BILLINGS - Who would've thought a rodeo career would lead to an acting job on the blockbuster television series "Yellowstone"? Forrie J. Smith — sort of.
The Helena native is now in production for season five of Yellowstone here in Montana. Smith's character, Lloyd, is a dedicated ranch hand to John Dutton III, played by Academy Award winner Kevin Costner. Dutton owns one of the biggest cattle ranches in the United States.
Off camera, Smith and Costner have built a genuine friendship. "I respect and appreciate his work more now, after Yellowstone, than I ever did before," Smith told MTN Sports.
Here's a prime example of why.
"There was a scene one day in the second season when he (Dutton) has an appendix attack. I'm the first one to get to him and I pick his head up," Smith recalled. "Well, they've got the camera up above him and, in the rehearsal, I run and kind of got over him like this. And I realize, oh, heck, I've got to back up.
"And the director goes, hey, Kevin, if that cowboy gets in your shot again, just slap him. Kevin goes, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait Ed. I'm not slapping Forrie, I'm not slapping Lloyd, I'm not slapping anybody in that body."
Now days, "I tease him about his golf game, he teases me about my red tennis shoes."
And that's how chemistry breeds a television blockbuster.
Smith was born in Helena and grew up there around his grandparents ranch.
"My granddad rodeoed when they rode horses to the rodeos," he said.
Now with his own ranch in New Mexico, Smith is decorated with so many stories through years rodeo and acting, and admits he knew at a young age that stunts may be the way to go.
"My stepdad died when I was seven years old," Smith explained. "I can remember riding my little Shetland pony Bad Billy down there and fell off right in front of him and mom. They're like, what the heck are you doing? I said, I'm going to be a stuntman someday."
Smith admits he and Steve Blixt, his closest childhood friend, found about as much trouble as they could from a young age. The two are still tight.
"It's funny you asked the question the way you did because me and Stevie did a lot of stunts that ain't on TV and we didn't get paid for. People always ask when I started acting and I said well, I've been acting myself in and out of bad situations all my life."
Fast forward to the mid-80s when rodeo guys actually talked Smith into the TV and movie business.
"They needed a guy who could rope this guy off a roof, and I was the only one that showed up with a rope long enough to reach him."
Not surprisingly, that earned Smith the part and he got his Screen Actors Guild card shortly after in 1987.
He says he was just happy doing stunts. But one day his stunt coordinator called and said, we want you to audition for a speaking part as the main actor's second-hand man.
"He says, there's just two lines and we need you to get the part because he can't ride a lick and we want you to ride next to him in case he falls," Smith says.
He nailed the audition and now 35-years later is a terrific success story thanks to his stunt coordinator's life-changing advice.
"We're sitting there and he says, with your look and your voice, you ought to take some acting lessons."
Problem was, Smith has always been a cowboy. His early dream was to become a world champion at the National Finals Rodeo. Along the way, he just wanted to ride bareback well enough to pay bills and did so until age 52.
"It was just an easy transition for a rodeo cowboy to go into the movie business as a stunt man because he wasn't scared to hit the ground, or he'd been in fist fights, so doing a barroom brawl was no big thing.
"It saves the movie companies a lot of money because they don't have to hire an actor to do the dialog and then a stuntman to do the stunts."
Last October, Smith was the featured guest for Montana's Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame scholarship fundraiser in Billings. Having competed years ago for Montana State on a rodeo scholarship, he has a soft spot for giving back.
"Maybe (I can) help out to where they don't have to be down at the fairgrounds like I did, working in the middle of the night," he remembered with a smile.
As Smith thinks back to his own rodeo career, he recalls both equipment and rough stock a lot more rugged than today.
"They were horses that knew how negotiate your weight and set you up," he said. "The horses now days just buck... kaboom, kaboom.
"It's gotten just out of control. They (judges) are wanting to mark somebody 100 points really bad. In my day, if you were 75, 78 points, you were going to win a rodeo."
As for Yellowstone, Smith can't offer enough praise to co-creator Taylor Sheridan for writing him into an expanded role last season. Smith says he values Sheridan's feedback, creativity, and playful approach.
"Montana folks will understand this one," Smith says with a prideful grin. "He calls me up and says, hey, season four this is going to, nana, nana... don't get disgruntled or anything, it's all going to come out good. I said, hey Taylor, you already made me a damn buckle bunny. You can't do much worse to me than that."
The upcoming season five, set to air in November, will only tell.