Disney has created a winning formula with their recent string of live-action adaptations. Their upcoming reimagining of Pete’s Dragon is the next property to get the live-action treatment and it looks to be another promising release when it hits theaters next week.
The movie is directed by David Lowery and features an all-star cast starring Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), and Karl Urban (Thor: Ragnarok). At the recent press junket for Pete’s Dragon we got the opportunity to speak with actor Wes Bentley (American Horror Story) who has a key supporting role in the upcoming family film.
In our sit down, Bentley talks about filming in New Zealand, what drew him to the Pete’s Dragon, what types of movies should be remade, American Horror Story and much more.
You’re known for doing really adult projects, like American Beauty and American Horror Story; what made you choose a family friendly film like Pete’s Dragon?
Wes: Well luckily they chose me, and that was great. I’d met with [director] David Lowery before, and we really clicked, and I was just hoping one day he’d give me a call, so I was excited about him. But also I have two kids, and we’d been actively talking about doing something lighter. And also I’d always played—which is fun to play—conflicted people who err on the dark side, and so I really wanted to do something which was kind of light, comparatively, as far as the personality of the character. This was in that direction, so it had everything I was looking for.
Awesome. So what drew you to the role of Jack?
Wes: Jack’s interesting, you know, because he’s a sweet dad. He’s a sweet, genuine person. “Genuine” was the word that came to mind when I saw Jack, so I wanted to play that kind of an earnest person. And also you want a little bit of conflict with every character, so he had the conflict of the business he was in, but also I think Jack’s very aware of the damage that can be done by logging, and it was interesting to have the dynamic between he and Grace. So it wasn’t just a paper-thin genuine character, there was some depth to him.
The place you guys shot in was very Rockwellian, I loved it. It was so beautiful, like classic middle-America. Where was that?
Was it really?
Wes: [laughs] Yeah it’s funny you say that, and the town that you’re talking about was a little town called Tapanui, which is near the bottom of the South Island, and it was just the perfect little town.
What a classic American look in New Zealand.
Wes: I know, and that’s how it felt. It has the main street strip, and they all knew each other. Cause we didn’t stay in hotels, we stayed in people’s houses—
Was that an intact town?
Wes: Oh yeah, that’s a town, that’s Tapanui, and all they’d ask us was, “What house are you staying at?” and all you had to say was the name of the family and they knew exactly what the house looked like, what you were near, and all that stuff.
Talk to me a little bit about the brotherly relationship between Jack and Gavin.
Wes: There was a lot more there. I think the way they cut the film was great because there was a good focus on the dragon and the children, and through their eyes, so a lot of the stuff that informed the relationship between Gavin and Jack, you can hear it as you’re focusing on the children, which I think was great filmmaking. But there’s a dynamic there of jealousy, and I sort of inherited the family business.
Did it feel like a little bit of a rivalry?
Wes: It was a bit of a rivalry, although they love each other. There’s hints of problems that Gavin has caused in the past, which is why I’m inclined to not believe him when he comes at me with all these ideas and stories. So yeah the rivalry, the business, the small town idea of all of that.
With Karl Urban playing your brother, how was that relationship on set?
Wes: Oh, he’s great. He’s a funny guy. He’s funny intentionally, but also his personality’s funny. We’d all play chess, he’s competitive, in the most positive way.
Little brotherly rivalry in chess?
Wes: [laughs] Well, he was better than me, so as much as I could make it a rivalry. So we had a good time. All around though, that whole set, the other guys that played in his crew, we all had a really good time together.
You guys had a star studded cast obviously, Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, yourself, Karl Urban, but the acting chops of young Oona Laurence and Oakes Fegley, they blew me away, they were amazing. Did you have any advice for them?
Wes: If I did I probably shouldn’t have shared it with them, cause they were so good. [laughs] I probably messed them up. Actually in turn I learned a lot from them.
Wes: Yeah. In general, as an actor, you always want to be in connection with your inner child, and it sounds so cheesy but it’s true. You want to stay spontaneous and you want to stay honest, and the kids have that. Not to say all kid actors are the same, these two are standouts, because bridging the gap and taking it to film is very hard to do, and they do that beautifully. Oakes is really in the moment, Oona is very honest in her delivery, and she’s also in the moment, and you can see it in their eyes, and every time it’s different. At the same time they stay within the realms of the film, so that’s all very tricky. I learned a lot from them.
