After a season of abusing booze and steroids, Brian Presley had a choice: Clean up. Or die.
God has a way of getting your attention like that. And for Presley, who'd grown up a Christian and had the best of intentions when he took on Hollywood as a young, ambitious actor, hitting rock bottom might have been the only way he'd finally sit up and listen.
Funny how life imitates art, then, because Presley's new movie—Touchback, opening in about 50 theaters this week—is essentially his life story. Handsome, talented guy, with the world at his fingertips, starts making bad decisions, blows it all. Gets depressed, considers (and maybe attempts) suicide, then gets the divine wake-up call. For the real-life Presley, it's the story of an actor and the CEO of an indie production company, Freedom Films. For his character in Touchback, it's a football star. Same guy, different uniforms.
Presley, now sober for a year and a half, considers himself still "in recovery," but says his relationship with God and his family have never been better. We talked to him about the new movie, produced by his own and his up-and-down-and-up-again journey.
Touchback is kind of biographical for you, right?
Yes. I grew up in church and was very involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When I got to Hollywood, I started my [production] company after being on a TV show, and I felt called to make movies like Touchback that reached a family audience. Eventually I lost sight of what God had called me to do and began to pick films that I thought were good business deals, but not the films I wanted my mom and grammy to go watch. Well, we had a big film coming out, and we had the unimaginable happen: the studio decided not to release the movie, and we were launched into a legal nightmare. I had to take out home equity loans to fight lawsuits. At the same time, I was having my first child. I began to drink heavily to cope with the stress of it all. There were times where I was in this hole and I didn't know how to get out of it; I even thought it was a hole too deep for God to get me out of. I spiraled into depression, and there were times I thought about taking my own life.
What did rock bottom kind of look like for you?
James Cameron made a little submarine that went seven miles to the bottom of the ocean floor. On the way down, he saw all kinds of life. But at the bottom, it literally looked like the moon. There was zero life, just dust. When my wife and I watched a special on this, she turned to me and said, "Isn't it ironic that at the bottom of the ocean floor there's no life?"
It's an empty place—that was my rock bottom. There's nothing glamorous or pretty about it. The only way back to the surface is through Jesus pulling you back up. I'm thankful that God spared my life. I feel similar to my character at the end of the movie, when he's able to see his kids and wife with a different set of eyes. I truly see my two kids with a different set of eyes. I appreciate those moments of reading bedtime stories. I appreciate being able to sit and have dinner with my wife. Because thank God, I didn't take my life and I stopped the alcohol and other things I was putting into my body.
A lot of people have gone through this. After one screening of Touchback, one guy said that he was my character and that he had his life insurance policy. He drove himself off the side of a mountain to end his life without his seatbelt on and woke up and had a scratch on his arm and that was it. I think there's a bunch of those types of situations, where people think suicide is the only way out. That's how powerful the Devil is.
What prompted your turnaround?
One Saturday morning, my daughter had a seizure, and we rushed her to the hospital in an ambulance. It was a rainy day, and I was falling behind. I sobbed the whole way. I broke down and said, "God, I'm the one who deserves to suffer." I felt God telling me, Lawsuits, money, whatever, none of that's important. This is what's important. I don't care if you have a cardboard box. Your family is what's most important.
Around the same time, I'd gotten a role as an underground fighter in a film with Ed Harris. I saw it as a way to earn some money to pay back the investors and fight the legal stuff. But to get physically right for the role, I took different forms of steroids—and that was like pouring gasoline on an already burning fire. Shortly after my daughter's seizure, I was in a hospital bed with doctors telling me my kidneys and liver were starting to shut down. They said if I didn't get off what I was on, I'd end up on dialysis or dead. All this happened within a few months. I felt it was God showing me, it's either lose my life and my family, or change my life for myself and my family.
During this time, I also got the Touchback screenplay sent to me. I got chills and saw a parallel situation; I was reading about my own life. I felt called to make this movie and use it as a platform to share my story. It's been therapeutic to play my character.
How long have you been sober?
I've been in recovery for a year and a half. My wife has been awesome through this, and now we'll be able to teach our kids about what addiction is. And I hope to help other people who are struggling with the same thing.
Are you attending rehab?
I go to weekly AA meetings with a group of awesome, godly men from my church—they have a lot of wisdom, and have been great influences. With God and with the program, I'm able to take it one day at a time, to really put myself in right situations and surround myself with the right people, and to have a personal relationship with Jesus, because Satan's around that next corner wanting to trip us all up.
Addiction is powerful, and I'm in an industry where a lot of people struggle with it. It's killing people.
How has your relationship with God changed through all this?
It's been taken to a whole different level. I have hope. Today, by the grace of God, that period of time turned out to be a blessing. I've been able to come to terms with my addictions and things I struggle with. Whatever issues we're facing, we can turn it over completely over to Jesus and know that we're in his hands. Before, I wasn't doing that; I was trying to tackle it myself. Lesson learned. You can't conquer life without Jesus.
How do you see your ministry in Hollywood?
I meet a lot of people in Hollywood who are Christians, a lot of people who are searching, and some people who when you mention Jesus, they cringe and think you're about to beat them on the head with a Bible. But I tell them, don't not seek something that can change your life.
I'm in an industry where there's darkness all around. Our calling is not necessarily to make movies that are heavy-handed preaching movies. Our goal is to get the people who need a recovery program, or are living a life of sin—we want them to see our movies and think, There's something different about that movie and that company. If we can just offer an ounce of hope, and people can start pulling back the curtain, looking through the studies and resources on the film's website, I think God will deal with them in his time, and hopefully they'll want to keep searching. That's where my wife and I are headed with our ministry, and the movies just happen to be the vehicle.
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