USA TODAY US Edition
‘CAPTIVE’ TURNS DAVID OYELOWO INTO A KILLER
‘Purpose Drive Life’ also has starring role
National headlines becoming feature film fare is nothing new.
But for Ashley Smith, who watched her night as a hostage transform into Captive, a film starring David Oyelowo as her real-life captor, Brian Nichols, the experience was beyond surreal.
“I wasn’t expecting much — I lived it,” says Smith, 37, who is played by Kate Mara. Captive, in theaters Friday, revisits the night when Smith, a methamphetamine addict unable to care for her young daughter, is held at gunpoint by a man on the run after gunning down four people before and after his court date (including the judge assigned to his case).
“But I tell you what, the first scene in, I looked over at my child and saw tears rolling down her face and I just lost it,” Smith says. “It was very emotional to go through.”
The Atlanta manhunt transfixed the nation in 2005, and the story drew in Oyelowo because of the “sort of miraculous nature of it, really,” he says. “The fact that Brian Nichols had committed these atrocities and found himself in this woman’s apartment — who happened to be a meth addict. And these incredible seven hours they spent together that led to very unexpected results.”
Smith, struggling to get clean, kept a copy of the Christian best seller The Purpose Driven Life in her apartment. Over the course of the evening, she began to read passages of the book aloud. Ultimately, Nichols released her. (He’s now serving multiple life sentences in Georgia.)
“Even when I was walking out to the car, my knees were shaking. I was still thinking, ‘This is too good to be true; he’s going to come out and shoot,’ ” Smith says.
But how real could a Hollywood retelling be? Meeting Mara was Smith’s first jolt. “Seeing this 5-foot-3, 90-pound, redheaded girl, I went, ‘You’re supposed to be me?’ I was like, ‘ How is that going to happen?’ ” she says, laughing. But she calls Mara’s portrayal of “the old me 10 years ago” spot-on. “I’m very happy with her performance.”
“She’s such a strong woman,” says Mara, 32, who spent hours watching documentaries on the effects of meth. “All the mistakes she had made in her life up to ( being held hostage), I love how candid she is about all of that.”
Oyelowo tried to meet with Nichols, but “access was impossible,” he says. Instead, the actor spoke with Nichols’ mother and the victims’ families, and spent time with Smith on the set.
Smith acknowledges that certain scenes were added for dramatic effect but says the film is “a very close depiction to what hap- pened that night.” That includes a scene in which Nichols holds a gun to her head, asks if there are drugs in the house and insists she snort meth with him. She refused.
“I believe with all my heart that God was in the body of Brian Nichols asking me if I wanted to do drugs,” she says. “I didn’t want to live that life anymore. Immediately, I felt spiritually free, like God was in control.”
Smith later appeared on
Oprah, got married, became a CT/ X-ray technician and now shares three children with her husband. Her story, chronicled in Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlan
ta Hostage Hero, was “my go-to book that I always had on hand, because it really is her diary,” Mara says.
Though the film is strongly faith-based, Oyelowo, 39, who is a producer, says it was important that Captive “didn’t feel preachy in any way. There’s also a danger of it feeling like a movie of the week, so me coming on board was very much to make sure the rawness of the story was retained.” Oyelowo is more in demand than ever after 2014’s Selma. After the premiere of Five Nights in Maine at Toronto International Film Festival, he’ll jet to Botswana to shoot A United Kingdom opposite Rosamund Pike. He says his faith helps set parameters for his choices on screen.
“The prerequisite for me is I don’t want to be in anything that glamorizes or glorifies darkness,” he says. “Because I, unlike some filmmakers, do feel films are part of shaping culture.”
“Seeing this 5-foot-3, 90 pound, redheaded girl, I went, ‘You’re supposed to be me?’ ” Ashley Smith, Kate Mara’s real-life counterpart