Pete's Dragon Wes Bentley Interview

Wes Bentley‘s first big breakout role was in the 1999 Best Picture Winner, American Beauty. Over the past few years, we’ve seen Bentley in all sorts of films, including InterstellarThe Hunger GamesKnight of Cups, and two comedies more people should’ve seen, Welcome to Me and Weirdsville. The actor’s latest role is in director David Lowery‘s Pete’s Dragon, a remake of Disney’s 1977 musical.

In this adventurous, sparse and often somber reimagining, Bentley plays Jack. His brother, Gavin (Karl Urban), is the antagonist, while his girlfriend, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), is one of the film’s heroes. Similarly to Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, backstory and past conflicts are often left unspoken and suggested. At a recent press day, we discussed the often complicated relationships within Pete’s Dragon with Wes Bentley, who also told us about working with young actors, his time at Julliard, and his experience on Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups.

Below, read our Wes Bentley interview.

When you read the script, what was your initial reaction? 

Well, I knew already with David doing the film that it was going to have the beautiful tone it does have and immediately reacted to the magic of it. You know, the dragon, the boy, and the family element, and because I have kids of my own now, I was drawn to that. I wanted to do a movie that my kid could see while he’s still under 10. So, that’s there. I liked the complexities, too, brought to the adult characters that you don’t always find in a family film. That there’s conflict within Jack about how to run a company, a lumber company, but still be environmentally aware and not try to do so much damage while keeping this business in this town afloat. So, those are the main elements I was drawn to.

There’s a lot that’s unspoken about the adults’ relationships. In the case of Jack and Gavin, how much did you all talk about their backstory? 

There are elements there that we talked about, about the family history, because Gavin’s the older brother and why did he not get the keys to the mill, and what tension has that created? It’s because he had struggles in the past and maybe made mistakes, and maybe didn’t show the signs of someone who could be a good leader. All those are there, and we were able to play them, although they’re not focused upon. It’s a great bit of filmmaking and focusing on the children. A lot of that dialogue’s happening, but it’s happening in the distance, as you would hear it as a kid. Kids tune that stuff out, and I think that’s very, very smart with the filmmaking.

So we worked hard on those elements, and also the conflict with Grace and how does that affect their relationship? Then with Oona [Laurence], another part that we never talk about in the film is where is Oona’s mom? We know all those things, and we work on all those things, so they’re there. David’s very good about that, so they’re there, but we don’t have to press them too hard.

When you were on set, would you often think about what happened to Oona’s character’s mom? Does that help you in a scene? 

Absolutely. I don’t know how we couldn’t, even if it was something where they did not get along and there was a problem between them, even if that happens, it’s your daughter’s mom and you know how important that is to her. So, that affects everything you do. It affects your mood during the day. It affects your life, and so those things have to be with the character in every moment and action.

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