The only moment during filming that felt truly like a flashback, says Spencer Stone, was when he was crouching by the bleeding man on the floor of the train carriage, his finger pressed into his neck wound to try to stop the blood. “We’re saying the same things we said to each other, we’re on the train, we’re wearing the same clothes, they recreated our injuries so we’re all covered in blood again,” says Stone. “There is the insane amount of blood that I remember.”
Like Stone, the man on the floor is not an actor, but Mark Moogalian, the actual person who lived the events of 21 August 2015, when a gunman, armed with weapons including an AK-47 and almost 300 rounds of ammunition, allegedly attempted to commit a terrorist atrocity. “I just completely forgot anyone was there,” says Stone, “and once they said: ‘Cut’, I was like: ‘Oh, there are other people [here]’ and I looked up and Clint Eastwood was standing in front of us looking at the monitor.” He had a strange expression on his face, remembers Stone, which he can’t really describe; so did the crew.
Stone locked eyes with his friend Anthony Sadler, who was a short way away on the train carriage. “I kind of gave him a look like, ‘That was it’, for the first and only time during shooting we might as well have all been on the train in 2015 again,” remembers Sadler. “Everybody felt that, even the crew. It felt as real as it gets. Basically, they saw what happened in real time.”
Two and a half years ago, three young Americans – Stone, then 22, Sadler, 23, and their friend Alek Skarlatos, 22 – were on a tour of Europe. Friends since school, it was a reunion of sorts (Skarlatos and Sadler hadn’t seen each other for some years). On a train from Amsterdam to Paris, the three – along with British businessman Chris Norman, and Moogalian, who apprehended the man first – stopped an alleged attempted terrorist attack. They were soon on their way home to Sacramento, California, but not before picking up the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration. Today, they are back in the city, in a grand hotel suite, lounging, legs on tables, to promote the film The 15:17 from Paris, directed by Eastwood, in which they play themselves.