Rising out of relative obscurity in the late 1990s to capture audiences' attention with his riveting portrayal of an alienated youth in "American Beauty" (1999), actor Wes Bentley quickly plunged from star of the moment to cautionary tale as his career and life unraveled due to drug addiction. An intense performer with an almost supernatural stillness to his screen persona, Bentley was the subject of considerable media coverage after "Beauty" scored multiple Oscar wins, but he found himself unable to cope with the intense scrutiny. Alcohol use blossomed into cocaine and heroin addiction, and Bentley fed his disease through appearances in dreadful pictures like "Ghost Rider" (2007). In 2009, he reclaimed his sobriety and began to slowly rebuild his career through carefully chosen projects like the New York stage play "Venus in Fur" (2010), followed by a prominent role in the highly-anticipated blockbuster "The Hunger Games" (2012). Bentley's tragic story had a hopeful ending, which in turn gave the once wayward actor that rarest of commodities in Hollywood - a second chance.
Born Wesley Cook Bentley in Jonesboro, AR on Sept. 4, 1978, he was the son of David and Cherie Bentley, both United Methodist ministers. He developed an interest in acting after the family moved to Sherwood. There, he joined the drama club at Sylvan Hills High School, and formed an improv comedy troupe with his older brother, Philip, and some friends. Bentley was a fixture of local theater and performance competitions, which led him to seriously study the craft at the Juilliard School in New York. However, Bentley dropped out in favor of gaining real-life experience in stage productions while supporting himself through menial jobs. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles, where he roomed with a group of fellow aspiring actors, including Brad Rowe, Chad Lindberg, Gregory Fawcett and Tony Zierra. Their career aspirations later became the focus of a documentary directed by Zierra, who would capture the lightning in a bottle that epitomized Bentley's career in the late 1990s.
After making his debut in the micro-budget indie "Three Below Zero" (1998), Bentley landed a minor role in Jonathan Demme's "Beloved" (1999). That same year, he earned his big break in "American Beauty" as Ricky Fitts, the seemingly unhinged, voyeuristic neighbor to Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his dysfunctional family. With his angular frame and piercing eyes, Bentley fit the part of the local oddball, but also found an offbeat poetry in the character, most notably in a scene where he shows footage of the most beautiful thing he has ever filmed - a plastic bag twisting in the wind - to Burnham's disaffected teenaged daughter, Jane (Thora Birch). Bentley's performance wowed critics and audiences alike, earning him the Breakthrough Performance Award from the National Board of Review and numerous nominations. "American Beauty" announced Bentley as a major new talent in Hollywood, but the actor was wholly unprepared for the trajectory that followed.
Part of the problem Bentley faced was a mounting drug problem that had elevated from casual marijuana and alcohol use as a teen to full-blown cocaine and Ecstasy while living with Zierra and the other actors-in-training. The runaway success of "American Beauty" elevated Bentley from unknown to new-minted superstar, and the pressures that came with such a boost caused him to retreat further into isolation and drug use. Soon, he added heroin to his daily diet, and began taking film roles to support his habit. Bentley's descent began slowly; after "American Beauty," he had his choice of scripts, and made some thoughtful, artistic-minded choices. He was a railroad company representative who entangled the complicated lives of a miner, his wife and the spouse and child he traded for land rights in Michael Winterbottom's "The Claim" (2000), as well as shared the screen with Heath Ledger in the period epic "Four Feathers" (2002). The latter was an expensive flop, while "The Claim" failed to interest arthouse audiences. These misfires, as well as the supernatural thriller "Soul Survivors" (2001), stagnated Bentley's career. However, his growing drug use required him to continue working, and by his own estimation, he took film roles from 2002 through 2009 solely to feed his addictions.
Like Anthony Perkins before him, the conviction of Bentley's performance in "American Beauty" typecast him as eccentrics of all stripes, from mildly offbeat to dangerously psychotic. Most of these roles were for eminently forgettable films like Allan Moyle's "Weirdsville" (2007) and the derivative thriller "P2" (2007), which cast Bentley as a security guard obsessed with an office worker (Rachel Nichols). He also received uniformly negative reviews for his turn as the son of Satan (Peter Fonda) in the campy Nicolas Cage vehicle, "Ghost Rider" (2007).
Off-camera, Bentley's life was descending into unmanageable chaos. He was spending his nights consuming cocaine at clubs and sleeping through his days, then trolling the city's darkest corners for heroin. An impulsive marriage to actress Jennifer Quanz in 2001 unraveled over the course of his addiction, and by 2006, Bentley was living apart from his wife and doing drugs round the clock. In 2008, Bentley was arrested and pleaded guilty to heroin possession and attempting to pass counterfeit currency. After completing his community service and counseling, he relapsed and quickly ran through all of his money. He hit bottom in 2009 when he holed up in a hotel room, convinced that he would die. Bentley reached out to a friend, who brought him to a rehabilitation program.
In 2009, Tony Zienna released "My Big Break," the documentary he had filmed while living with Bentley and his fellow actors. The project covered the rush of fame that enveloped Bentley after "American Beauty," as well as his downfall and recovery. Meanwhile, Bentley continued to rebuild his career and reputation, working steadily in low-budget features like the Stephen King adaptation "Dolan's Cadillac" (2009) as a schoolteacher who ran afoul of a vicious gangster (Christian Slater). In 2010, he returned to mainstream features in Roland Joffe's "There Be Dragons," a wartime drama about a Spanish youth (Bentley) whose failed romance with a Hungarian revolutionary (Olga Kurylenko) led him to betray his country during its Civil War. That same year, he received solid reviews for his performance in "Venus in Fur," a two-person stage drama about a playwright (Bentley) and an actress (Nina Arianda) who became involved in a sexual and emotional struggle while rehearsing his latest work.
Bentley continued his reemergence with a supporting role in the thriller "Gone" (2012), as a sympathetic cop trying to help a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) who claims that her sister has been kidnapped by the same serial killer who had abducted her years earlier. And while that offering came and went from theaters largely unnoticed, the same could not be said for Bentley's next project. Based on the first volume of a best-selling trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games" (2012) was a grim tale of a future in which a draconian government holds a yearly televised competition which pits teens against each other in a battle for survival. For his part in the highly-anticipated film, Bentley portrayed Seneca Crane, a "gamemaker" for the barbaric titular contest.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Early film credit, "Three Below Zero"
Had supporting role in "Beloved"
Breakthrough feature role as Ricky Fitts, a former mental patient who deals drugs in "American Beauty"
Landed title role in "The White River Kid" as a serial killer (Starz)
Portrayed a railroad surveyor in 1860s California in "The Claim"
Co-starred in "Soul Survivors" alongside Eliza Dushku and Luke Wilson
Cast alongside Heath Ledger in the remake of "The Four Feathers"
Cast in "The Game of Their Lives," based on the true story of the 1950 U.S. soccer team that beat England
Dropped out of Lee Daniels' indie feature "Shadowboxer"
Co-starred with Nicolas Cage in "Ghost Rider"
Starred in the Allan Moyle directed "Weirdsville" alongside Taryn Manning and Scott Speedman
Co-starred with Winona Ryder in the offbeat romantic dramedy "The Last Word"
Starred in the thriller "Dolan's Cadillac," based on a short story by Stephen King
Made off-Broadway debut in David Ives' "Venus in Fur"
Cast in supporting role opposite Josh Brolin and John Malkovich in "Jonah Hex"
Co-starred with Amanda Seyfried in the drama thriller "Gone"
Cast as the Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane in the feature adaptation of "The Hunger Games," based on the novel by Suzanne Collins