MARGA LINCOLN For the Independent Record
One could say Forrie Smith was in the right place at the right time.
But you could also say he’s totally in the wrong place and wrong time.
Smith, an actor, stunt man and native of the small community of Montana City just outside Helena, will be a recurring guest star in Kevin Costner’s new TV series “Yellowstone,” slated to air beginning in June.
“He should have been born in the 1800s,” said his brother Travis Smith. “That’s the kind of guy he is.
“He’s had a tough, rugged life,” added Travis. “This is quite a break for him. I think they got the right man for the job. He is a horseman. That’s one of his great redeeming qualities in the best sense of the word.”
Smith was raised around horses on a family ranch in Montana City. Horse people are on both sides of his family. His biological father was a Canadian bronc rider and his mom a barrel racer.
Smith worked as a professional bareback bronc rider on the Turquoise Circuit ProRodeo into his 50s. But the 58-year-old horseman is a movie and TV veteran actor as well.
In “Yellowstone,” Smith plays Lloyd Pierce, cow boss for rancher John Dutton, played by Costner.
“I’m a blessed man,” said Smith in a phone interview Friday from Park City, Utah, where he was on location for the show. “I’m just blessed every time I turn around.”
The bulk of the filming for “Yellowstone” has taken place on a ranch near Darby, though the TV crew also took over the third floor of the Montana State Capitol building in Helena earlier this month to shoot a scene.
The show chronicles the Dutton family, led by John Dutton, who controls the largest contiguous cattle ranch in the United States,” according to the show’s publicist Perri Eppie.
Set in modern times, “the ranch is in constant conflict with those it borders,” she said, which includes an expanding town, an Indian reservation and America’s first national park.
Adding to the conflict will be unsolved murder cases and poisoned drinking water.
The show is about “what’s really going on in Montana and Utah,” said Smith. “Everybody is subdividing and taking ranchlands away,” which is draining water tables — something he’s seen on his own family’s ranch in Montana City.
“John Dutton is fighting this,” said Smith. “John Dutton is a man of integrity with a nasty edge,” which is also how Smith describes his own character.
“We ride for the brand and there’s no B.S.,” he said of himself and his fellow hands. “We’re kind of thugs, but we’re thugs for a reason.”
When it comes to his career, he said, “Horses are responsible for everything I’ve got.”
About three decades ago, while working rodeos, he started picking up bit parts, stunt riding and wrangling on movie sets and also driving teams of horses.
“I’ve studied acting,” he added, which also opened doors. “My forte was I could do dialogue and stunts.”
A few of his film and TV credits include “Legend,” “Tombstone,” “Desperado,” “Transamerica” and “Dance with the Devil.”
“One thing I’d like to share about rodeo is it’s life in 10 seconds,” he said. “You may get to the rodeo an hour ahead of time to prepare … but there’s 10 seconds between life or death. If you panic, you’re going to mess it up.
“It prepared me for life and this business.”
What he learned was “you stay positive.”
If he made a mistake, he recognized it and then shook it off.
What rodeo cowboys taught him was “think about what you did right and remember it and build on it. That’s a life lesson right there.”
The script and dialogue in “Yellowstone” are just right, Smith said, crediting writer and director Taylor Sheridan.
“I get to do things I love,” Smith said. “I’ve always played a hard case — a bad guy, but I got to do a scene … where I was tender and caring.
“I’m so blessed. It was nice to show the tender side of me. And as an actor you have to be able to reach inside and pull that stuff out.”
His aunt Jane Hahn has seen both sides of his personality.
“I look at Forrie as someone who is rough and straightforward. He does not pull punches and has one of the biggest hearts there is. He always had a big heart.
“He had a reputation and wouldn’t back off. He wouldn’t back down if someone called him a name. He was known as a fighter.”
When he lived in Montana City and attended high school in Helena, Smith, whose full name is Forrest Jordan Smith, was one tough customer.
“He was wild and crazy,” said longtime friend Steve Blixt. “He’s a cannon waiting to go off. Anytime he could explode.”
This past haunts Smith.
“I was a troubled child. … I want to apologize to some people for what a brutal jerk I was,” he said. “I just want to apologize to the people I hurt.”
In fact, he came back for a 40th high school reunion, he said, hoping to apologize in person to some of the people he hurt “and may have scarred for life.”
He hopes the fact that he’s turning his life around might help others.
“I want to let other kids know that are coming up — no matter your background or what you’ve done, you can come out of it.”
“Forrie always has his roles as a bad egg,” said longtime friend and rodeo veteran Larry Chambers.
But Smith rode to his rescue when a horrific rodeo accident put Chambers into a coma and shattered his pelvis.
Smith drove hundreds of miles to see him and set up a fundraising site to help pay Chambers’ $750,000 hospital bill.
“He’s just a good guy, but he doesn’t take any crap. … He’s a cowboy through and through.”
Eppie said “Yellowstone” is slated to air in June as a “flagship show” on Paramount Network, which is the rebranded name for Spike TV.