IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Wes Bentley Talks 'After The Fall,' 'Interstellar' and 'Knight of Cups'

Friday, 19 December 2014 09:06 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Wes Bentley Talks 'After The Fall,' 'Interstellar' and 'Knight of Cups'

Wes Bentley is one of the few actors that can successfully balance a career in both independent and studio films. 

Bentley first gained attention for his breakout role in the Academy Award-winning film American Beauty, and has since gone on to appear in such big budget studio movies as Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex, The Hunger Games, and most recently Interstellar. But the actor has also starred in a number of independent films including There Be Dragons, The Time Being, Cesar Chavez, The Better Angels, and the upcoming Night of Cups, which was directed by Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Badlands). His latest film is After The Fall, which opens in New York theaters and on VOD December 12th before opening in Los Angeles theaters on December 20th. 

After The Fall was co-written and directed by two-time Academy Award-nominated editor turned first time director Saar Klein (Almost Famous, The Thin Red Line). The film revolves around a suburban father and husband named Bill Scanlon (Bentley) that due to economic difficulties embraces a life of crime in order to support his family. While Bill begins an unusual friendship with troubled police officer Frank McTiernan (Jason Isaacs), his wife Susan (Vinessa Shaw) discovers his secret and becomes determined to do anything to save her family and their lifestyle. 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Wes Bentley about After The Fall, Interstellar, and Knight of Cups. The accomplished actor discussed After The Fall, his reaction to its unusual poster, why he liked the script’s economic themes, Jason Isaacs, Bill and Frank’s odd friendship, Susan’s true motivations, Saar Klein’s advantage as a first time director, Interstellar, watching Christopher Nolan direct, Knight of Cups, who has scenes with in the film, working with Terrence Malick, and balancing independent and studio movies. 

Here is what Wes Bentley had to say about After The Fall, Interstellar, and Knight of Cups:

IAR: To begin with, the poster for After The Fall features you with a gun in your hand and the American flag in the background. When I first saw it, I thought that the film was going to be a Die Hard-style action movie but instead it is really thoughtful morality tale. Why do you think the film is being marketed in that way and what was your reaction when you first saw the poster?

Wes Bentley: I have no idea. I am not sure. I was surprised myself when I saw the poster. To be honest I was a bit confused. I am not in marketing, so it is not my job. But in my opinion I did not see what it had to do with the film to be honest.

The film deals with a lot of economic issues that our country is actually going through with right now. Is that what you liked about the script and why you wanted to get involved with the project?

Bentley: Yeah. Absolutely. The story is so interesting because I think it was so impactful what happened in 2008. I know it was for me. I think what happened put us on an odd footing economically. In that sense it really hits home and it did feel very personal. Having a recession like that literally takes the food out of your children’s mouths. It is terrifying especially in Bill’s situation where he has tried to a build upper-middle class lifestyle, which is the bane of his existence after everything turned sour. I was really interested in that because, I know for myself, I had three films that were ready to go in 2008. They all fell apart pending on that money. It really sent me into a downward spiral financially. I was really interested in the impact it would have on a family. I have a young family as you know. I was really interested in how this guy, who wants to be a good family man and wants to take care of those he loves, handles it when he absolutely cannot. I was also interested in the aspect of Bill where he has trouble being honest with himself. When you are not honest with yourself, you cannot really know where you are in life, who you are and how you would react to things. I thought it was a really interesting part of a person to play.

I really enjoyed this odd friendship that Bill has with Frank. Can you talk a working with Jason Isaacs?

Bentley: I absolutely love Jason Isaacs. First of all, he is a very kind and openhearted person that loves what he does and loves other actors. He is so great with people, and he has so much energy. As an actor it is great because you pay so much attention to detail. It was very easy to build this friendship that we have in the movie because I naturally had a similar reaction to Jason as a person. I was just so interested in where he had been, where he had come from and who he was as a person. That is Bill’s feeling about Frank. Jason and I also have a lot of similarities. I think that is the same with Bill and Frank.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Jason Isaacs and I asked him if he thinks that Frank helps Bill because he sees a bit of himself in him. What do you think?

Bentley: I do not think he knows he does, but I think Bill being from a cop family is comfortable with Frank. I think there is also the broken quality. It is interesting with Bill because he still had everything. He had his wife, kids and is home. There could have been a way to save it, but there is something deeper going on with him where he was unable to deal with it. That means there is something broken in him. I think Frank has that as well. A lot of us do have that inability to fix our own problem. It is a common theme with all humans. That was a great parallel that was drawn in the writing of the script. 

