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'Clean Up. Or Die.' A Q & A With Touchback’s Brian Presley
'Clean Up. Or Die.' A Q & A With Touchback’s Brian Presley

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.

Brian Presley

Brian Presley

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?"

Presley and wife Erin at a screening

Presley and wife Erin at a screening

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.

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