In August 2015, three American best friends were on vacation in Europe when they heroically stepped into action to stop a terrorist attack aboard a train from Amsterdam to Paris. Three years later, buddies, two of them off-duty servicemen, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone stopped by On Air With Ryan Seacrest on Tuesday, February 6, to recall the life-altering moment and share the surreal experience of getting to work with director Clint Eastwood on upcoming film The 15:17 to Paris.
At the time of the incident, Skarlatos was a member of the Oregon National Guard on vacation after being deployed in Afghanistan, Stone was an Air Force medic on leave from his base in Portugal and Sadler was a senior at Cal State-Sacramento. The three men were on the train, which was carrying some 500 other passengers, when they noticed gunman Ayoub el-Khazzani.
“We looked back and saw him enter and within seconds Spencer gets up, Alec gets up and I get up and the three of us basically subdue him,” Anthony recalled of the terrifying moment when they decided to take action. “He had shot a passenger previously to that and after that Spencer recognized he’d been shot and had some EMT training and went over and saved his life.”
The men explained that it was a fight or flight moment.
“It was just a feeling of not wanting to die,” they continued. “You’re on a train going 200 MPH in the middle of the countryside, this guy has an automatic AK47, there’s no where to go. It was either get up and try and do something, or sit there and wait for him to shoot you.”
In the film, which recalls the moment minute-by-minute, the three pals play themselves, which they weren’t expecting.
“We were kind of like an eleventh-hour decision,” they shared. “They’d been casting for over a month and so when they called us down to L.A., we thought we were going to meet the actors that were playing us and then that was when [Clint Eastwood] asked us to play ourselves in the movie. [It was] only three weeks before filming.”
Spencer added that while you would think it would be traumatic for them to relive the day, they’ve been able to turn it into a positive experience. That said, he did suffer a major flashback while recreating the scene during which he saves passenger Mark’s life.
“There was one particular scene I felt like I truly had a flashback,” Spencer shared. “Mark was bleeding out — his carotid artery was severed — and so they recreated our injuries, we’re wearing the same clothes, we’re literally on the train, it’s Mark, it’s me, we’re saying the same exact things we said to each other on the day of and I just felt like I completely forgot anyone was there. Then I hear Clint Eastwood say ‘Cut!’ and I look up … and he has this facial expression that I'll never forget … and it was kind of like a feeling in the train like 'Wow, that was reality. That's not fiction and that happened to us.’”
Listen to the full interview above to hear more from the real-life heroes. 15:17 to Paris hits theaters on Friday, February 9.