Is 'Captive' Based On A True Story? Kate Mara Channels Extraordinary Strength As A Woman Held Hostage

In the film Captive, Kate Mara and David Oyelowo play two desperate individuals, thrown together by choice and chance. Brian Nichols (Oyelowo) is an accused rapist who makes a violent escape and goes on the run. Ashley Smith (Mara) is a drug-addicted woman scrambling to put her life back together and re-gain custody of her daughter. Nichols takes Smith as his hostage, and the movie tells the story of that harrowing experience. But is Captive based on a true story?

It is, and in fact, the main characters' names haven't even been changed. In 2005, Georgia resident Ashley Smith hardly registered the man sitting in the truck outside of her apartment complex before he held a gun to her head and pushed her into her home. Brian Nichols had already murdered four people as he fled from justice. Smith had heard about the shooting on the news, of course, but authorities assumed that the fugitive was already out of the area. Instead, he was locked with Smith in her apartment for seven terrifying hours.

Smith was addicted to crystal meth when Nichols randomly chose her as his hostage, and, as she told the New York Post, "had been abusing every drug under the sun since high school." As a result, Mara isn't red-carpet ready in the film's trailer; in fact, she looks like a woman at the end of her rope, balancing far too much in her life. When Nichols demanded to know if anyone was at home, Smith recalled telling him, "No, but I have a little girl. Please don’t hurt me, because I’m trying to be her mom.” In spite of her personal troubles, Smith showed quick-thinking and and strength of character by using her time with Nichols to humanize herself and show empathy for him. She told the Post,

All the time, I was working on establishing a rapport — asking him whether he had kids (he had a newborn son whom he’d never met) and telling him about Paige [her daughter] and our struggles after my husband’s death four years earlier. I started calling him Brian. One moment I felt optimistic that I might get through this unscathed. The next, I was terrified because his mood would change...

A turning point came when Nichols noticed Smith's copy of pastor Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life (the one she tosses in the trash in the Captive trailer), and asked her to read to him. Smith credits that experience with saving her life, whether her captor was responding to the kindness she was able to show or the faith-heavy text. She appeared on Oprah just a few months later to talk about her ordeal and the changes her survival spurred her to make. Oprah Skyped her in for an update in 2013, where she was able to thank Warren himself again publicly for the role that book played in that experience.

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After gaining his trust and escaping, Smith alerted the authorities to Nichols' whereabouts. She testified at his trial in 2008 and he is currently serving multiple life sentences with no chance of parole. On The Today Show recently, Smith discussed how she was forced to decide "whether or not [I] was going to use drugs with Brian Nichols that night, and drugs had been a way of life that I had let consume me for many years before that...and I looked at Brian Nichols and said, 'I don't want to do them now or ever again.'" She hasn't, and she is now re-married and with three children, including firstborn daughter Paige.

As for the movie? Smith is pleased with the outcome and with the actress who takes over her role in the story. "Kate does a fantastic job playing me," she told The Today Show. "I don't think I would have changed anything about it."

Image: Paramount Pictures