Wes Bentley shot to fame at just 21 years old when he played mysterious boy-next-door Ricky Fitts in the Oscar-winning film, "American Beauty". After a series of personal setbacks throughout his twenties, the 34-year-old actor returned to the big screen — in a big way — as head gamemaker Seneca Crane in 2012's "The Hunger Games". (That beard, though.)
His newest release, "The Time Being", premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and will open in limited theaters July 26. Bentley plays Daniel, a struggling young artist who is given a slew of strange assignments — think: film children in a playground — by a quiet, reclusive millionaire named Warner (Frank Langella). Through this process, Daniel discovers the importance of balancing his personal relationships with his ambitions as an artist.
NextMovie chatted with Bentley via phone prior to the film's release to discuss "The Hunger Games" craziness, his celebrity doppelganger, and why he always seems to get cast as some creepy dude with a camera.
What first drew you to the movie and how did you get involved?
I was drawn to the story about trying to be an artist and have a family, and whether you could do both. I had had my own minor struggle with that in my head when I knew I was going to be a father, but I didn't have as big of a battle as Daniel did. I decided quickly — I said, "I'm gonna be a great father, and if I struggle as an artist, that's fine." But I've found that actually, [fatherhood] has really made me a better actor, a better artist. It's given me more tools and more life, and I've found it intriguing that Daniel found the same thing, eventually, and said, "I need my family," meaning he needs them both in his life and as an artist.
Did you draw on any personal experiences for the role?
Oh yeah, it was definitely my inlet into Daniel, and then Daniel's life took over. But there was definitely a connection there, and so I had some empathy for that feeling and into that moment.
What was it like working with first-time director Nenad Cicin-Sain? Did you learn anything from him, and vice versa?
Yeah, you can always learn something from everyone. He was great because he's a very visual guy, and he knew exactly what he wanted the film to look like with the colors, and he wanted a lot of the frames to look like paintings. He was very specific about that. It was great to have someone so clear visually — he knew his cameras and he knew his artists, and that was nice. I think he did a great job, and I like working with first-time directors when they've really got a clear vision.
Your character in the movie is a painter. Are you artistic at all?
No, not at all. (Laughs) When I was younger, I couldn't draw at all, I could barely trace anything. So I kind of just left it alone then, I never even tried to paint. I didn't know at the time that you didn't have to be a good drawer to paint, so I never even tried it. But of course, I love art. I did a bit for "The Time Being" — there were two artists on the film and you had their pieces in the film, but they also showed me the basics, like how to hold a brush.
Well, you played it very convincingly.
Oh great, I'm glad. Editing! I'll thank the editor. (Laughs)
How was it working with Frank Langella? Was he any part of why you signed on to this film?
Well, Frank actually came on right after I did, so I didn't know he was going to play Warner at the time. I knew they were going out to him, and I was praying that he was going to take it because just him being in the film has raised the quality, and I had a great experience working with him. I learned a lot from him. We spent a lot of time together. They put him in a house that was right by the mansion set, so we spent a lot of time there just talking, and I learned a lot.
In "American Beauty," you played another character who shoots some strange videos. Do you think there's something about yourself that keeps getting you cast in these roles as creepy camera guys?
(Laughs) I have no idea, because there have been a couple of films now that I've done something with a camera, or played some guy with a camera.
You're also going to be in "Lovelace," in which you play a photographer.
Right, I wasn't even counting that one! But yeah, I don't know. Is it me? Or is it just the nature of life that there's more cameras? Maybe that's it.
You've acted in a whole spectrum of movies, from big blockbusters like "The Hunger Games" to indies like "The Time Being." Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer aspects of each over the other. With a bigger film, you can cover a scene over a couple of days, which is sometimes really nice, but sometimes that can make it harder because it just takes a lot longer to stay focused on it. Sometimes, I like having the pressure of shooting four scenes in a day, or seven pages, which is a lot. I feel like I find stuff quickly there. I also like staying near the camera, so sometimes when you don't have a trailer, like on smaller films, you stand near the camera and you really feel a part of the filmmaking, and I love that. But at the same time, I love being able to go back and have my moment of solitude in a trailer. There's things about both. You feel there's a certain sense of security when you're on a bigger film. You know, you just get a feeling like, "I know this is gonna go out there." And there's something nice about that. But I don't have a preference in general over the two. I really enjoy both.
