Pete’s Dragon: Interview with Wes Bentley

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As part of my trip to LA for the Pete’s Dragon premiere, we interviewed Wes Bentley. While all of my expenses were paid, my experiences and opinions are my own.

Wes Bentley Interview

Photo Credit: Jana Seitzer | Merlot Mommy

Wes Bentley is a Disney dad. He’s been a Disney fan since he was a kid, and was excited to be a part of a movie with them and to do something that his could kids could see while they’re young.

We talked to him about his role as Jack, working with Robert Redford, the lumbering industry and riding on the back of a dragon with Bryce Dallas Howard, and so much more!

Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, Wes Bentley is Jack and Oona Laurence is Natalie in Disney's PETE'S DRAGON, the adventure of a boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot who just happens to be a dragon.

Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, Wes Bentley is Jack and Oona Laurence is Natalie in Disney’s PETE’S DRAGON, the adventure of a boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot who just happens to be a dragon.

While Wes didn’t have to audition for Jack (David Lowery wanted him in the role) we were wondering how he transitioned from his darker characters (American Horror story) to Jack in Pete’s Dragon. He says that it didn’t feel like it should have been hard but he’s a nice guy. But…he says he was aware of his film habits and what people saw him has. And then there were his eyebrows.

I was very aware of my eyebrows – trying to make sure my my face showed my inner feelings which doesn’t always happen. I’ve always had to deal with, “Why are you so mad?” or “What are you angry about?” when I, you know, wasn’t. I wasn’t. I was thinking about lollipops and cotton candy. Because my face just sits like that.

Wes’s character, Jack, works for a lumber mill in Pete’s Dragon. He did research about lumbering to help support him in his role.

I tried to learn as much about lumbering and felling I think it’s called. I did try to learn as much as I could about the types and versions of lumbering that you can do and what were the most environmentally impactful and tried to convey that to Jack.

I feel like Jack was walking the balance of having to make money for his company and all these men in this small town depending on that company. And at the same time was himself environmentally aware of it but also becoming more environmentally aware because of who he was in love with and her {Grace}, what she cared about.

In the film, his brother Gavin, had a different vision about lumbering.

He (Gavin) wanted to make money and was trying to be clever in that way. And that’s why he was a bit dangerous and that’s the conflict that was happening there. We also built on some other stuff between Gavin and Jack that sort of is on the peripheral of the movie but informs us that Gavin had made mistakes before and sort of led us down the wrong road. And that’s why I was handed the keys to the family business.

Wes Bentley is Jack in and Karl Urban is Gavin in Disney's PETE'S DRAGON, the adventures of a boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon.

Wes Bentley is Jack in and Karl Urban is Gavin in Disney’s PETE’S DRAGON, the adventures of a boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon.

He talks more about the lumber industry towards the end of our Interview as well.

Lumber in New Zealand is one of their major exports. And there were places we shot in was basically tree farms. We’d go through whole sections trying to get back to these sets where it was all torn down trees. Once they’re felled… they can’t regrow them there for a really long time. I can’t remember how long it is. It’s a decade or more. So you’re just seeing this big swath of land that’s just dead trees. And you know they’re going to something useful and they’re re-growing all this other stuff but it’s an eye sore and the reaction to it is hard.

It kind of hits you to the core ’cause it’s you know, the world, the earth’s part of us, we’re part of the earth. You can sense it there. There are definitely better ways to do it now where the trees can grow back quicker. But a lot of times you’re growing back quicker just to cut ’em down again. We use it so much. It’s part of our lives. So it (lumbering) is a legitimate industry.

There are families that depend on it. What I learned is that it’s a hard balance in the end and it’s not just a simple we shouldn’t do it kind of thing. It’s just can we do it responsibly. And I think they work on it. I think there are elements of the business that work hard on that. And I learned that. And that felt better. It wasn’t just people going and trying to find, like Gavin, just trying to find as many trees as he can.

Of course we had to ask Wes about his belief in dragons and seeing things through a child’s eyes and whether he walked away from the film with more of a kid at heart.

