It’s bittersweet writing about our Exclusive Wes Bentley Interview for Pete’s Dragon. The final interview to share from the #PetesDragonEvent that Disney invited me to attend, but Pete’s Dragon is still flying high in theaters so there is something to smile about! Wes Bentley had a lot to say about filming the movie, traveling to New Zealand, and what it’s like playing a “Disney Dad”.
We jumped right into the interview with something the cast had been raving about, New Zealand. Wes Bentley called it a “beautiful place” that he thinks is “the gem of the world” and New Zealand is “so far away from the madness, you get that element and it was just stunning.” How can a person not want to visit after all of these interviews and the amazing scenery in Pete’s Dragon!
I was there, I think it was three months total. Oh, it was beautiful. My family came out for the last two months so I had my kids and my wife out there. I had a lot of time between shooting so I got to do a lot of touring around and we got to go do a bunch of very exciting things. Everywhere you turn in New Zealand there’s something exciting to do and you don’t have to sign a bunch of waivers and all of that, so it, it was a blast, yeah. It was good. – Wes Bentley
As I mentioned, this is the first Disney film for Wes Bentley and I have to say, he played the part of Disney Dad very well. Wes Bentley plays Jack in Pete’s Dragon and he has a daughter, Natalie, played by Oona Laurence. This film is a great family film, and one that Bentley was excited to share with his son.
I’ve been a Disney fan since I was a kid and I was excited to be a part of a movie with them. Especially because I have young kids, I wanted to do something that my kids could see while they’re young. My six-year-old, my son is gonna be six in November, he’s coming with me tonight to the premiere. It’s gonna be exciting. He’s excited about that. I don’t know how he’s gonna react seeing me, because he’s seen, you know, images of me in a film but of course he’s never seen anything beyond a few words. So this is the first film I’ve really been able to be like that. – Wes Bentley
You can’t bring a dad into a room of bloggers who talk about parenting, and not expect that topic to come up more than once. Being a father, playing the role of a father, we wondered if that effected how Wes Bentley approached the role.
I think Jack’s first priority was his daughter and everything he was doing was to make sure life was good for her. That’s the same way I feel, we all feel about our kids, right? I mean, it’s all about them. You walk in that fine line of teaching lessons, but also being supportive and there for them, so that you’re not the kind of parent that theyend up not wanting to talk to. It’s hard to find that balance. I think Jack’s finding that balance too. So it was just about every element I could use from my own experience with my kids. Them being there helped too, that my kids were there. I’ve sort of going directly from being Dad to being Dad. – Wes Bentley
When it came to the role of Jack in Pete’s Dragon, there were no auditions for Wes Bentley. He sort of found himself on the film and “couldn’t have been more excited” because it was a direction he’d wanted to head with his career.
Luckily I was asked to be a part of the film. I had met with David Lowery on something else, maybe a year before or a few months before this came out, and he really wanted me to be in this and convinced them that I could be in this and that I could play a nice Disney dad and thankfully he did. David is just one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met, and he’s not just a talented director but, a warm, sweet man. – Wes Bentley
Going in a direction he wants, working on something he had loved since childhood, what were Wes Bentley’s thoughts about the changes to Pete’s Dragon story in this new version, compared to the original film? I love the fact that Disney modernized the story to fit audiences today and gave us a new version to compliment the original. But, enough about my thoughts on Pete’s Dragon, this is Wes’s interview….. 😉
I expected that to happen because I think it’d be hard use the elements from the old film, and bring it to film-making now. And also, with the advances in C.G.I., I knew that dragon was gonna be a different kind of Elliot. So, I wasn’t surprised and I wasn’t bothered either, and kind of thought it was cool to have two separate films with a similar idea. But, I think I was told early too, that it wasn’t gonna be anything like the original, so I didn’t marry myself to any of those things. – Wes Bentley
After playing darker characters on shows like American Horror Story, I can understand wanting a change in direction. We chatted with Wes Bentley about the process of transitioning into a nice guy role, and what it was like for him.
It didn’t feel like it should be hard because I am a nice guy, and I have my own kids. But, I’m aware of my film habits because I have, for so long, played guys who are darker or dealing with very complex issues, and they’re dealing with their darker sides. I came in really aware that there were obviously things about me that people see, they’re drawn to that. Usually it’s my eyebrows. I was very aware of my eyebrows, just trying to make sure my face showed my inner feelings, which doesn’t always happen. I’ve always had to deal with, “Why are you so mad?” or “What are you angry about?” when I wasn’t. I was thinking about lollipops and cotton candy, but because my eyebrows just sit like that, I did work on that a bit. Really work on being aware of your expression and this guy, how does he think and how can that convey physically, so that people weren’t reminded of me in something else where, you know, they were disturbed by something. Luckily that worked and David, was aware of it too. I told him to help me out there, but internally there was nothing changed. The writing was all there, the direction was all there, so that was easy. – Wes Bentley
The role of Jack brought some research for Wes Bentley. Javk owns a lumber mill and is working in the very area that Pete and Elliot are living. Jack is in a relationship with a Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger and lover of trees. Jack’s brother Gavin has his own ideas in mind and that makes for some interesting situations.
