P2 - An interview with Wes Bentley
The return of the kid
Kaleem Aftab unravels the curious story of dropout young star Wes Bentley and his recent comeback
Wes Bentley was just 21 when he played Ricky Fitts in American Beauty. It turned him into an overnight star. He was nominated for a BAFTA and fêted as the heir to Tom Cruise. The world was his oyster. Plastic bags could have been named after him. Then Bentley surprised everyone by making some risky choices, appearing in Michael Winterbottom’s laborious The Claim and Shekhar Kapur’s less than heroic The Four Feathers.
Looking back at The Claim Bentley says, ‘That was an opportunity I really didn’t take advantage of.’ The trouble, it seems, was that the young actor had fast become disillusioned with the motion picture business.
‘After American Beauty I was just getting offered the same types of films that were geared towards winning Oscars,’ he says. ‘I wanted to do a variety of things and I don’t want to be locked into being an Oscar type of actor. For me, it [winning Oscars] doesn’t mean you’re any better, it just means that you’re locked into that genre. The profile is huge, but getting a huge profile is anti what I want to do – acting is an illusion and I don’t want to lose my illusion by people knowing what I was out doing on a Friday night.’
So, in 2002, at the grand old age of 23, Bentley quit acting. He got married and spent his time heading out on a number of road trips. Intriguingly, it was Bentley’s love of football (or ‘soccer’ as he calls it) that made him return to acting. He couldn’t resist the chance of appearing in The Miracle Match, based on the true story of the US team beating England at the 1950 World Cup Final.
But when that film failed to match his own lofty ambitions for it, disillusionment set in again and before long he’d retired for a second time. You could say he was fast becoming the celluloid equivalent of George Best.
Now, though, Bentley has definitely got his mojo back. He played the villain in Ghostrider and laughs when I admit I couldn’t sit through the whole movie: ‘That is understandable,’ he says. ‘The director is a friend of mine and he made it sound so much fun to go to Australia for four months and play the son of the Devil. At that point I just wanted to have fun on a movie. A lot of times the scripts I get are very issue-orientated and complicated and that can be trying. This was just plain evil and there was no research or heavy soul-searching involved.’
The same could be said of P2, a horror film, in which Bentley plays a psychotic security guard. He says: ‘I feel like you need to go to a movie sometimes for escapism. I understand the problems that people have with the film and the genre. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just another cackling, raving mad, bad guy.’ It seems that by avoiding being so serious all the time, Bentley is finally going to start enjoying his own career.
P2 is on general release from Fri 2 May.