A little over a decade after Brian Nichols’ murderous rampage left four people dead, others injured and a city gripped with fear, the movie “Captive” depicts his chance and key encounter with a widowed young mom.
The movie, based on Ashley Smith’s memoir “Unlikely Angel,” comes out Friday. She considers the work part of her ongoing witness.
“This is God asking me to do something in a big way again,” she said during a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She now lives in the Augusta area, where she works as an X-ray technician at a hospital.
The movie, like her memoir, portrays her as an addled mess in the beginning. She’s lost her first husband to drug-related violence and is battling her own addictions. Her young daughter Paige is staying with her aunt while she tries to get her act together.
Smith decides on a late-night cigarette run as Nichols, having fatally shot Judge Rowland W. Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Hoyt Teasley and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent David G. Wilhelm, pulls into her apartment parking lot in a stolen car. The movie, filmed in Charlotte, N.C., and Mexico City, focuses on what happens during the hours Nichols held Smith captive.
“When I read the script, I really wasn’t familiar with the actual events that took place here,” “House of Cards” actress Kate Mara, who plays Smith, said during an interview. “I jumped at the chance to play this woman who had quite the journey and has really come out of it. She was in a really bad place when that happened to her.”
Here’s an interview with Kate Mara; video and edit by Ryon Horne:
David Oyelowo, who played the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in last year’s “Selma,” which largely filmed in metro Atlanta, plays Nichols.
“This was a situation where two people on a downward, deadly spiral found each other,” he said during an interview with the AJC. “She gained a new life. She walked away from this drug that had held her captive for so long. Brian Nichols made different choices than he had earlier that day.”
Here’s an interview with Oyelowo; video and edit by Armani Martin:
Nichols was on trial for rape when he shot his way out of the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta on March 11, 2005. He overpowered and savagely beat Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Cynthia Hall, then used her gun to kill Barnes, Brandau and Teasley before fleeing. He chanced upon Wilhelm and killed the off-duty federal agent at his home before making his way to Gwinnett County and, serendipitously, Smith’s apartment.
As depicted in her memoir and the movie, she gained his trust, talked to him about God’s redemptive power and persuaded him to surrender peacefully the next morning.
“The fact that Brian Nichols somehow found his way from Atlanta to Ashley Smith’s apartment, there is something that seems undeniably miraculous,” Oyelowo said.
The British actor gained accolades and a Golden Globes nomination for his portrayal of one of Atlanta’s most venerated figures.
For the Nichols movie, portraying someone as universally reviled as King is revered was an artistic challenge, he said.
“To play Dr. King was such an honor. To be in his headspace was so transformative,” Oyelowo said. “With Brian Nichols, you’re having to go to some dark places in your heart and mind.”
Nichols escaped the death penalty after the jury deadlocked with nine favoring death penalty and three favoring life without parole. He was given multiple sentences of life without parole.
Oyelowo was not able to communicate with Nichols, but studied news footage to get a sense of his physical form and mannerisms. He remained mindful of what the victims’ families and Nichols’ own family have endured as a result of his crimes.
“There were people who lost their lives and there are families who are still dealing with that,” said Oyelowo, who also served as a producer for the film. His wife, Jessica Oyelowo, has a supporting role as a television journalist reporting on the crime.
Now remarried and known as Ashley Smith Robinson, she has allowed her daughter Paige, now 16, to read her memoir. They watched an advance screening of the movie together.
“I love it,” Paige said of the movie. “It’s hard not to cry through some of it.”
Added her mom, “It was harder than I thought it was going to be. The first scene, we just looked at each other and bawled our eyes out. It’s a good reminder of where we came from.”
Her son Cole is just 4, way too young to process all that happened to his mom years before he was born. Robinson said that when the time is right, she’ll broach that discussion.
Both her book and the movie inspired by it have a simple message, she said.
“It’s never too late to turn your life around,” she said. “I’ve come such a long way just holding God’s hand.”
She has spoken to Nichols’ mother but has had no contact with her former captor since the morning he freed her.
“I feel like God will tell me” whether to communicate with him in the future, she said. “I have a letter. Maybe I’ll send it one day and maybe I won’t.”