Is Casting Real-Life Heroes in 'The 15:17 to Paris' Clint Eastwood's Greatest Challenge Yet?

Clint Eastwood has done it all. Literally.

Acting legend? Check? Oscar glory? Multiple checks. Singer-songwriter? Yup. He even co-starred with an orangutan. Twice. And it didn’t kill his career.

But can he turn a trio of heroic young men into … actors?

Eastwood’s next directorial project tells the true story of three men who thwarted a terrorist attack on a moving train. “The 15:17 to Paris” will star real-life heroes Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone. The trio will play themselves, recreating how they stopped a terrorist armed with an AK-47 on a train bound for Paris.

The Warner Bros. movies is based on the book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes, written by Sadler, Skarlatos, Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern. Dorothy Blyskal adapted the book for the feature, which will be produced by Eastwood, Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera and Jessica Meier.

Three younger actors will portray the trio in the film as well, clearly capturing the characters’ back story. But when it comes time to subdue the cinematic terrorist, we’ll be watching three rookies under Eastwood’s tutelage.

It might sound like an easier task than stealing scenes with Clyde. It’s actually much harder. Yes, non-actors have done quite well on the big screen over the years. Rappers and singers have made the transition to acting look easy. Think Dwight Yoakam, Courtney Love, Eminem and Justin Timberlake (who co-starred with Eastwood in “Trouble With the Curve”).

They had a big advantage over acting novices. They already were comfortable on stage. Any singer who performs live has to carry the show with a certain amount of acting flair. Those celebrities were inadvertently training for their big-screen close-ups for years without knowing it.

Taking three men who haven’t studied acting and making them the lead of your film? That’s a risk. It’s been done before, of course.

Recently, director Benh Zeitlin cast a pair of acting neophytes to star in his acclaimed 2012 movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Both Dwight Henry and young Quvenzhané Wallis, who went on to star in the “Annie” reboot, lacked formal acting training. Each thrived in the spotlight.

The 2012 action film “Act of Valor” similarly leaned on acting newbies – in this case, actual Navy SEALS, to star in the film. The results? Bravura action and dramatic moments that couldn’t keep up.

Eastwood brings something to the project that the much younger director lacks: decades of directing experience at the highest levels of Hollywood. Something else in the legend’s favor? His Everyman touch. Few stars intrinsically “get” what we want to see quite like Eastwood.

There’s always the “X” factor. Perhaps Eastwood sensed something in these three men that convinced him they could handle the roles. After all, when Eastwood starts casting a new project actors would be silly to say no to him. He clearly had plenty of casting options to consider.

He declined.

It makes “The 15:17 to Paris” one of the more intriguing film projects in recent memory.

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