David’s (Lowery) got that in him -you can see the kid in him. It’s just all over him. So having all those imaginative elements and having a love for the first film myself, the idea of the imaginary friend or the dragon in your life as a kid, those things, it brought back all that. You know, my imagination was really hyperactive as a child and animated as you could say. I had those elements and so those things change as you live life and go through the hardships. Which is why I love this film for everybody. I feel like it can kind of reawaken that, that feeling which you kind of hope for in a movie like this, right? They kind of go directly at it with an invisible dragon.

Did Wes have a super-unique imaginary friend when he was a kid. Well, not really. He had something else.

I didn’t. I would create in my head I had all these clubs and I was like the club president of all of ’em. So one was called,I don’t remember what those shoes were called. They had like lights on ’em, from the ’80s, anyway. So I named a club after them, and so I had in my head I had like this whole like clubhouse underneath the fence in my backyard and all these friends who were in the club. And we lived in rural Arkansas so it wasn’t like there was a kid next door to tell ’em to come over and play. You had to sort of do that.

We talked to Wes about how being a parent affected him playing a dad in the movie.

It’s great that I’m a dad to be able to, to use those, even though these kids were in a different age group than I, than my kids were. But you know the idea’s the same and so it was helpful in every way. I think Jack’s first priority was his daughter and everything he was doing was to make sure life was good for her.

We all feel that about our kids, right? I mean, it’s all about them. And you walk in that fine line of being, of teaching lessons but also being supportive and there for them so they that you’re not the kind of parent that they end up not wanting to talk to. It’s hard to find that balance. I think Jack’s finding that balance too. So it was just about every element I could use from my own experience with my kids.

Them being there helped too, that my kids were there. {In NZ while filming} And I’ve sort of going directly from being Dad {in the film} to being Dad.

Just like Bryce, Oakes & Oona, Wes had good things to say about working with Robert Redford.

Oh, it’s great. It’s everything you think it’s gonna be. He’s someone I always wanted to emulate as an actor. His natural delivery, his charm, his selection of roles and what he can play. He’s just a warm man. He came to set, always had great stories, talked to everybody, about everything. And then you’d watch him act and he just comes on and he, he’s just there. And it seems so easy for him, you know? And it’s just great to see that. His love for film is very clear as well. His love for really making good film. He and David really clicked too and that was fun to watch them have a sort of language, a filmmaking language that I could learn from maybe one day if I was ever gonna make a film.

Wes went on to talk about what he learned from Redford, and other film actors from that era – “the golden era which was the ’70s of filmmaking” – how they had stage training and that there was more devotion to the craft. He mentions the music industry follows a similar trait, and at times it’s really manufactured. Wes wants to be more like those guys in the 70s, and focus on the craft first.

Wes’s favorite moments while filming won’t surprise you.

Being up on the fake dragon with Bryce and the wind blowing. It’s early on in the filmmaking and we’re making jokes with each other trying to make each other laugh and how big we could smile when we’re, when we’re up on the back of the dragon. That was a fun day.

And, another one would be in the car, when they break through the barn {with the dragon} and everyone’s chasing them and we’ve got all of those actors there. It felt a bit like it’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World where everyone’s looking for the money. {’60s film or something like that} And that great cast, we just had everyone together and we’re all standing together and we had to all run to our cars as fast as we could and take off after this truck.

It was just kind of crazy and wild and funny and everyone was giddy from all the action and making jokes and laughing. We had a good group of extras from that little town called Tapanui and they were just so psyched. Such a sweet group, opened their arms to us and they had the best time shooting all day in some kind of tough conditions ’cause it was a muddy set. It was raining a lot and it was cold and they were just so warm and that was a fun scene to do ’cause everyone was just having a great time.

I love the common theme of the love for New Zealand, Elliot, working with Robert Redford and family have been a reoccurring topic in all of my Pete’s Dragon interviews. 🙂 It really shows in the movie! Be sure to read my other cast interviews!

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About Kerri Jablonski

Kerri Jablonski AKA The Maven lives in Seattle,WA with her 3 kids (2008, 2010, 2013), husband, cat and backyard chickens. Two of her children have special needs. Kerri enjoys cooking, travel, movies and spending time with her family.

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