It must be nice to get away from all of the "Hunger Games" craziness, especially now that you have a family.
Oh yeah, I enjoy it. You know, actually the beard helped with that too. Now I can walk through a pack of teenage girls and not one of them would know who I am, since I don’t have that beard.
Do people ever recognize you on the street now?
What do they say? Do you have a celebrity doppelganger?
Yeah, I did for a long time — Tobey Maguire. I remember I was in Mexico in some random town, and someone yelled out "Spider-Man!" (Laughs) So I get that sometimes, or when I think someone's recognized me for me, it's actually Tobey. That's happened less and less, though, and it doesn't happen a bunch. Oddly enough, it happens more when I'm not in L.A. or New York. It happens in smaller towns a lot.
Looking back on "The Hunger Games" a year later, do you still have a most memorable fan interaction?
I was, one time, working out at a gym in Albuquerque and I felt some people staring at me, and suddenly I felt uncomfortable. I didn't know why they were staring at me. And then, this girl came up to me and held out a racquetball to me. And I was just looking at the racquetball, and then she handed me a pen. She wanted me to sign her racquetball. I thought that was strange.
You got to work with Jennifer Lawrence before she became such a huge star. What was your relationship with her during filming? Because you also started acting at a young age, did you give her any advice as a newcomer?
You know, I didn't want to overstep my bounds and just give advice without asking. But we clicked, and I love Jen, like everybody does. She's just hilarious, and we got along great and had moments. And I just said to her, "Look, I know a little bit about what you might be feeling or what's about to happen, and if you ever just want to talk to somebody about it, then call me." Of course, it's way bigger than anything I ever had to deal with. And we text sometimes and joke, and she deals with it well, it seems like. But I'll always be there if she wants to give a call or if she's feeling like it's too much.
What are you geeking out over right now?
I'm a "Game of Thrones" fan, so I geeked out hard about that. I can't believe we have to wait a whole year for [Season Four].
What did you do with your first Hollywood paycheck?
I bought a used Jeep Wrangler.
How are you on social media? Do you tweet?
I just started. I just opened a Twitter account: @RealWesBentley. But that's all.
If you could Tweet about "The Time Being" to get people to watch the movie, what would you say?
It's hard enough to tell people what I ate for breakfast in 140 characters!
Which role have you played that you think is most like yourself in real life?
That's a good question. I mean, I'm always using myself as an inlet into the character. There's one that I did that's not out yet — it won't be out for a while — called "Things People Do". It's probably the closest to me than anything I've ever played.
Do you ever Google yourself?
No, no. I have — I'm not gonna say that I haven't — but I don't regularly. 'Cause the couple of times I did, it was so off-putting.
What was the most outrageous thing you read about yourself?
Oh man, I can't remember them now because it was years ago. I think there's been some things on my Wikipedia page that were incorrect. There were lies and stories — and I stopped [reading] because they were hurtful — like, there were stories that I had been mean to people. And I know I haven't always been the best person, but I haven't been outwardly mean to people while shooting movies or anything like that, so that was a little off-putting.
What are your biggest pet peeves?
I don't like it when people treat service employees in a bad way. That's not just a pet peeve, it really makes me mad. Oh, another is when a guy doesn't get up [from his seat] for a pregnant woman or anybody that needs to sit down. That's annoying. I hate that.
Do you have a movie of yours that you feel is underrated or deserves a second look from people?
There's a couple. I think "The Four Feathers" is a better film than it got recognition for in 2002. It was just bad timing because it was right after 9/11. And the other is a stupid stoner comedy. I just love it. I loved shooting it, I loved the film, it's called "Weirdsville". It's with Scott Speedman. It's stupid. It's great, though. I had the best time on it.
Using the formula of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what would your porn star name be?
Sadie Oakwood. Not bad, right?