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Actor has played Smith 4 times

PROVO — Dustin Harding expects to give away dozens of free DVD copies of the movie "Restoration" while he serves an LDS Church mission in New Hampshire.

So do most of the other 19-year-olds studying at the church's Missionary Training Center in Provo.

But Harding, who graduated from Orem High School this year, is in the unique position of being the star of the movie he'll be handing out and watching with people interested in the story of Joseph Smith.

"They show the movie at the MTC, so all the elders recognize me," Harding said Monday after he took a day off from training as Elder Harding to be Joseph Smith one last time during filming of "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration."

This is the fourth time Harding has played Smith in a movie, including "The Book of Mormon Movie," a production for Living Scriptures and this year's "Restoration."

Now too old to pass for a 14-year-old, his work Monday completed scenes with him as a 17-year-old Joseph.

Harding worked on scenes in Nauvoo, Ill., then returned home for a few days before entering the MTC on Wednesday. His mission call was a special thrill because the New Hampshire mission includes Sharon, Vt., Smith's birthplace.

Harding hopes to make it to the LDS Church visitors center there to see his latest film in December 2005. If not, he'll have to wait until his two-year mission ends and he returns to Utah and can see it at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City.

Harding won't face any more interruptions at the MTC. Three other actors pick up the load now, one playing Smith as a 7-year-old, another as a 14-year-old and Nathan Mitchell taking him from 21 to his martyrdom at 38.

Mitchell also played an adult Smith in "Restoration." Producers still chose to conduct a casting search in Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States for actors to take the part, which LDS filmmaker Richard Dutcher has said requires charisma and power. Thousands of potential actors were whittled down to a few.

Producer Ron Munns said the final casting decision was made by the First Presidency.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com