Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home in 2002 and became a national story at the age of 14.
Fifteen years later, Smart is bringing her story to television with two different programming events: “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” a Lifetime movie on which she’s an executive producer, and a two-part documentary special, “Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography,” which will air on both Lifetime and A&E.
“I will say that is the best and worst movie I’ve ever seen,” Smart said Friday on a panel for A+E Networks at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills. “It was so well done. It was accurate, but at the same time, part of me will be happy if I never have to see it again. I’m very proud of it, but I hate it at the same time.”
Producing a movie about her life story brought back tough memories from her abduction, but Smart says she was strong enough to engage in the film and biography special because so much time had passed. She hopes that the TV projects will help others learn, and especially help victims of kidnapping and abuse.
“When I came home, I swore myself up and down that I wouldn’t write a book, I wouldn’t do a movie. I wanted it all to disappear, I wanted it all to go away,” Smart recalled. “For years, I felt that way, but little by little, I started to become more involved in advocacy and meeting more survivors and people who were involved in similar things … it’s kind of my world now, and I realized I have an opportunity. I have a unique opportunity to share my story because there are so many survivors out there who struggle every day … they feel like no one understands what they’re going through. … I feel like I need to speak out because I can.”
“While her story has been in the media for so many years, it’s never been told properly,” an executive producer said. “For 15 years, everyone has been telling her story for her.”
“I Am Elizabeth Smart” stars Alana Boden as Smart, and Deirdre Lovejoy and Skeet Ulrich as her abductors, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee. Seeing Ulrich for the first time in full hair and makeup was an eerie experience for Smart, who said he looked just like the man who kidnapped her.
“I was sitting there looking at him going, ‘You look like the devil and you look like the worst human being I know.’ It was a really surreal experience, but I’m really glad I am a part of it,” Smart said. For Ulrich, it’s the most difficult role he’s had to play in his life, and he admits to having nightmares through the entire shoot. Ulrich was given access to all 200 pages of Mitchell’s psych analysis from the time he was on trial, to ensure accuracy in the portrayal.
The room of reporters asked Smart many questions about her experience — everyone’s worst nightmare — and was taken aback by her bravery and courage to be able to speak candidly about her abduction and recovery.
Smart explained that when she first returned home, she immediately wanted to see her friends and go back to her school, but then realized she couldn’t just bounce back to normalcy. Aside from overcoming the horror of being kidnapped, the then-teenager had to adjust to life as a public figure — something she says has never gotten easier.
“I’d go to the grocery store and would have people approach me all the time. I go to Costco now, and what should be 45 minutes, turns into an hour and 20 minutes,” she shares. “That was the hardest part of re-adjusting to life was having everyone feel like they know me and me not knowing anyone … that was my biggest struggle coming home.”
Now happily married and a mother of two, Smart has dedicated her life to helping other survivors and becoming an activist to prevent child abductions. At the end of the panel, she took a moment to urge everyone to turn on their Amber Alert setting on their phones, which has helped save 800 abducted children just this year. (Smart told the audience that every year, half a million children disappear.)
“No child deserved to go through what I went through. No child deserves to be taken, to be raped, to be murdered,” she said.
For Smart, the A+E Networks projects didn’t bring closure to her situation, but she is hopeful they will help inform others.
“For me, closure happened the day that I was rescued. Closure happened the day that they got their sentencing,” she said. “I couldn’t have been involved, I couldn’t have endorsed making a project like this the day after I was rescued. That was something I was all too happy to run away from. Coming back to it now, now I can. It was a process. It was a long and very thought-out decision.