They were amazing, they completely blew me away.
Wes: And they’re incredible kids too. They both don’t live in LA and I think that’s a good thing. [laughs]
[laughs] That might not be a bad thing. With Disney remaking so many classic films, like The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella, in live action, what do you think it is that connects fans with these remakes?
Wes: Well, I think it’s savvy business on one hand. You’re reconnecting the adults, so they’re gonna want to go. And then you’ve got the kids, so you’ve got them both in the theater, the whole family. And on the other hand, these are classic stories, and classic stories should be retold.
Wes: I don’t have a problem with remakes when it’s a classic story, you know? When it’s a classic film alone, that’s when you run into a problem. Like I don’t think Point Break, you know, that’s a classic film, it’s not necessarily a classic story, it’s not something that generations would pass down to each other orally, you know? [laughs] It’s images were amazing, so that’s the difference with Disney films, they are like oral history, so it’s cool to see these remakes. I’m really happy to be a part of one. Even though they’re very different, the original was influential on my childhood.
Definitely. I think I saw it in kindergarten. What iconic Disney characters are some of your favorites?
Wes: The Mad Hatter and the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Anything Alice in Wonderland is very informative of me creatively.
That’s my favorite Disney film.
Wes: Yeah, I tried to get my kids to watch it, I think they’re still too young. But, anything; when I write, when I’m acting, when I do anything creative, that sort of storytelling is what I—I mean I loved The BFG because I felt like it was a similar world, the language was sort of clever, and that imagery too. The reason I say it is because I didn’t really read The BFG when I was a kid, so I had a great time watching that movie.
What classic Disney film do you think they should remake next?
Wes: This isn’t like, classic classic, but I think The Lion King would be cool. I think that’s a really good story.
It’s kinda like The Jungle Book, it was a hit musical.
Wes: Yeah, I think if they went that way that the musical went with it too, I’d be really interested in seeing that myself.
Disney and Marvel are obviously the kings of the superhero movies. In that world, which franchise or character would you like to portray?
Wes: That’s an impossible question to answer, because they’re already starting to scrape the barrel [laughs] and other guys have played all the good ones, so you know. I loved comic books but the only one I ever—the only hero before I would have ever wanted to play, now I don’t think I’d be interested in any of them—but Batman would’ve been the only one.
You’d be a great Batman.
Wes: Thank you very much. But I’m not interested any more. There’s so many and it seems so blown out. It feels like the well is dry.
You mind if I ask you some questions about American Horror Story?
Wes: I won’t be able to answer any of them, but you can ask. [laughs]
Well this is from last season. Did you know that your character was insane last season before, or did you know when you got the actual script?
Wes: I knew before. I sat down with Ryan [Murphy] before we started shooting and he told me that surprise. He told me the only reason he wanted me to know is so that I would add elements to it. He didn’t want it to be not knowing.
And then that twist comes in.
Wes: Yeah, so then on a rewatch you can maybe catch some moments. If you were surprised by it you can catch some moments that would be like, “oh, I see that there.”
You had a huge roll in Hotel. What can we expect from you this season?
Wes: I have no idea. [laughs]
Good answer, good answer. Would you like to keep doing more seasons of American Horror Story or is this one gonna be it for you?
Wes: I don’t know. It’s hard to make that decision now. What’s cool about that show is they always change it up. It’s a great show, it’s fun to be a part of it right now.
I know that this next season is about Roanoke Island, the disappearance and stuff like that—
Wes: I have no idea.
I think that was officially released.
Wes: I have no idea if it is or not.
I was gonna ask: if it were about Roanoke Island, let’s say, what do you think a guy like you would be doing there?
Wes: [laughs] You know hypotheticals are tough in this business, I can’t really speak to that. [laughs] I honestly can’t say a thing.
Other upcoming projects that you might have going on?
Wes: Nothing yet, just Pete’s Dragon right now.
Pete’s Dragon is now playing in U.S. theaters.