When you’re told that a movie is based on a true story, there’s usually some skepticism about how true that story really is, or how closely the cast is able to capture the actual participants. For Clint Eastwood, the director of The 15:17 to Paris, the latter wasn’t a problem at all since he decided to cast the people who lived the story he was telling; a story that took place back on August 21, 2015. Yes, the three main characters are played by the actual men who became heroes in that one life-changing moment. On that day, a high-speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris was nearly the victim of a terrorist attack, but that attack was prevented from being so much worse than it was by a trio of Americans who happened to be traveling through Europe. They were able to disarm and subdue the man before he could continue firing his weapon and murder the passengers.

Those men are Anthony Sadler, former Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and former U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone; and this film follows their lives from childhood through that fateful day and its aftermath. For Clint, this is only the latest of his films to turn the spotlight on real-life heroes, the most recent being Sully and American Sniper. “It hasn’t been a conscious choice to tell heroic stories or make movies about everyday heroes,” he says in one of the interviews provided by the studio. “I just do stories that come along and interest me. Some feats are exceptional and beneficial to society, and it’s nice when you can tell a story like that.

“These three boys,” he adds, “really stepped up, and their efforts had a big effect on a lot of people. When we were casting, we looked at a lot of good actors, but I kept looking at the guys and thinking, ‘Why not do something unexpected?’ Finally, one day I just said to them, ‘Do you think you can play yourselves?'”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

Summing it up for the trio, Spencer explained, “I was sitting on my front porch, super nervous, thinking, ‘I’m about to have a phone conversation with Clint Eastwood.’ Then he told me how much he loved the story and things went from there. But we never imagined playing ourselves, so it was a complete surprise when he brought it up.”

It was Alek’s view though that, given how long they’ve been friends as well as the natural chemistry they have with each other, the idea of playing themselves actually seemed doable: “We’ve gone through a lot of crazy experiences together, and playing ourselves is definitely another, but it’s really the icing on the cake.”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

“I’m always rooting for the underdog,” adds writer Dorothy Blyskal, who adapted The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern and the three guys. “What drew me to their story was the backstory — their faith, their relationship with their mothers, and how they raised these men who triumphed; these heroes who affected so many lives. That’s what made it so human, so relatable, and so interesting to me.”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

The trio was in their early ’20s in 2015, with Spencer in the Air Force, Alek in the Oregon National Guard, and Anthony a student at California State University, Sacramento. Spencer and Alek had already been good friends when they met Anthony in middle school. “We just clicked with Anthony,” Spencer said. “He likes to have a good time, is really social, but also can just be at home and chill. Alek is an introvert as well, but also really goofy and funny. We connected when we were younger, mostly through sports, playing war, playing basketball. At the end of the day, we’re just three regular guys. Nothing special about us.”

Others might disagree. So what else is there to know about these three best friends turned heroes turned actors? We’ve got the full breakdown:

Spencer Stone

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

Born in Sacramento, CA on Aug. 13, 1992, Spencer, like his friends, spent considerable time growing up providing service to the community. He also frequently dreamed of becoming a soldier. Given his personality, as described over time by his family and friends, his actions on that train were not surprising at all. Nor was the decision to enlist in the United States Air Force following high school graduation. There he rose in rank from an intake clerk to senior airman, and, following the events in France, Senior Airman, and, then, staff sergeant. At the end of 2016, he left the Air Force expressing an interest in international relations, though there has been no word on whether or not it’s something he still wants to pursue. The book he co-wrote on those events in 2015, and making the movie based on it, has occupied a great deal of his time since then.

Anthony Sadler Jr.

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

There’s no question that Anthony has played his personal life close to the vest. We know he was born in Sacramento, California in 1991 or 1992, but there isn’t that much more out there, although on making this movie he does comment, “It was an amazing experience just being able to go through the process with Spencer and Alek. Add to that being with Clint Eastwood, taking his direction every day, being on those sets… This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we would never have expected to be part of.” He and the others appeared on the “Hometown Heroes” edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Alek Skarlatos

dancing with the stars

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Born Aleksander Reed Skarlatos on October 10, 1992, in Castro Valley, CA, he grew up your average kid. In 2012 he joined the Oregon Army National Guard, which he remains a part of. Holding the rank of “Specialist,” he spent nine months in Afghanistan. But you might recognize him from his time competing on Season 21 of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in 2015. He was partnered with pro-dancer Lindsay Arnold and they ended up finishing third place in the competition.

The 15:17 to Paris is now playing in theaters.