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The Independent Critic

 The Independent Critic's Captivating Interview With Ashley Smith Robinson 
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It could have been the day that finally destroyed Ashley Smith's already troubled life. She was a widow in her 20's, a recovery drug addict and a young woman desperately trying to prove her worth as a mother. Brian Nichols, a suspected rapist who'd just escaped from an Atlanta jail and already taken four lives, took Smith hostage for seven hours and yet, almost stunningly, eventually released her unharmed.

The 2005 incident stunned Americans nationwide and, in some ways, turned Pastor Rick Warren into a household name when it was revealed that throughout her captivity Smith had read portions of Warren's book "The Purpose-Driven Life" to Nichols.

It seems like the kind of story that Hollywood would dream up. Yet, it's true. It happened. The man who very well could have destroyed Smith's life may have, in the ultimate irony, been the one who saved it.

Smith, now Ashley Smith Robinson, gives all the credit to God and a faith that somehow got renewed during those seven hours that would eventually lead to Smith's release and Nichols' surrender. It was only a couple of months after the incident that Smith began writing what would become her best-seling book "Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero." Now, ten years later, Ashley Smith Robinson is telling her story nationwide with the Paramount Pictures release of a new film based upon her book, "Captive," starring Kate Mara as Smith and David Oyelowo as Brian Nichols.

Ashley Smith Robinson was in Indianapolis recently and The Independent Critic joined her over lunch at downtown Indy's JW Marriott to talk about the movie, her life, her faith and what gives her life purpose now.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

One of the things I wondered about the film, which I loved by the way, is about your journey between then and now. I mean, we obviously get a strong sense from the film of where your life was at when the incident in the film happened. At the end of the film, we find out where you're at now. What happened after the event that is in the film was over to get you to where you are now?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

For the first year, I actually lived in a home with my aunt and uncle. I dug into the word of God to find out why He saved me. I got myself in bible study. I just started to learn how to be Paige's mom all over again. My uncle was my life coach. He told me anytime I was doing something that wasn't right My daughter would come up and say "Well mama, Aunt Kim said I could do this!" and I'd say "We're on the same team here now kid!" I was just taking time for myself, praying to God, praying for friends and I was meeting some wonderful people. The book was a big healing process for me. I was locked up with Stacy Mattingly, the ghost writer, for seven days. It was ten hour days. Instead of being on drugs, I was working out the emotions that I was hiding when I was doing drugs. It was very healing for me just to remember. We went way back. Stacy was like "I want you to go back as far as you can remember and tell me everything you remember about your life."

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How long after everything happened did you start writing the book?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

It was about two months.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So you knew fairly early on that it was a story that needed to be told?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Oh yeah. They came to me and wanted to tell the story. I said "I'm glad you guys want to do it. It's flattering," but I wanted to find out if that's what God wanted me to do. There were four people who lost their lives and I had to be sensitive to that. I didn't feel worthy. I was the widowed drug addict. I was probably the one who should have died and all these well respected people lost their lives. I knew that there was something God wanted me to do with it and the book was one of the first things.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

As I was sitting there watching the film, I found myself wondering how difficult it is for you. I mean, I know you wrote the book and you've spoken about your experiences but there's something different about watching it up there on the big screen and putting it out there in such a big way.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Well, it is difficult. It's very emotional, but more than being difficult I'd say it's very helpfull so that I can see where I never want to go back to. Doing drugs was fun at first. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't, because it was. Then, it got to be such a way of life that I was miserable. I never got high like I did before. It definitely keeps me remembering and knowing that anything Satan might say about it is a lie. I was miserable. I was always going to be miserable.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So you're obviously happy with the film, or I'm assuming you wouldn't be out here promoting it?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Definitely happy with the film. They couldn't have done a better job.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I think it's pretty well known that in any film there's a certain amount of Hollywood "touches" added to the film, but do you feel like they captured the essence of what happened?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

It's very, very true to what happened. There are some things added for dramatic effect, which I didn't like at first. I wanted it to be completely true. The book was completely true, why couldn't the movie be completely true? I watched those dramatic scenes that were added and they were scenes but they conveyed real emotions that I was feeling at the time. So, they did phenomenal. I didn't want it to lose its faith factor, because God is the power and He is what saved me. I didn't do anything heroic other than start prayin and giving everything to God. They definitely highlighted that.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I thought that was one of the neatest things about the film. It was a weird balance. I mean, you had this crime thriller/drama that is convincingly done  but you also have this faith inspired story. I wrote in my review that Captive is what I really want faith-based films to be, though I wouldn't really call it a traditional faith-based film.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

It's not a film that really shoves faith down your throat and a lot of faith-based films do that and a lot of people get really turned off quickly by that. That's not what the film does. I was and still am a sinner saved by God's Grace. Just because my life has changed, it doesn't mean I don't struggle from day-to-day. I still struggle. I'm a human being saved by God's Grace. I just let Him carry my burdens.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

One of the things I really liked was the people, obviously real people and not characters, but they're actually portrayed as real people. I think that's particularly effective with Brian Nichols, who could have so easily been portrayed as a one-note bad guy. Now, of course, part of that is because David Oyelowo is a really incredible actor.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Phenomenal.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I watched him and I realized there toward the end of the film, and I don't want to give away the scene, but I almost felt like you'd betrayed him with the way everything unfolded.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

A lot of people are saying that. When I decided not to do drugs that night, I realized I began to see Brian as a human being. He too is a sinner saved by God's Grace. He'd made bad choices by choosing to kill four people. I'd made bad choices by doing drugs and losing my daughter. I think because that's how I began to see him, and it's still my true story about what happened, that's how it had to be played out. To hear his mom tell it, and she was asked how she felt about the film, she said "There were times I forgot that he was not Brian." That's just how phenomenal David is in the film. If you know David, you know that he is the kindest, most gentle, passionate "loves the Lord" kind of man. To have him play that part is just "Wow!"

