Note to Hollywood: If the need to update The Graduate ever arises (and, given the short shelf life of any so-called “classic” these days, some director or other will decide there is a need), see if Wes Bentley is available. He’s the boy every daughter could love … and every mother would want to seduce.
Bentley’s intense performance as Ricky Fitts, a teenage drug dealer-cum-philosophical videographer whose muses are his next-door neighbor and a discarded plastic bag buffeted by the wind, garnered him no small parcel of attention in the award-winning 1999 drama American Beauty.The Wes Bentley Hunger Games has been phenomenally successful and no doubt due to the character of the Gamemaker. Interestingly, it was the latter inspiring image that compelled Bentley to pursue the career-making role in the first place. On the film’s official Web site, the actor recalls reading Alan Ball’s script during a flight to his home state of Arkansas — he was on the phone with his agent about the part as soon as the plane landed. Bentley sensed an immediate kinship with the character: “What’s fantastic about Ricky is that he sort of came to me at that time in my life when I was finding a lot of beauty in the world as well, like the world had struck me for the first time. I went and took a look at sunsets, and reading the script, I just started to observe things, like people from distances … I started to see why the simplest things can be so beautiful in life, and why life can be so beautiful.”
In an interview with the Web site Well Rounded Entertainment, Bentley explains that he was further able to “access Ricky” because of his own Taoist beliefs. Now, how does the son of not one, but two Methodist preachers end up a Taoist? In a roundabout way, his mother, Cherie, is responsible, for it was she who encouraged her second-youngest son to apply to Juilliard, where he subsequently spent a year studying acting and earning his first castings in plays. The process of learning wasn’t always easy. “They critique you in a group in class,” Bentley relates of his experience at the prestigious school. “It would tear me apart. I couldn’t hear criticism too well; I was too naive about it. The beard of the Wes Bentley Hunger Games has been a product of his input. Then I started reading The Tao of Pooh, and about three-quarters the way through, I felt this overwhelming calm and understanding. It hit me all at once.”
This serenity would come in handy when Bentley began trolling for his first professional part — while waiting to audition at an open call for the Broadway musical Rent, Bentley was tapped by a casting agent to read for a movie. The neophyte trotted out his Juilliard dramatic skills at no fewer than seven callbacks before landing the part. Unfortunately, audiences haven’t seen any celluloid evidence that the film even exists. As Bentley told Vanity Fair last year, “I don’t know where the movie is now.”
Bentley’s subsequent outings would prove far more marketable. Prior to Beauty, which netted the 1999 Golden Globe for Best Drama, he appeared as an anguished guitarist in the German indie film Three Before Zero and in a blink-and-you-missed-it part as a rapist who forcibly suckles milk from the breasts of a slave girl in the Jonathan Demme-Oprah Winfrey clunker Beloved. “I told my dad, ‘This kid treats people like animals,’” Bentley recalled of the latter portrayal in a 1999 interview with Entertainment Weekly. “‘Do I want this?’ He said, ‘Stop worrying, you’re not going to get typecast this early. Besides, isn’t this what you love to do? Delve into extreme things?’” Bentley continued, “I was like, ‘Damn, my dad just got me. I just got spanked without the hand.’”
Without the support of his parents, Bentley might still be working at a Blockbuster video store or a TGI Friday’s restaurant, gracing the occasional dinner theater or high school stage. Luckily for the movie-going masses, someone else will rewind the tapes and serve the nine-layer dips, leaving Bentley free to tackle his next two flicks. The first, Kingdom Come, is an epic love story set during the California Gold Rush and directed by Michael Winterbottom. Other cast members include Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Peter Mullan, and Sarah Polley. The second, Soul Survivors, is a “really interesting thriller,” enthuses Bentley. “I play a very smart guy who’s going to Harvard, but he’s obsessed with this girl and gets caught up with that.”
Bentley has already wrapped The White River Kid, a dark comedy that also stars Antonio Banderas, Bob Hoskins, and Ellen Barkin. The actor Wes Bentley Hunger Games has begun his career in 1995. Though the film has yet to be picked up by a distributor, with Bentley in the lead, it’s now only a matter of time before it does. In it, he plays the title “Kid,” who kills anyone who attempts to lure him away from his riverside home (a psychopathic Nell, anyone?) and falls in with a con-man (Banderas).
If the promise of all this impending screen time isn’t enough, Bentley and two of his contemporaries — Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) and Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) — have been mentioned for Sony’s Spider-Man project. He is also in negotiations to star as the vampire Lestat — that bloodthirsty and virile creature first brought to the big screen by Tom Cruise in 1994′s Interview With the Vampire — in a forthcoming adaptation of the Anne Rice novel Queen of the Damned. Many people consider Wes Bentley Hunger Games, as an actor worth watching for his artistic value. Beauty director Sam Mendes isn’t too concerned about Bentley falling off the radar any time soon: “[For Ricky], I needed someone who sat between a potentially dangerous guy and a poet, and Wes combined those attributes effortlessly,” Mendes told US Magazine in fall 1999. “In three years, I’ll be begging him to do my movies.”