBI agent for information: Maybe she doesn’t?

Here’s Wilde’s full thread:

Wilde makes a lot of good points—including acknowledging that the pervasive, age-old trope of female journalists sleeping with their sources amounts to a “misogynistic dismissal” of the “difficult work” they do, which is why many people care about any of this in the first place—but her defense hinges on something that, to me, at least, doesn’t make a lot of sense. She says that what happens between Scruggs and the FBI agent is part of a “pre-existing romantic relationship” and “not a transactional exchange of sex for information.”

The main reason I have trouble believing this is that I have seen the movie. The other reason is that I have also read this scene in the screenplay. And, well, let me just tell you what happens in this scene.

First, the FBI agent, played by Jon Hamm, sees Scruggs “in a shorter-than-short skirt and a barely-buttoned blouse” and “grins.” Then, they talk about how there’s a lot of “pressure” and “heat” on each of them, which, the FBI agent says, “might account for your shorter-than-usual skirt and your tits-ablaze blouse.” Scruggs then tells the FBI agent: “Give me something I can print, Tom. I’ll treat you right.” After a little more banter, the agent responds, “If you couldn’t fuck it out of them, what makes you think you can fuck it out of me?” As the scene continues, Scruggs “lets her hand drop onto his lap” and tells him: “Tom. You’re about to burst.”

Then, as the screenplay puts it, Tom “gives it up”: He tells Scruggs that Jewell is a suspect in the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Thrilled with the scoop that’s now in her sights, she responds: “This puts a clock on things. Wanna get us a room? Or should we just go down to my car?”

Now, the scene as it appears in the final cut of the movie has some very minor differences from the screenplay. For example, Scruggs says only, “Give me something I can print, Tom,” not “Give me something I can print, Tom. I’ll treat you right.” And it’s true that it is implied in the movie that the two characters have already met before this encounter: We never see Scruggs introduce herself, but the FBI agent already knows her name is “Kathy.”

Still, the overall arc of the scene remains unchanged: They meet at a bar, they talk about her revealing clothing, he tells her, “If you couldn’t fuck it out of them, what makes you think you’re gonna fuck it out of me?,” she slides her hand up his thigh, and finally, after he whispers his tip into her ear, he says, “This is happening?” to which she responds, “This is happening.”

It’s worth noting that Wilde could have been given a very different version of the screenplay from the one given to awards voters, or that the scene could have been reedited from how it was originally filmed. (If so, please, anyone who knows, drop us a line.) Regardless, any blame here certainly belongs with Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray.

However, it’s hard to understand how a scene like this, even if they’re in a preexisting relationship, is not “a transactional exchange of sex for information.” And while Wilde isn’t responsible for the editing of the film, or the words of Ray’s screenplay, she is responsible for her own words on Twitter. They don’t make much sense.

Read more: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Richard Jewell.