Ellie Kemper has revealed that her character was inspired by real life kidnapping victim, Elizabeth Smart
‘Unbreakable! They alive, dammit! It’s a miracle! Unbreakable! They alive, dammit! But females are strong as hell…’ So goes the theme tune to Tina Fey’s relentlessly upbeat series about a kidnapping victim’s attempts to reintegrate into society after being imprisoned and kept in a bunker by a bearded Don Draper.
But while we’re impatiently awaiting the next series of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, its lead actress, Ellie Kemper, has revealed that she based her character upon Elizabeth Smart – a girl from Salt Lake City who was kidnapped when she was only 14. And who survived her ordeal by being just as defiantly positive as her TV counterpart.
‘I read Elizabeth Smart’s memoir, and every night before she would go to bed, she would think about what she was grateful for that day and she was in the depths of hell,’ Ellie revealed, in an interview with The Wrap. ‘You’ve got to count your blessings.’
In events that echo children’s (and parents’) nightmares, Elizabeth was taken from her bedroom by Brian David Mitchell back in 2002 and held captive in the woods for nine months, before she finally managed to orchestrate an escape. But despite conditions that saw the teenager starved, raped and chained to a tree, she refused to give up hope.
[Elizabeth before the kidnapping]
‘Every time I thought “OK, this is rock bottom,” I mean, my pyjamas have been taken away from me and I’m being forced to wear this nasty robe, the next thing I knew they’d say, ‘We’re going to have you go naked now,’ or I had been forced to drink alcohol… and when I’d wake up I’d find that my face and my hair was just crusted to the ground in vomit. I mean, just every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, something always happened,’ Elizabeth has since revealed of her ordeal. ‘There was a point that I stopped crying. It’s not just because I didn’t feel pain any more, not because I didn’t feel sorrow. It was just to keep going. I mean, it just was to survive, to live.’
After months of nonstop abuse, Elizabeth eventually convinced her captors to take her into the city for a day, where she was spotted by an onlooker who called the police. But despite the trauma she’d experienced, she’s refused to let her kidnapping dictate her future – even facing up to Mitchell and Barzee in court to show them how far she’s come.
‘[I] want you to know that I have a wonderful life now, that no matter what you do, it will never affect me again,’ she told them. ‘You took away nine months of my life. That can never be returned, but in this life or next, you will have to be held responsible for those actions, and I hope you are ready for when that time comes.’
Now 27 and married with a one-year-old daughter, Elizabeth is working as an activist to help protect other women and children from human trafficking, kidnapping and abuse. ‘I want to reach out,’ she explains of her charity, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. ‘I want [survivors and victims] to know that these things do happen, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be defined by it for the rest of your life. You can move forward and you can be happy.’
‘That happened to me, but I’m so much more than that girl that was kidnapped.’