It seems that at some point Bill’s wife becomes complacent with his crimes and will do anything to keep her family and their lifestyle. Did you and Vinessa Shaw discuss that?

Bentley: That was tricky. I do not want to speak for Vinessa, but I know that we had a lot of conversations about that. How does she get there? Do you know what is interesting about that? That is a real person. She is trying to protect her family as much as Bill thinks he is. Bill goes about it by doing what he does to get the money. As a mother, she now had to react accordingly. You cannot tell the truth. She protects them in her own way, which is walking them all on a thin line. It is also questionable. That is tricky for any actor because it is really easy to play someone who is morally clear. There is a safety there. There are rules there. When you are trying to walk the line, it is a more difficult task and she was more than up for it. We had a lot of good, long talks about it.

When we spoke for The Better Angels, I asked you if it was easy working with first time director A.J. Edwards because he is a former editor and director Terrence Malick’s protégée. I want to ask you a similar question because Saar Klein is also a first time director who is a former editor that has worked with Terrence Malick. Do you think that his prior experience in the film industry helped him transition into the director’s chair?

Bentley: Yes. Absolutely. I have worked with a few first time filmmakers who have been naturally good at it without having that kind of experience, but that is a really rare thing to have. Knowing that Saar is such an amazing editor, I knew that he was going to have to find his own voice. He has such an incredible resume and works with such a variety of different people. Saar knew what kind of story he wanted to tell. It was the same with A.J. Edwards. Just having that experience is so valuable to finding your own voice because that is what it is all about. What a director needs to do is have a distinct storytelling voice. It is easier to do that when you have had the experience that they have had.

You’ve worked with many great directors throughout your career, and I would imagine that part of the fun of being an actor is watching these filmmakers work. What was it like watching Christopher Nolan make Interstellar?

Bentley: I eventually want to make a film myself. The common thing between all the great filmmakers I have worked with is that they really know their tools and they know what is going on around them. Chris is the ultimate man in my mind because he knows exactly what should be done in that moment, how to get it done under budget, what kind of tools he wants us to use to make his film, and tell the story he wants to tell. At the same time he is great with actors. Chris was a real inspiration to watch work. Also, I really connected with him as a person. I think he is a great guy and a great family man. He is a real inspiration. 

What did you learn from working with Terrence Malick on Night of Cups, and which of the other actors in the incredibly impressive cast did you have scenes with?

Bentley: I worked with Christian Bale for the most part. There were a few other moments with Teresa Palmer, Brian Dennehy and a few others, but mostly it was just with Christian. It was amazing. Terry makes a film like you would imagine films were made when you were a kid. Someone just has a camera, and they are whipping around catching all of these moments. You do not know about setup, turnarounds and angles. Terry is just aiming to get that real, authentic happy accident feel and he achieves it. That is what is so amazing about him with the many different kinds of cameras and styles that he uses. It is more organic in a sense of how the camera is used, and the relationship you have with the camera and other actors. There is a more organic feel to that, but also the way they use the camera and what lenses they use, that is all very technical. They know exactly what they want to get.

You’ve done a really good job over the last few years of balancing big budget studio projects like The Hunger Games and Interstellar with strong independent films like Cesar Chavez and The Better Angels. Can you talk about how you choose projects and balance art with commerce?

Bentley: I would like to say it is my doing. I have actually been really lucky that I have had an interest in both worlds, in the higher money films and the lower-budgeted films. I really like being part of both. They are different and similar. There is nothing like the thrill of trying to get a schedule done on a low budget. It really meets the demands of the character in the story.

Finally, is there an adjustment that you have to make as an actor when you go from making an independent film to appearing in a big studio movie?

Bentley: It just depends on how your day is going to be. On a low-budget film you could be shooting seven pages. You have really got to be prepared to knock it out of the park. On a bigger budget film you might have three days to work on one scene that is only a quarter of a page. You have that luxury. In that sense on a bigger budget film, you really have to learn how to pace your energy so that you do not wear yourself out to quickly.

After The Fall opens in New York theaters and on VOD December 12th before opening in Los Angeles theaters on December 20th. 

To read our exclusive interview with Jason Isaacs about After The Fall, please click here

Interstellar is playing in theaters now. 

To read our coverage of the Interstellar press conference, please click here.

Knight of Cups is scheduled for release in 2015. 

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