A Former Marine’s Dream Is To Show A Wounded Soul Can Be Healed
By Lindsey Henry
Brett Smith is a Marine, retired police officer, and currently an actor. His latest profession drives him to highlight his first one in a positive light.
Irritated how films often depict soldiers with PTSD in a violent manner, Smith made a vow: If he ever had the opportunity to move behind the camera he would make sure to create a drama that presented a soldier in a realistic setting, with a realistic outcome.
After two decades working in front of the camera, the 48-year-old is finally on the way to fulfilling his vow. Smith recently completed the first draft of “Wounded Soul,” a story he says describes the battle an Iraqi veteran has coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and his responsibilities as a husband and parent. Smith described the main character as a man who will represent all soldiers and how most deal with the wounds of war.
“He’s a Marine who did 20 years, and he’s beginning to get concerned about his PTSD,” Smith says. “He’s hiding it from his wife, and it’s to the point he can’t hide anymore.”
Without divulging too many details, Smith says a chance encounter with a former soldier in a local park is the key scene in the film where the character fully develops. “He loves his family and doesn’t want to hurt them,” Smith says. “He knows his PTSD is going to get worse and he needs help to get better. He doesn’t want them to see him battling this, and he’s wondering what can he do?”
Smith believes in most cases directors and writers would find a way for a character like his to stray toward substance abuse, violence or criminal activity. The pain of seeing soldiers depicted in a negative light has bothered Smith since he started acting. Trying to change that narrative has been on his mind the entire time. He mentions how he knows people who have battled PTSD and dealt with it. But that’s not how they show it on TV shows or on films. “I wanted to create a heartwarming story about a man who has a great family life, and his family doesn’t know what he’s going through because he’s strong enough to understand his battle and realize he needs help,” Smith says.
After middling success on screen as a character actor, Smith’s big break came when he played Beyoncé’s interest in the video “Dance For You.” Five minutes on screen with one of the most famous stars in the world put Smith on the map. He signed with a New York talent agency and since then his resume has grown to over 25 credits. Before the video Smith had carved out a decent acting resume, however. He had some bit parts in movies Man on the Ledge and his first film, The Fallen. But after the Beyoncé cameo, Smith has appeared in TV shows like The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, Persons of Interest and Law & Order: SVU. He consistently got roles where he played a cop or a character with a military background. It didn’t bother Smith because he knows how tough the industry can be for up-and-coming actors.
Once he started getting consistent offers, Smith says it allowed him to retire from his job as a police officer and follow his dream. “I was lucky to be able to work as a cop full-time and act on the side,” Smith says. “I had a situation where I had earned enough seniority that I would take vacation days to go on auditions, and my chief was supportive.”
The financial freedom allowed Smith to start choosing roles. One time he had a potential opportunity to work with the acclaimed director, Brian De Palma, whose body of work includes the horror classic Carrie, crime thriller Dressed to Kill and drug-war classic, Scarface, with Al Pacino. But De Palma’s movie Redacted disturbed Smith so much he advised his agent if he got a call back to say he was not interested. The decision was a bold one considering De Palma was the director. Smith says he couldn’t get over a scene in the script where soldiers gang-raped a woman in Iraq, and the commanding officer didn’t do anything to stop it. That scene stayed in Smith’s mind and combined with the mounting coverage of soldiers returning from recent wars focused on PTSD, he made up his mind to try writing a script that would tell a positive story.
Smith knows the path to getting the movie greenlit is not easy. There are a ton of scripts written every year. Some don’t even get read, others never get developed into a full feature. His effort at pulling off the feat as an independent film is even harder. His says his goal is to have the final draft done by this summer. He’s already got five cast members signed and plans to hit the film festival circuit hard in the fall. If a studio doesn’t pick up his project, Smith is hopeful a broadcast network or cable company will take a chance on it as a series. Look at the success of shows like Mad Men.
“Most independent movies never make it, I know that,” Smith says. “But I think this one is special. If it’s not in the cards, I gave my dream a shot.”