Wes Bentley Talks His 'Knight of Cups' Role And His Struggle With Addiction

by Anna Menta
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You may not know Hollywood actor Wes Bentley by name, but you've probably seen him in something.

He rocked a crazy beard as Seneca Crane in "The Hunger Games," he recently starred in the latest season of "American Horror Story" and, when he was just 21 years old, he played Ricky Fitts in the Oscar-winning film "American Beauty."

For Wes, that role opened the door to fame and opportunity, but with it came a long spiral into the worst parts of Hollywood: alcohol, drugs and addiction.

Wes Bentley in "American Beauty" (1999). Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures.

In an interview with The New York Times from 2010, Wes opened up about his seven-year-long heroin addiction.

Since then, however, he rebuilt his acting career significantly. Now, he stars alongside Christian Bale in Terrence Malick's new experimental drama, "Knight of Cups," which hits theaters March 4.

The seventh film from experimental writer and director Terrence Malick, "Knight of Cups" explores the darker side of Hollywood life. The main character, Rick, played by Christian Bale, is a screenwriter who gets lost in the indulgent worlds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Throughout the film, Rick floats through the relationships in his life in a dazed, dreamlike state.

The familiarity of Rick's story did not go unnoticed by Wes, who I spoke to recently about how his history of losing himself in Hollywood affected his performance and response to the film.

On how the film mirrored his own trajectory after moving from his hometown in Arkansas to LA for "American Beauty," he said,

I had a lot of personal feeling come up watching it. I came out to LA and I was just going to shoot 'American Beauty' and go back. But I just stayed. And stayed and stayed.  And slowly I just sort of like... entered this haze.  I forgot who I was and where I came from. I got lost in all of the distraction, the excesses, the parties, the people. I identified with Rick being lost and trying to wake up, and people trying to help wake him up, or take him deeper down the path.

Wes said his connection with Christian Bale's character helped him tap into the character he played -- Rick's brother Barry.

Wes Bentley (left) and Christian Bale in "Knight of Cups." Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.

In the film, both Rick and Barry mourn the suicide of their third brother. But while Barry stays behind with their father, Rick gets lost in Hollywood distractions, like sex and drugs. Barry is clearly concerned about his brother and, at one point, begs Rick to snap out of it and open up to him.

I asked Wes how much he thought of his own family when he took on this role of Barry. He told me while his three brothers aren't as explosive and physical as his character, he did see many similarities. He explained,

I have a brother who lived in LA, and when I was deep down the hole myself, he literally came pounding on the door trying to wake me up. And another brother drove out to try to snap me out of it and remind me who I was.

The film features eight different characters who touched Rick's life in some way, played by big name stars such as Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Antonio Banderas.

But the chemistry and sincere emotion between Wes and Christian on screen, as well as a killer performance from Brian Dennehy as the father, make the familial relationship really stand out.

Wes Bentley (left) and Christian Bale in "Knight of Cups." Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.

Wes said even though he never met Christian Bale before, he always admired him, and the two connected as soon as they met. He said,

He's so great to work with because he pays attention to detail. Like he wanted to drift toward my home accent, so we connected there. It was just really lovely, and I was very lucky. And I had a lot of yelling to do, so he saw the real me for a while. When you yell, when any actor yells, it's hard to yell in character for too long. [The real you] starts to pop out. [Laughs.]

When I asked if Wes learned anything unexpected about the former Batman actor, he laughed, saying,

I learned that we share the same size of closet, which is slim to none.

Catch Wes Bentley in "Knight of Cups" in select theaters opening Friday, March 4.