Actor Wes Bentley rebuilds his career

Sitting in the Off Broadway theater where he has begun to put his career back together, in the new play “Venus in Fur,” the actor Wes Bentley takes a deep breath, leans forward in his seat, and starts answering the obvious question: What happened to him after the film “American Beauty”?

Eleven years ago Mr. Bentley was a 21-year-old Juilliard dropout living in Los Angeles with a Polaroid for a head shot and not enough money to eat at Taco Bell. But after his performance as the stoner-voyeur Ricky Fitts in “American Beauty,” which won the Academy Award for best picture, he was riding in limos and drawing paparazzi. Admiring film critics were forecasting a bright future for him.

“I wanted fame, but I thought it would be incremental, and I became afraid of the overnight-sensation thing,” Mr. Bentley said, speaking to a reporter about his life since “American Beauty,” after a decade of keeping his own secrets. “I started walking into rooms, and everyone would look at me, and I would freeze up. People kept saying, ‘You have to find your next movie,’ and that didn’t make life any better.”

His is both a familiar and cautionary Hollywood tale. After his initial success, Mr. Bentley said, he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stardom that he was unprepared for, and then addiction took over his life for several years.

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Actors, Hollywood


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