Knight of Cups, the seventh motion picture from legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick, stars Christian Bale as Rick, a successful but disillusioned screenwriter trying to find meaning in his glittering but empty Los Angeles life. Rick sets out on a surreal, dreamlike quest that involves not just a number of women from his past, but a series of intense confrontations with his younger brother Barry, played by Wes Bentley (Interstellar, The Hunger Games, American Horror Story).
Unlike his brother, Barry has had a much harder time of it, and when we meet him he is just emerging from a long struggle with drugs and alcohol. The fractured relationship between the two siblings is one of the core elements of Knight of Cups, involving a process of healing that ultimately leads back to their father (Brian Dennehy) and the effect he had on both of them.
As with other recent Malick films like The Tree of Life and To The Wonder, there is not so much a narrative as a series of collage-like encounters that indirectly give us insight into the character of Rick, the people who intersect with his life and quest, and Malick’s larger themes. The filmmaking process through which Malick attains that is a challenging one, which Bentley discussed when we sat down with him this week in Los Angeles.
How did working with Terrence Malick meet your expectations or challenge them? He’s this mythic figure, what was it like being on set with him?
Wes Bentley: My favorite thing to learn about Terry, because of the mythical figure that he is, was his sense of humor. He’s hilarious. And it’s all smart humor and he’s a very sweet person who cares about everybody he’s talking to. We had some really revealing and deep conversations just to start off the idea of how to put these characters together in this film, and I think we connected in a strong way, Terry and I, so he’s become someone very special to me.
How much did he give you about the character to start, and then how much did you sort of fill in yourself?
It’s interesting because it really was a conversation at first about who we were and having brothers – we both have brothers – and, you know, obviously been through a lot. So we really talked about that and then he told me about the relationship in the film between the two brothers, and that it was volatile and that it was full of pain, full of jealousy, but full of the need for healing, and how do we get there. So that was really the first ideas that were kicked around.
I read that he wanted you to come back and do some more filming after you had done your initial scenes. What do you think sparked that off, and can you also talk about building the chemistry with Christian?
You know, I can’t speak for Terry as to why he wanted to keep bringing me back on. I think it’s because I was into it, I’m into the process – you know, filmmaking with Terry is a totally, you have to drop all the rules you learned, you’ve got to do something different and challenging, and I was excited by that. I had a strong connection with Christian as well, as an actor especially. I think we both approach things in a similar way. I learned a lot from him on this. A lot. I had to bring 100 percent with Christian, and I was the one doing all the yelling, the energetic stuff, and it takes a real strong actor on the other side to allow you to do that and to let the impact show. I think we just had a natural chemistry from the moment we met so it all worked.
When the cameras stopped rolling, did you go to your corners or did the mood change and lighten up?
No, it’s surprising how light the mood was behind the camera. Even while you’re shooting, there’s a lot of laughing, people bumping into each other, ‘cause it’s a bit chaotic, the process – a lot of movement happening with cameras and people, and you’re on locations where people don’t necessarily know what to do when they’re making a movie because they don’t know they’re in a movie. So there’s a lot of laughing going on and like I said, Terry has a great sense of humor so he brought that as well. A lot of jokes.
Let me ask you really quickly about Pete’s Dragon because you’re in that too.
Yes I am. I’m very excited about Pete’s Dragon. I was a fan as a kid and I hear nothing but great things about it and it was a real magical experience making that movie.
Knight of Cups is now playing in theaters.