In the new Pete’s Dragon movie, there are different takes on the furry green dragon, Elliot. There’s the “seeing is believing” realist forest ranger, Grace. The young Natalie who accepts his existence without any fear or hesitation. Then, we have the impetuous and possessive brother, Gavin, seeking his ticket to fame. Tying these three together is the character of Jack, played by Wes Bentley. Jack is engaged to Grace, the father of Natalie, and is Gavin’s brother. What a struggle in loyalties!
Pete’s Dragon — Wes Bentley Interview
We had a chance to talk with Wes Bentley about his role in the film. But, our interview with Wes was BEFORE we saw the movie. So, we had a limited knowledge of the movie as we went through some questions with him. It was funny how we all tried to steer clear of spoilers, though. 😛
After some chitchat about how amazing it was to film in New Zealand, we got into the interview. First off, one person asked what it meant for Wes to be in a Disney film.
I’ve been a Disney fan from when I was a kid and I was excited to be a part of a movie with them. Especially because I have young kids, I wanted to do something that my kids could see while they’re young.
He didn’t show his son the original film since the art style is so different. His son is particularly picky when it comes to that and won’t watch certain films because of it. Wes’ son did get to play a big role in helping with filming the new movie.
He would come to the set with me and the assistant directors would get him to go get actors out of their trailers and get them to makeup. Then they’d give him a New Zealand dollar for the day.
Wes Bentley Interview — Playing A Different Type of Role
Wes didn’t have to audition for the role. He had met with the director earlier for another project. But the director wanted him to be in this movie. Wes just had to convince the director that he could play a nice Disney dad. It worked, but it was a challenge to not pull up experience from the darker characters he’s played in the past.
It didn’t feel like it should be hard because I am a nice guy and I have my own kids. But I was aware of my film habits because I have for so long played guys who are darker, or dealing with very complex issues and with their darker sides.
He had to be more aware of his expression, particularly his eyebrows.
Just trying to make sure my face showed my inner feelings doesn’t always happen. I’ve always had to deal with, “Why are you so mad?” or “What are you angry about?” when I wasn’t. I was thinking about lollipops and cotton candy. But because my [expression] just sits like that. So, I did work on being aware of my expression.
Wes Bentley Interview — Research & Childhood Memories
To prepare for the role, Wes learned as much as possible about lumbering and its environmental impact. He also dived into how his character was the responsible and level-headed one of the two brothers.
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 becoming more environmentally aware because of who he was in love with and what she cared about.
While Wes never had any imaginary friends as a child, he did have a “hyperactive” imagination. This film brought back all of those memories.
I would create in my head I had all these clubs and I was like the club president of all of them. … So I had in my head a whole clubhouse underneath the fence in my backyard and all these friends who were in the club. We lived in rural Arkansas so it wasn’t like there was a kid next door to tell them to come over and play. So you had to sort of do that.
Wes Bentley Interview — Lasting Effects
Being able to film with Robert Redford was a valuable learning experience for Wes. He feels that Robert is one of those great actors who came from a great time during the golden era of movie making. A time where actors truly worked on honing their craft.
It’s more his approach to the day and to the on-set rehearsal. He was letting the scene create the moment as much as he was trying to impact the moment. You’ve got scenes where the actors are sometimes asked to impact the scene and make the scene what it is with an effort. Then there are other times where the scene’s just there and you don’t need to do that. Great actors know the difference.
The role of Jack, as well as the stay in New Zealand, affected Wes’ view of the issues facing the environment. People rely so much on the industry but the trees are not able to grow back fast enough to fill demand. There are ways to make the trees grow faster but then it’s only so they can be cut down again.
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.
It was great to be able to talk with Wes about this supporting role. Pete’s Dragon showcases many differing views. So, it’s nice to have one central character to tie these and to bring home the main message of the movie. And that is to value family, even in the many forms it can take.
Pete’s Dragon is now in theaters nationwide!
- Visit the official website: http://movies.disney.com/petes-dragon-2016
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I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip as a guest of Disney in honor of the Pete’s Dragon movie. All opinions are my own.