The Hunger Games
Credit: Murray Close

Wes Bentley has come a long way since he first burst onto the scene in 1999’s American Beauty, the Oscar-winning film that featured him playing Kevin Spacey’s odd-ball neighbor. He recoiled from the fame and opportunity, and spiraled hard into the sludge of addiction. The 33-year-old has since pulled himself out of the poison, and is a proud husband and the father of a baby boy. “I’m now at two and a half years sober,” he tells EW. “A little over two and half years. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that I’m alive, much less than I’m able to do the things I’m able to do just on a daily basis. Back then I was stuck. I literally physically couldn’t move before and now I have a 14 month old son and I’m back in the sunlight.”

Bentley now finds himself back in the spotlight, with a pivotal role in the movie adaptation of the Hunger Games. And he’s bringing some of his hard-won lessons to the role of arrogant Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker who considers such brutal blood sport the highest form of entertainment. “Seneca’s young and he became very successful young and wildly successful for a minute,” says Bentley. “And I’ve had that experience in my life and it all went to my head as it does for so many of us. I lost touch with reality and I thought everything I did would turn to gold. It is nothing like where I’m at in my life now. I’ve gone through the ringer on a few things. I’ve learned how to be humble and thankful for things that come to me. But it’s fun to jump back into that world in a safe way. I had a blast playing Seneca.”

One of the great joys Bentley says he experienced on set was admiring the grace and good humor with which Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, who plays trilogy hero Katniss Everdeen, carried herself. “I was about the same age that she is now when American Beauty came out,” he says. “I remember looking at her and thinking ‘Okay, I wish I would have done it that way.’ She has a sense of humor about it all and she has a clear idea of what fame is. I don’t know why she has it and I didn’t but I really didn’t. I let fame scare me. I ran from it. But you don’t have to do that.”

And so he’s determined to enjoy this second shot at a working actor’s life. After The Hunger Games wrapped, he started shooting a new drama Time Being alongside Frank Langella and Ahna O’Reilly (The Help). “It helps to be sober and be in this world,” he says. “Not just sober meaning not drinking and doing drugs, but my mind is sober. I’m clear about my life now. I actually really want to be a part of great projects like this and I actually enjoy the promotion aspects of it now. I’ve found out I do like that stuff.”

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The Hunger Games
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