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Right after he played Dr. King.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Yeah, exactly. David is a lot more like Dr. King. That's for sure.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you kind of talk about your process with the film and how it actually came to be? You started the book a couple months after everything happened, but it's been ten years now.

Section title here
Kate Mara and David Oyelowo in "Captive." Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Well, people wanted to do a film ten years ago. I prayed and I was like "God, I want it done in your timing. I want it done in your standards or I don't want it done at all. It wasn't that important to have a movie made about my life unless it was going to help people. It was going to be a Lifetime film at one point. When they came to me during the Summer of 2013 and said "Hey, were doing this," I said "I'll believe it when I see it." I got my tickets and I got all my travel arranged. When I got on set, I was like "Wow!" and then I met Kate. She wanted to meet me before playing me. I began to realize that it was God's timing. Everything about it had God all over it - meeting David and everything about David who, by the way, had a belt on and the buckle said "I love Jesus." I was like "You're a Hollywood actor who could choose anything you want to wear and that's what you're choosing...Right on!" It was all over - producers, the director, the camera people, the make-up people. Everyone. They seemed to be filled with so much passion. They were filled with passion to make a film to help people and not to make a film to make money, although that is part of the deal it didn't seem like that was what they were there for. It was phenomenal. They didn't need my help. They got it right. That's what I prayed for. I prayed that they did what they said they were going to do and they made the film that I wanted it to be and that I believe God wanted it to be.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That to me just goes back to the fact that the film is also being released by Paramount. That's pretty amazing. I mean, you might expect this film from a faith-based distributor or even the faith-based arm of a distributor. Yet, they're doing it and they're doing it really well including both production and marketing.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

It didn't start off with Paramount, but Paramount picked it up. I think one of my most favorite comments was "I just want to let you know that I'm not a Christian and this film made me cry." It made me laugh. Yeah, I gotcha. That's how I knew they'd gotten it right that someone could go down and sit in the theater and watch the film and be touched by it. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It seems like it would have that kind of crossover appeal.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Yeah, I hope so. I hope that millions of people go out to see it because it's definitely a story that needs to be heard.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

We talked about David Oyelowo, but Kate Mara played you. What did you think of her performance?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

She did a phenomenal job. I was a little worried at first. She's 5'3" and 125 pounds and has straight hair, but as I began to talk to her I stopped worrying. It was hard for her to meet me now when she was playing me ten years ago. I was a totally different person. I think what she captured better than anything was that she captured the motherhood that I had. Her and Elle (Editor's Note: Elle Graham, who played Ashley's daughter Paige in the film) just really bonded and made it real. She's just did a phenomenal job. I love what she said recently. She said "I didn't really want to get to know her, because that night I lived a moment at a time." It wasn't all thought about. It was "What am I going to do next? What am I going to do next?" That's how she wanted to play the role. Very powerful and very genuine.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I guess I really want to let people know where you're at now. They know where you came from. They have some idea of where you went to after the film, but can you talk a bit about your life now?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

Well, I obviously came from a Christian home. I turned my back on my faith. Like I said earlier, I'm still a sinner saved by God's Grace. I feel disappointed in myself at times. There's also times I look back and think "That was amazing." I've been married for eight years. Paige is now 16. I have a 14-year-old stepdaughter. I have a 4-year-old boy who is just so loving and gentle and kind, but I'm also a medical professional. I work in medical imaging. My favorite job is public speaking, because I get to go around the world and share how God reached down into the pits of hell and pulled me out and said "I'm not done with you." I hate it when people will sometimes say "Oh, she thinks she's perfect."  No, I am soooo far from perfect. I don't feel worthy of any of this happening to me, but I'm grateful that God's given me a platform to share with the world what He did for me. I disobeyed God for a long time. I'll take all the heat if people want to talk about me for this and that, because when I get to heaven I want God to say "First half of your love, not so good. Second half of your life, well done." That's where I am now.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Now, in the film it says you still lead Celebrate Recovery groups.

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

No, I do not lead Celebrate Recovery groups anymore. I did Celebrate Recovery from 2007 - 2009. I told David "You all need to stop telling people that because I'm not doing that anymore." It was a part of my life, but I'm not a leader anymore. It's a part of my life today, but God keeps me where I need to be. I love Celebrate Recovery. It was great. That's not my purpose now.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That's a great way to end our time together. What is your purpose?

ASHLEY SMITH ROBINSON

My purpose is really showing people how God saved my life and letting people know that it's never too late to turn your life around. There's absolutely nothing we can do to make God not love us. I believed Satan's lie for such a long time and I believe that's one of the reasons I stayed drug-addicted for so long. I believed Satan's lie that everything I did made God not love me. There's really nothing we can do and He showed me that night in that bathroom where he said "Do you want to use drugs for the rest of your life or do you want me to save your life?" That's my purpose - letting people know that there's nothing we can do to make Him not love us. I was a perfectionist. I'm getting a little better - having a couple teenagers helps that plus having a husband who really doesn't care what the house looks like. Even in my bad part of life, I was the best bad person I could be. Now, I'm just trying to be the best sinner saved by God's Grace.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Thank you very much for your time. I've really enjoyed our conversation.

"Captive" opened in limited release on September 18th, 2015 and continues opening in theaters nationwide. For more information, visit the "Captive" website.

Interview by Richard Propes
Copyright 2015 - The Independent Critic


 

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