Wes Bentley discusses working with the cast and crew of Pete’s Dragon.
Welcome to day three of We Live Entertainment’s continuing coverage of Pete’s Dragon. All this week leading up to the film’s release on Friday, August 12, 2016, I will be posting a new article daily about the cast and crew. This is the third article of the week and will be an interview that I did with Wes Bentley who plays Jack in the film. The first article featuring some fun facts about Oona Laurence and Oakes Fegley and the second focused on 14 things that learned about Pete’s Dragon from director/co-writer David Lowery. We currently have two reviews for the film, you can read my thoughts here or you can check out Ashley Menzel’s review here. WLE contributor Nicholas Casaletto will also be reviewing the film on Thursday so be sure to check back to read his take.
Wes Bentley is an actor whose career I have actively followed over the years. Bentley’s rise to fame happen very early in his career when he starred alongside Kevin Spacey and Thora Birch in American Beauty. Bentley has spent the last 18 years of his life working on a wide array of film projects from smaller independent films to big budget pictures like Interstellar and The Hunger Games. Bentley plays Jack in Pete’s Dragon and while his character isn’t the biggest part of this film, I did feel like he had some great chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard and showcased what it was like to be a parent who struggled with work and having a daughter.
I was lucky enough to get an invitation to sit down and talk to Wes Bentley for about 15 minutes earlier this week. Bentley was extremely kind and very easy to talk to. He seemed to really enjoy talking about his career, family, and his role in the film. You can read my entire interview below or if it would rather listen to it, please feel free to scroll to the bottom to find the audio from the interview.
SM: Hi Wes, it is very nice to meet you. I have been following your career since the beginning and even remember your early work with films like Soul Survivors, and stuff like that.
WB: Oh God.
WB: Oh, that hit a special little part of my career that I bury deep.
SM: Laughs. Well, oddly enough that kind of leads me into my first question. You’ve been actively working in the industry for 18 years now and started off in a small movie that most people have probably never heard of. However, from there you went on to play Ricky in American Beauty, which was an amazing film by the way.
WB: Thank you.
SM: And now 17 years later, you’ve been a part of huge blockbusters such as Pete’s Dragon and Interstellar. You have had such an interesting career so far with a combination of big budget and indie films. What do you feel was the biggest learning challenge over those 18 years?
WB: Oh man. That’s a good question. Life’s so much harder than an acting career. It was easier when I was younger to kind of go with the chaotic nature of it all. The uncertainty of not knowing the next job was going to be and what that job is going to be especially when you had the breaks I did. You’re just kind of like, “Oh it’s going to come, it’s going to be great, except for right after I made American Beauty. After doing that film, I was terrified that I was going to mess up after that. But that kind of led to the feeling of what will that come next. It’s sort of terrifying trying to live life and not know what will happen next. When you have kids and I’ve got kids now, I’ve got a house now that I want to live in. And so, I kind of want to know what’s next. And you just can’t do that when you’re an actor. You kind of have to understand that your life’s not going to be that way.
SM: I think that’s the most interesting thing not only pertaining to your career but also most actors’ in general. You are always bouncing between different types of projects. You go from being in a big movie to being in a very small film.
SM: Like what do you feel are the challenges with that? Going from something where it’s very CGI heavy and has a huge budget, to being in a smaller film like The Better Angels, or Knight of Cups.
WB: Oh gosh. There are huge differences but that’s what I love about film is it’s an art form. It’s creative, you meet all these directors and these writers, and you get to kind of live in their world for a little bit. And that’s what I love about it. I don’t think acting is one strict idea. The stage is a different thing. So a lot of our conversations and ideas about what acting is, is actually influenced by stage actors and stage acting. Which is funny, ’cause film’s been the prominent form or medium for so long. Or TV film. And – but in TV and film, your acting’s going to be or it should be guided by the director, and the style of the piece you’re doing. So I like that. I like going from Malick to Nolan to and seeing how they do it. How they’re making their art form and how my acting is going to fit into that story.
SM: I will just say this because I know I opened up on that awkward thing of Soul Survivor. But I want to say that most of the films that you star in, I normally feel like you give one of the strongest performances.
WB: Oh thank you.
SM: Even when and I’ll be honest with films like We Are Your Friends which I found to be incredibly weak. I felt like you were the strongest element of that entire film.
WB: I really appreciate that. It’s very nice of you.
SM: it’s just been really great to see you continue to grow as an actor and I love the fact that you haven’t been typecast, and you take on all these different roles.
WB: Oh thank you, thank you.
SM: What is it about Pete’s Dragon that spoke to you? Did it have to do with your kids or was it something else.
WB: Yeah probably. I wanted to do a film that my kids could see at a young age. Also, as an actor, I spend a lot of time on characters that are dealing with their darker sides and darker heavy elements. Lately for a number of reasons, I wanted to jump over to the other side of playing like a dad or someone who was a genuine person, who loved life and loved their kids and weren’t dealing with so many psychologically tough elements. Still some internal conflict because that’s always interesting but not those more serious elements.
SM: Your character was very interesting in this movie. Because it wasn’t the traditional father figure found in a traditional Disney film.
WB: Yeah, we don’t know where the mom is, yeah. We don’t really reference the mom at all, or where Oona’s character’s mom is.
SM: I thought that was interesting for Disney and they’ve been making some bold moves this year with Zootopia and all the issues they’ve been tackling including some elements of this movie.
WB: Yeah, which I think is great.
SM: Because it modernizes it but doesn’t shove it down your throat and still makes you question things.
