IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Wes Bentley talks 'There Be Dragons'

Friday, 06 May 2011 12:37 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Wes Bentley talks 'There Be Dragons'

Actor Wes Bentley first gained attention from audiences for his breakout role as Ricky Fitts in the Oscar winning movie American Beauty. Since then the actor has appeared in a string of less than successful film projects including The Four Feathers, Ghost Rider, P2, and Jonah Hex. Bentley has recently admitted publicly that his poor choice in post-American Beauty film roles was partly due to his own substance abuse problems, which the actor now has under control. Since becoming clean and sober Bentley has begun to successfully rebuild his acting career. First, with a critically acclaimed performance in the off-Broadway play Venus in Fur, and now by being cast as Seneca Crane in the highly anticipated adaptation of the popular book series The Hunger Games, which is set for release next year.

But before that, Bentley can be seen in Oscar nominated director Roland Joffe’s (The Mission, The Killing Fields) new film There Be Dragons. The movie revolves around an investigative journalist (Dougray Scott) who visits Spain to research a book about Josemaria Esciva (Charlie Cox), the controversial founder of Opus Dei. He soon discovers that his estranged and dying father Manolo (Bentley), was a childhood friend of Josemaria and holds many secrets about their past. The two men took radically different paths in their lives, with Josemaria dedicating his life to the church, while Manolo became a spy during the Spanish Civil War. Eventually Manolo’s secrets are revealed and discovered by his son, which gives him one last chance to make things right before he dies. I recently had a chance to speak with Wes Bentley about There Be Dragons and the actor spoke candidly about his new movie, preparing for the role, his own personal demons, and working with director Roland Joffe.

To begin with, the character you play in this film, Manolo, is very complex and makes some questionable life decisions. Can you discuss what you thought about the character when you first read the script and how you began to tackle this role?

Bentley: Yeah, you know I was unaware of what I would do yet. You know I got this script at a really hard time in my life but it was also a hard time in the business to get a job. I was just excited to be part of a Roland Joffe film. But then as I explored the character I realized that there were a lot of dark things about him that I could identify with. I couldn’t identify with them exactly, but I could identify with isolating yourself and needing to ask for forgiveness, because I had pushed my family away by partying for a while and becoming an addict. I had pushed my family away and now I was getting sober on this film. So I used all of those things to be honest.

It seemed that Manolo’s loss of religion at an early age is what led him to make such poor personal choices throughout his life, would you agree with that?

Bentley: Yeah absolutely, to maintain yourself in life I think you have to have some kind of spirituality, especially when you are alone. If not, you could get lost and Manolo, you know he lost it all and it led him to darker things. It led him to depend on himself and I think when you depend on yourself, not something else, not a faith, and I’m not saying that you have to be in a religious church or some kind of faith in life that is the only way to stay sane.

So he lost his moral compass in a way, is that correct?

Bentley: Absolutely, oh yeah and I did too. I lost my moral compass, not in the same way he did but I lost it enough, you know.

Do you think that allowed you an extra edge to playing this character that other actors might not have because you have lived through those dark times and have that experience to call back on?

Bentley: Yeah I think so and because it was so fresh too. Yeah, I definitely think it did and Roland helped me to not be afraid to use that. Because sometimes, me as an actor, I want to be the character and I push my particular things away from it. But this time he was like, “let it be a part of the character, fully embrace it and give it all that is inside you.” He didn’t know what it was in particular but he knew that there was something there.

I don’t want to pry because it seems like a personal matter to me but since you just mentioned it, now that you are clean and sober, and back working in the film industry, do you feel that the response from the Hollywood community and your peers has been mostly positive? For the most part, do you feel that people have been welcoming you back with open arms?

Bentley: Yeah absolutely, I feel completely strong and stronger than I have ever felt. You know people are naturally very forgiving and I think in this town too, especially if you just admit to it and own it. You can’t help it. You can’t change things if you don’t own what it was that was creating the problem. You know, people in this town certainly understand that and they’ve been great. Everyone has been great that I have talked to, which was surprising and refreshing for me. Like I said, I have never been stronger as a person and as an actor, and I’ve never felt stronger.

In this film, you have the difficult job of playing your character in his early thirties and then also playing him in his early eighties. Can you talk about the process of filling in the blanks of Manolo’s life to create a full and well-rounded character?

Bentley: Yeah it was a lot of work. It was a lot of work because I was playing him younger, and then there is a time gap between his thirties and eighties that I had to fill with a lot of Knowledge about Spain. Obviously I had to learn a lot about the war, I had to work on accents, and I had to understand his relationships through that time. Playing him at seventy-eight, I felt to really get to feel him physically I had to know what was going on with him spiritually and emotionally. So I had to pack on a lot of things in that fifty-year time period as well. What role did he play in the government? What was his relationship like with Robert (his son)? Why was it so sour? There had to be personal things that really weighed on his physical being and that came into play.

With the help of make-up, you play Manolo as an old man confronting his estranged son Robert, played by Dougray Scott. Can you talk about the work that you and Dougray did to create that strained relationship between father and son?

Bentley: Yeah we did some cool improv work where we would speak a lot on the phone. We were in the same hotel but we would speak on the phone to create distance between the characters because that was the main issue. Manolo kept sending him away to boarding school or pushing him away physically so he didn’t have to face what he did. So we worked on that in particular, which was great.

Without giving too much away, can you talk about how Manolo betrayed Robert’s mother and how that betrayal led him to the sacrifice he made to save Robert and raise him by himself?

Bentley: It was a big moment I think to decide to be there in a way. He makes a critical choice there. I think he felt obligated and I think there was something deeper in him that was actually a side of Manolo we don’t know… the loving, caring Manolo. He wanted to take care of the boy but as soon as he tried he failed miserable. Because he didn’t want to look him in the face because he knows what he had done. He knew who his son really was.

Finally, what was it like working with such an accomplished director as Roland Joffe?

Bentley: Well Roland was great. He is a very intelligent director with a huge heart. He is a quintessential actor’s director. He is really committed to protecting his actors and his heart really comes through when he is talking to you. Although you know he is very smart, all he really cares about is what is going on emotionally. It was great.

There Be Dragons opens in theaters on May 6th.

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