I tried to learn as much about lumbering and felling, I think it’s called. I can’t remember. But, I did try to learn as much as I could about the types and versions of lumbering that you can do, and what were the most environmentally impactful, and tried to convey that to Jack. I feel like Jack was walking the balance of having to make money for his company and all these men in this small town depending on that company, and at the same time was environmentally aware of it, but also becoming more environmentally aware because of who he was in love with and what she cared about. That also worked over to Gavin’s relationship because he was not as of the like. He just wanted to make money and was trying to be clever in that way. That’s why he was a bit dangerous and that’s the conflict that was happening there. We also had built some other stuff between Gavin and Jack that sort of is on the peripheral of the movie but, kind of informs the relationship in that Gavin had made mistakes before and sort of led us down the wrong road. That’s why I was handed the keys to the family business. That’s all great stuff to have in a film like this because you can easily kind of write dad and company owner, and not give them anything more to do. But David and Toby and all of them were very aware of giving us something to play with. – Wes Bentley
Doing environmental research for the film has to be life changing. Especially when you are a parent and thinking ahead to the future of the earth. Wes Bentley touched on how that research changed his way of thinking.
Lumber in New Zealand is one of their major exports. There were places we shot in that where basically tree farms, and we’d go through whole sections trying to get back to these sets where it was just all torn down trees. Then, once they’re felled or whatever, I can’t remember the term, anyway, once they’re down they can’t regrow them there for a really long time. I can’t remember how long it is. It’s a decade or more. So you’re just seeing this big swath of land that’s just, just dead trees, You know they’re going to something useful and they’re re-growing all this other stuff but it’s the eye sore and the reaction to it is hard. It kind of hits you to the core because it’s the world. The Earth is part of us, we’re part of the Earth. You can sense it there, and there are definitely better ways to do it now, where the trees can grow back quicker. But, a lot of times you’re growing back quicker just to cut ’em down again. So it’s, you know, we use it so much. It’s part of our lives. So it is an industry, a legitimate industry. There are families that depend on it. What I learned is that it’s a hard balance in the end and it’s not just a simple ‘we shouldn’t do it’ kind of thing. It’s just, can we do it responsibly and I think they are working on it. I think there are elements of the business that work hard on that, and I learned that. That felt better. It wasn’t just people going, trying to find, you know, like Gavin, just trying to find as many trees as he can. – Wes Bentley
A week after watching the premiere of Pete’s Dragon at El Capitan Theater, I still get that feeling of wonderment when I think about the movie. You walk away feeling like a kid at heart and I wondered if Wes Bentley felt the same after filming.
Oh yeah, and not just because of this but, David Lowery’s got that in him. You can see the kid in him. It’s just all over him. Having all those imaginative elements, and having a love for the first film myself, that sort of the idea of the imaginary friend or the dragon in your life as a kid. Those things. It brought back all that. My imagination was really hyperactive as a child and animated, as you could say. I had those elements and so those things change as you live life and go through the hardships, which is why I love this film for everybody. I feel like it can reawaken that feeling which you kind of hope for in a movie like this, right? And they go directly at it, you know? Truly you’re the invisible dragon, you know? – Wes Bentley
So, that idea of an imaginary friend. Did Wes Bentley have one? I was curious to find out the answer, because for me, it was yes. I had an imaginary dad that lived under the light pole across the street.
I didn’t. I would create in my head, all these clubs and I was like the club president of all of ’em. I don’t remember what those shoes were called….they had lights on ’em, from the ’80s, anyway….. so I named a club after them. In my head I had this whole like clubhouse, underneath the fence in my backyard, and all these friends who were in the club, and we lived in rural Arkansas so it wasn’t like there was a kid next door to tell ’em to come over and play. You had to sort of do that. – Wes Bentley
One of my favorite Wes Bentley scenes in Pete’s Dragon is when they are on the bridge and Elliot brings the fire. Jack has to make split decisions throughout that scene and it all has you on the edge of your seat. What was Bentley’s favorite scene to film for the movie?
Being up on the fake dragon with Bryce Dallas Howard, and the wind blowing, and we aren’t really sitting on a dragon for the whole day. It’s early on in the film-making and we’re making jokes with each other trying to make each other laugh and how big we could smile when we’re up on the back of the dragon.That was a fun day. Another one would be in the car, sort of during the dragon break, when they break through the barn and everyone’s chasing them and we’ve got all of those actors there. It felt a bit like it’s a ‘Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World‘ where everyone’s looking for the money.We had everyone together and we’re all standing together and we had to all run to our cars as fast as we could and take off after this truck. It was kind of crazy and wild and funny and everyone was giddy from all the action and making jokes and laughing. We had a good group of extras from that little town called Tapanui and they were just so psyched. Such a sweet group, opened their arms to us and they were the extras and they had the best time shooting all day in some tough conditions because it was a muddy set. It was raining a lot and it was cold, but they were just so warm and that was a fun scene to do because everyone was just having a great time. – Wes Bentley
Before we ended our Exclusive Wes Bentley Interview, we had to find out his thoughts on working with Robert Redford. Everyone had nothing but great things to say so far, but did Bentley feel the same way?
It’s everything you think it’s gonna be. He’s someone I always wanted to emulate as an actor. His natural delivery, his charm, his selection of roles and what he can play. He’s just a warm man. He came to set, always had great stories, talked to everybody about everything, and then you’d watch him act and he just comes on and he’s just there. It seems so easy for him, you know? It’s just great to see that and his love for film is very clear as well. His love for really making good film. He and David Lowery really clicked too, and that was fun to watch them have a sort of language, a film-making language that I could learn from, maybe one day, if I was ever gonna make a film. – Wes Bentley
I seriously need to plan a Robert Redford binge session and watch any of his work I missed. When Wes Bentley says “he’s that guy” you take note and listen up.
He was letting the scene create the moment, as much as he was trying to impact the moment. You’ve got scenes where the actors come in and sometimes they’re asked to come in and impact the scene, and make the scene what it is with an effort. And then there’s other times where the scene’s just there, and you don’t need to do that. Great actors know the difference, and when you’re with one of those actors, you can watch them read it and do it. He’s that guy. – Wes Bentley