Bentley stars as Jack, the fiancé of Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who happens to find a forest-dwelling boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley), who claims to have a dragon for a best friend. Along with Grace's dad, Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford), and daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence), they must stop Jack's brother, Gavin (Karl Urban), from capturing Pete's dragon.
We sat down with Wes recently to talk about being part of his first family-friendly film, filming "Pete's Dragon" and "American Horror Story: Hotel" back to back, and what he would tell his younger self.
Moviefone: This movie is a completely different from the "Pete's Dragon" most of us saw growing up. What drew you to this version?
Wes Bentley: David Lowery [the director] drew me to it. I was a fan of the original, but I knew that didn't have anything to do with it, really. So I put that out of my mind right away and I had met David before and knew his work, and I really wanted to work with him. I also wanted to do a family film. Those two combined, that's as much as I knew at the beginning and then I got to see how much more they were going to do. It's Disney, they're going to make something special, and they did.
So this is actually, I believe, it's your first family film.
Yeah, it is.
What is that experience like? Especially because you get to share it with your kids.
My son is almost six, and he's going to come with me tonight to the premiere. This will be the first time he can really watch me in a film. He's seen bits of stuff, you know, we freeze framed a moment from "American Beauty" and he stood by it, because he has my eyebrows, so we were trying to catch a freeze frame. So, he knows I do this, but he's never actually seen anything.
What do you think he's going to think of dad being up on the big screen?
I don't know. That's going to be interesting to find out. You know, I did bring him to the set one time, he was much younger, three, and he was sitting behind the monitor and he kept seeing me on screen and then I would see his head pop around and then he would look at the screen and then his head would pop around. He couldn't figure out how I could be in both places at once. He couldn't picture it. Imagining passed a 2D image. I think he just couldn't see me.
What does it mean for you to be part of the Disney family now? I mean, it's such a legacy that goes back to our parents, grandparents, and now our children are getting taken by their films.
My wife I were -- I think someone brought the question up -- we were contemplating it one night. What would the world be without Disney? It's hard to -- that's how big it is -- you can't really imagine. It's hard to imagine even in the toughest places on Earth, where things are at their worst, Disney films are still there. They're a part, in some way, of that -- or it's in there somehow. I can't imagine what it would be like. I have no idea. It's big for me, "Alice in Wonderland" and all of the musicals when I was a teenager. They were all big for me.
This is actually pretty different from what you are doing on TV: "American Horror Story." How was it going from filming something like that, which is meant to induce nightmares. to this, something meant to uplift and give you hope?
Not just "American Horror Story," a lot of my career has been playing in the dark side of human nature and even the non-genre-esque characters were still dealing with darker elements. So I was excited to do this because it's a tap into that lighter side. Also, I have children. I got to tap into that and that side of myself. But it was tricky. I actually shot this before shooting "American Horror Story: Hotel." And the set of "Pete's Dragon" was a really loving, warm set. We had a great time doing it. New Zealand was beautiful, my kids were there and it was just like -- my son was sort of "working" on the film and the ladies had him helping them out in the trailer.
Then I went to shoot "American Horror Story" and it's also a lot of fun to work on that, but it's a grueling shoot. We work a lot of hours trying to get a lot in a little amount of time. There are psychologically tough elements to those, definitely. Definitely different from "Pete's Dragon." It was definitely tough to jump from that to that. I didn't want my kids to come to the "American Horror Story" set.
You would be paying for therapy bills, right?
Yeah, exactly. So it was quite a leap.
Speaking of that a little bit, when I spoke to David Lowery last month, he did say that he likes that this film kind of makes kids a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit scared -- it makes them feel things you don't normally want kids to connect to, but at the same time, it's necessary. How do you feel that is necessary as a parent and also as a storyteller?
I think, in my opinion, as a society we have become afraid to let our kids feel tough feelings at an early age because we think they are going to have psychological problems. I think the opposite. I think dealing with somewhat heavy issues or feeling heavy, deep emotional feelings let you learn how to deal with it, cope with it. Kind of like, in a physical way, falling off the monkey bars teaches you that you need to be careful on the monkey bars. So you sort of learn that about emotions. So I really appreciate David's opinion about that and the way he made the film because I think a lot of times, children's films now -- the one's made recently -- they have, for the most part avoided that.
We grew up with some pretty serious stuff like the "Secret of NIMH" is not soft, "The Last Unicorn" and "Dark Crystal," these were the things we grew up with and they touched on some heavy elements with some dark imagery. Not dark meaning like "'American Horror Story' dark," but gothic sort of feeling, literally dark imagery. I feel like it would be nice for our kids to grow up with that. I feel elements of it in some cartoons and some movies, but I don't think it's enough. So I am glad that "Pete's Dragon" doesn't shy away from some things and some of the emotional difficulties of being five and 10. The reality of life that can come knocking at your door.
It also has a lot messages. There's the family that chooses you or the one that you choose. There's some adoption and friendship. What was the most touching element to you about the story between Pete and Elliott?
It's that love passes through every boundary. That love and friendship, love and life, can bridge those difficult feelings and difficult moments in our lives. It's so strong, the image of five-year-old Pete. What happens in the beginning and then his first encounter with Elliott being so delicate, but immediately he feels loved. And if immediately he feels loved, things go well for him. Also, as he's moving on in life and he's 10 and it's time to be with, maybe, other people and a family, as he is finding that family feeling the love and what he is leaving and then going into what's coming next. It's just about love and how much love can mean when you share it with each other. And support, support is not just, "I'll be there for you" but, you know, it's loving somebody.
So I think that's a huge element here. I think that there's hidden -- there's one here, too, but I don't know if it's an intentional theme, but you're 10 years old, you have a child who's turning nine. That's a big change. There are a lot of changes that happen between eight and 10, you know? Mythologically they call it "losing the golden ball" and that's something that happens around eight or nine, and it's big for everyone. We've all had, if we look back at our lives, something happen to us at eight or nine or 10 that truly changes you and starts to point you toward adolescence and, I think, the movie, in a strange way, kind of touches on that.
You've been very open in the past that you have had some drug issues, and I'm glad to see you've overcome them and you're succeeding. If you were to go back and give yourself advice, knowing what you now know, what would you tell yourself?
Relax, man. Don't take everything so seriously. I think I got scared because I knew I still had a lot to learn as an actor and as a person. So I got very tense. I tightened up and into all that confusion. So I think if I saw myself again I would just relax and just take it one step at a time. I was afraid to make a mistake because it was so perfect in the beginning in some ways. That movie was so good and people really loved it so much, I just didn't want to mess up and show who I really was in the next one, which was that I'm not that good of an actor. You know what I mean? It was that fear. Fear is the problem in just about anything. Fear will always lead to trouble. So if you can learn to not be afraid or at least learn how to deal with fear, then you will be fine. I think that the way to deal with fear is to relax and not -- just let things happen and be okay with it.
Disney's "Pete's Dragon" opens nationwide Friday, August 12th.
Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford), a woodcarver, delights local children with stories of a mysterious dragon that lives deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. His daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) believes these are just tall tales, until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley), a 10-year-old orphan who says he lives in the woods with a giant, friendly dragon. With help from a young girl named Natalie (Oona Laurence), Grace sets out to investigate if this fantastic claim can be true. Read More