He didn't know it at the time, but the downward spiral 21-year-old actor Wes Bentley took after his flush of success in the 1999 Oscar-winning film American Beauty would later help him build his character for the just-released There Be Dragons.
Unable to handle the pressure of sudden fame and wealth at such a young age, Bentley turned to drugs. His addiction took over his life and he all but dropped out of acting, except for taking the occasional job when he'd run out of money.
For There Be Dragons, Bentley plays Manolo Torres, a fictional character that grows up with the real-life Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, a controversial organization within the Catholic church. Bentley spoke with Art Attack about playing Torres, his research into Opus Dei and why a disco dance isn't a good idea for the after-party of a serious, somber religious film.
"[Torres] is a very dark guy, in a very dark place. And he's isolated," Bentley says. "There had been a time in my own life that was very dark and ... I had pushed away all the good things in my life. I was just coming out of that phase in my life when I took on this role. That helped me understand him."
Motivated by resentment and anger, Torres is a complicated, unpleasant character. "For Manolo it was all about jealously," Bentley says. "At first, he was jealous of the impact that Josemaría had, the strength that he had. Later he was jealous of the conviction Josemaría had, the purity of spirit. Manolo was never pure in anything he did. For him, everything was convoluted and complex."
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While Torres is a fictional character, Bentley was able to do some research into the life of Escrivá. "I figured that all I needed to know was in the Dan Brown novels, so I just read those," he laughs. "No, no, I'm just kidding. Actually, I didn't know anything before, but I really learned a lot during the rehearsals. And, of course, I did a lot of reading on my own.
"Because it wasn't a huge part of my role in the film, I didn't do as much research as some of the others did. I actually avoided some of it so that it wouldn't influence my perspective. I wanted to stay focused on the immediate lessons that he was learning from Josemaría as a friend."
Bentley attended a premiere screening of There be Dragons in Spain, Escrivá's homeland. "A lot of people came out of the theater and were very emotional, some of them were crying," he says. "It was very strange because we walked out of the screening and then went directly to the after-party. There was a DJ playing terrible music from the '80s, there were disco balls and nowhere to sit. You could tell nobody was in the mood for a party like that. It was a terrible idea," he laughs.
There Be Dragons is currently open in limited release.