In 1996 the United States of America witnessed a horrific tragedy when the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia were upended by deadly terrorist attack. In the aftermath of the attack, a security guard and police officer named Richard Jewell was cast as a villain when he was investigated as a suspect by the FBI and local law enforcement. In the new series Manhunt: Deadly Games, viewers get a chance to see a dramatic re-enactment of what transpired on July 27, 1996, how Jewell was falsely accused and the eventual apprehension of the actual perpetrator, Eric Rudolph.
Judith Light stars as Richard Jewell’s mother, Bobi Jewell, in the series and spoke with CBS’ Matt Weiss ahead of tonight’s premiere.
MW: Hi Judith, hope all’s well! The first thing I wanted to ask you before we get into Manhunt: Deadly Games, just to take it back a little bit, do you remember what you were doing and what that moment was like in ‘96 when you heard about the attack?
JL: I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, but I remember hearing about it; and I remember being glued to the news to listen to what was happening and what the story was.
MW: How did that impact you at the time?
JL: I found it devastating, in that somebody who had actually been a hero and saved so many lives was actually being vilified. We didn’t know that until the FBI found the actual bomber Eric Rudolph. It was their diligence and their work that uncovered the actual bomber. Because they kept saying that there were things that that didn’t match up with Richard. You watched a life be destroyed.
MW: Now on Manhunt you’re playing Bobi who was Richard’s mother. Did you get a chance to speak to her or any of the other people who were involved?
JL: No. I prefer not to speak to a person that I’m that I’m portraying. Out of respect and deference to them and their life. As long ago as this was, I’m sure that there are still feelings and sorrow. I feel most importantly that I’d be respectful.
There were tapes that we saw, there was research that we did. We had a wonderful writer Andrew Sodroski, our producer Michael Dinner and Spectrum, Lionscape, Kevin Biggs, Catherine Hope. All of these people really pulled together to have us know what we were looking at, know what we’re talking about so that we could make sure that we were true to the story in the most responsible way without talking to anybody who had been literally involved.
MW: When you do something like this, there is that weight on your shoulders of doing it respectfully and making sure you’re portraying things the right way. Can speak a little bit more about that? How much did it mean to you to get this across respectfully?
JL: You can’t do it without having that or you mustn’t, I would say. The need to take care of someone else’s life that you’re portraying is essential. It sort of comes to the point, the way we all, not we all, but in large part today because of everything that’s going on we don’t always treat each other with kindness. We’re not always respectful of someone and their feelings and what they might be going through.
I think seeing this particular piece, this manhunt, is to remind us that we really need to be careful with each other, tender with each other. We are all fragile and particularly right now even more so. I say that with thoughts of 1996 and Bobi and Richard Jewell and also for now.
MW: These true crime anthologies have gotten so popular in the last few years, but this is unique in the sense that this isn’t a hidden story. This is something that a lot of people were very aware of. Potentially for some younger viewers this could be the first time that they’re really getting introduced to it but for the most part people are aware of the story, what does that mean to you to bring this back into people’s mind?
JL: I think it’s important. I think it’s important for people who weren’t aware of it then and young people who weren’t even born then. I think they get to see what the need is for people to find the real person who did this and not to just instantaneously blame someone. I think this puts the media in a spotlight, you’re journalists, we need you, we need you to be uncovering the truth in monumental ways.
Back then we needed it and it really resonates for now in terms of the media and journalistic responsibility. I think it’s going to be a real history lesson for a lot of people in a very palatable way without being didactic or pedantic. Teaching you something, but really informing you and waking you up to how we treat each other as human beings, how the media can work or not work. What we need to do in terms of being respectful to a story that for many people still resonates through the years.
A lot of people still say, oh yeah, the Atlanta bombing yeah that was Richard Jewell. We need to make sure that everybody knows it’s Eric Rudolph.
MW: Right, absolutely. Well thank you so much Judith, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today. All the best with the premier and stay safe!
JL: Thanks, you too, stay well!
Manhunt: Deadly Games premieres tonight, Monday, September 21st at 10:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.