WB: Yeah, which is why I wanted to do it, and one of the reasons they were smart to have David Lowery to do this because he was going to bring those classic Disney elements to the movie. You had a lot of kids who were foster kids or didn’t have both parents or lost a parent. Things like that. That was a normal element in the past and was something that we had lost that for a while. Now, it’s good to have it back in the films and Pete’s Dragon has that. So, even though I was looking for a lighter character it was good to have those elements. I liked the sort of internal conflict Jack was having about making money for his company, but also being aware of the environmental damage he might be causing and trying to find the balance between the two. Those elements are good to have in it too. But for me, I’m usually dealing with much more life threatening or life trying elements than that. So this was lighter in my world.
SM: Working with kids, it seems like it’s always a challenge from what I hear from a lot of actors and directors.
WB: Yeah, yeah.
SM: Do you feel like having kids made it easier to work with Oakes and Oona? And what was the experience like working with them in general?
WB: Yeah, I’d worked with kids before I had kids. And that was much tougher before than now when I have kids. And also Oakes and Oona and their doubles and stand-ins were all truly some of the best kids I’d ever met. They were just all really fun and interesting. And they loved each other. They all got along and they loved working and they were very present. And knew how to be a part of the film making progress. What kids bring is the spontaneity and imagination of a being a kid but sometimes that doesn’t translate when there’s a bunch of camera and crew members standing around, but they freeze up, and the marks are confusing and all of that stuff. But Oakes and Oona, there was no barrier to cross for them. They brought all those great elements of a child actor, as well as being able to make a film.
SM: Did you see the movie, Lamb, that she Oona did before this film?
WB: No, I didn’t get to see that.
SM: You should try to check it out when you can because she just so amazing in it. And even in Bad Moms which she has a small role in.
WB: Yeah my wife told me about that.
SM: It’s very interesting to see such a young actress hold her own when on-screen with all these big powerhouse players like yourself, Redford and Bryce. It’s pretty incredible.
WB: Yeah, she’s pretty incredible.
SM: How did you and Bryce develop your chemistry because I felt like the relationship was really authentic?
WB: Oh thank you very much. We met on the movie. We hadn’t met before. But I’d always admired Bryce. She also comes from a stage background. Her background sort of had an influence on us getting together and building a history and this relationship plus it doesn’t hurt that we already had chemistry anyway. Plus David was there as well and he created in writing that chemistry. You know, Bryce is one of the funniest people I’ve ever done a movie with.
SM: She’s so energetic.
WB: She’s so energetic.
SM: She came into the room when we did the round table interviews and was just like, “Wham, here I am!” and she just oozed energy and charisma. I just couldn’t believe the level of energy that she had.
WB: Yeah and her laugh. Her laugh is like – well it’s just like, it’s something else man. She’s a great – she’s great. She’s got a filmmaker’s mind too. So she’s always thinking on set and is always looking to make it better.
SM: She talking about – what we were talking about earlier – working with the kids. That she almost felt like she was playing Mother Hen on the set. And she’s mentioned she was looking out for them and asking things like, “Are you okay? Is this scene too emotionally?”
WB: Yeah, she was doing that often.
SM: This is like one of the first movies that I’ve actually got to meet pretty much every single person in the film. So it’s really nice, because I kind of get to have other conversations with other cast members and then I can reference them when talking to others like you.
WB: Oh, great. Yeah, I totally get that.
SM: David, who you’ve brought him up multiple times is just a visually stunning director. I mean, every frame of this movie looks like it could be hung up on a wall. What was it like working with him and was there a challenge working with him as opposed to other directors that you worked with?
WB: There’s nothing challenging about David Lowrey in him or in this film experience. No, David’s very thorough. He’s very soft spoken, sweet person, who created a warm atmosphere on set. But he’s also very clear on what he wants to happen. And he knows the lenses, he know the shots. He knows the feeling he wants to get from a scene. And he’s able to convey all of that, in a way that makes you want to be there all day and all night for him. You’d do anything for David, ’cause he’s given you all, and you trust him. And it pays off. You see this like you said, it’s just stunning. And they picked some amazing locations too like New Zealand. Yeah, it was like the best. My family and I all want to move there. It’s just the perfect place on earth. But David’s got the gift.
SM: David talked about the film being very naturally lit. What were your shooting days like? How much time was spent outside and what were the hours that you were spending out there?
WB: It wasn’t too bad because we also had the kids. It was tricky to work out the scheduling of the kids because they could only shoot so many hours. And we also had only so much daylight, depending on what part of New Zealand we were in and where the trees were because we’re shooting a lot in forests. So it was really tricky to get the light right. And Bojan, the DP, when we were mid set-up would shift the whole thing across the land. We’d have to take everybody and move it all the way over there to do the flip side where you’d normally have a camera here on me and you and we just stay here and they would slightly adjust it. We would have to shift the whole thing over there, just to get the light right. Which everyone at first was like, “This is madness, what are we doing?” Then after everybody saw the first clips come in, they’re like, “It’s fine. Madness is fine; let’s do this! We can do this.”
SM: The lighting and everything about it was just incredible. Nowadays, everyone references the Revenant but like the shots in this, especially some of the sweeping shots of were just incredible.
WB: Well yeah, it reminded me of Chivo (Emmanuel Lubezki) on Knight of Cups. We were moving so much. You don’t really like that. You don’t light Chivo and there was a similar feeling on this film.
SM: For the last question because cause they’re asking me to wrap it up. Robert Redford, working with a legend like that – what was that process like?
WB: He’s always been someone I’ve emulated as an actor. His natural delivery, his knowledge of film. His just overall style is something I always admire. He has the perfect balance of being natural and charming. And it was such a pleasure to work with him. I stood in awe of him the whole time, but I didn’t get to talk to him that much because I was too busy tripping over my words.
SM: All right, well thank you so much. It was really, really nice to meet you.
WB: Same here, pleasure to meet you as well.