Fourteen years after a highly sanitized version of “The Elizabeth Smart Story” aired on CBS, Smart is back with two no-holds-barred TV projects that recount her 2002 kidnapping and the ordeal that followed.
The 2003 movie didn’t even mention the word “rape”; in the opening moments of A&E’s two-part “Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography,” Smart — now 30 — says, “The three words that really describe it are terror, boredom and rape.”
A second TV movie, “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” doesn’t hold back as it portrays her torment.
Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint in the early hours of June 5, 2002, sparking a massive search for the 14-year-old. She was found March 12, 2003, walking down State Street in Sandy with her captors, Brian David Mitchell, 49, and Wanda Barzee, 57.
The movie “shows how they acted and how I reacted,” Smart said. “It’s all done from my perspective. It’s not my parents’ side of the story or anything like that.”
Part 1 of “Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography” debuts Sunday on A&E — 7 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 10 p.m. on Comcast. Part 2 debuts Monday on A&E — 7 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 10 p.m. on Comcast.
The TV movie “I Am Elizabeth Smart” premieres Saturday, Nov. 18, at 6 and 10 p.m. on Lifetime on DirecTV, Dish and Comcast.
It’s something she wasn’t ready for 14 years ago.
“That was something that I was all too happy to try to run away from,” Smart said. “Now, I can [talk about it].
“It’s funny because, when I got home, I think I swore up and down that I was never going to write a book, I was never going to do a movie. I wanted it all to disappear. I wanted it all to go away.”
She began to rethink that as she became involved in victim advocacy.
“I realized that I have a unique opportunity to share my story,” Smart said, “because there are so many other survivors out there who struggle every day because they feel like they are alone.”
This time, she shares with viewers exactly what happened to her. There’s a viewer advisory at the beginning of “Autobiography” because it “contains images and descriptions of violence and sexual violence.” That same pattern holds true in “I Am Elizabeth Smart.”
“It captured kind of that elusive third dimension that you don’t get from reading in a book or hearing me speak it. But it showed what it really was like,” Smart said.
It was so real that it was hard on the cast.
I couldn’t sleep,” said Skeet Ulrich, who stars as Mitchell. “I’d have nightmares every night.” He, Dierdre Lovejoy (who stars as Barzee) and Alana Boden (Smart) “really bonded together,” Ulrich said, which “gave us strength to get through this.”
“Hearing crew members say, ‘Oh my God, I want to kill you’ after scenes means — OK, I’m doing good. Which is an odd way to take a compliment.”
“It was definitely the most challenging role I’ve ever played,” Boden said.
Ulrich made it clear that the actors’ struggle “pales in comparison” to what happened to Smart. “We’re just acting,” Lovejoy said. “In terms of the toll, it doesn’t compare at all.”
Smart was shocked to see Ulrich in costume and in character when she visited the set.
“It was a really surreal experience,” she said. “You see people doing their best to re-create the worst moment of your life.
“But it was really good. I was just amazed at how really accurate all of them were. They all maintain just this intensity — this emotional intensity — throughout the whole film that I feel like it portrayed what I wanted it to portray.”
And what she wanted to portray was the evil of Mitchell and Barzee. How they “twisted and manipulated” religion — specifically, Mormonism — to justify the kidnapping and rapes.
“One of the greatest evils I think there is in the world is for people to take something that’s supposed to bring hope and joy and comfort — something that should be sacred and respected — and twist it to use to hurt other people,” she said.
Smart didn’t jump at the chance to participate in “Autbiography” and the TV movie. The producers spent two years talking to her before they finalized a deal.
“It was really important to us to build that trust, understand Elizabeth’s point of view, understand if something wasn’t quite right or how to make something really accurate,” said executive producer Allison Berkley.
“Now we can tell the complete story and do it with Elizabeth herself,” said executive producer Joseph Freed.
Smart is an executive producer on the TV movie, which she narrates. And she’s completely happy about how it turned out.
“It’s something that I’m not embarrassed about, which — coming from me — is a really big deal,” Smart said with a laugh.
She believes “I Am Elizabeth Smart” is the “best worst movie I’ve ever seen.”
“I think it’s so well done. I think it was accurate. I’m very proud of it,” she said. “But at the same time, part of me thinks I’ll be happy if I never have to watch it again.”