Actor Wes Bentley is finally embracing his celebrity after spending a decade battling drug and alcohol addictions and a fear of attention, to make his big screen comeback with a coveted role in "The Hunger Games."
Bentley, 33, exploded onto the scene aged 21 with a breakout role in the 1999 Oscar-winning film "American Beauty," playing the voyeuristic shy boy-next-door Ricky Fitts, thrusting the young Juilliard dropout into the spotlight.
The Arkansas native found himself struggling with the newfound attention, turning to drugs and alcohol for solace and spiraling into addiction, leading to his separation from wife Jennifer Quanz in 2006, and a 2008 arrest for heroin possession.
Now he's back in the spotlight with "The Hunger Games", playing game maker Seneca Crane - the mind behind the violent contest - and engaged in a power battle with oppressive ruler of a futuristic America in the film which opens on Friday.
"I didn't handle it particularly well...and I was already prone to vices," Bentley told Reuters of his first brush with fame.
"I turned to things I thought make me feel comfortable, which were drugs and alcohol. But those weren't the most dangerous things, it was the reclusiveness - I shut off from family and friends."
He finally overcame his addictions in 2009 and is now happily married again.
After the success of "American Beauty," Bentley was offered big commercial roles, including the box-office hit "Spider-Man," a role that was eventually taken by Tobey Maguire. But he rejected the big money.
"I didn't want to go there because I believed in what I did in 'American Beauty,' and I had so many expectations, higher expectations for myself to do something like that again," said the actor.
Those expectations were coupled with a fear of attention, which Bentley said led him to choose nothing, including "really great scripts" for films that were later made with other actors.
"I regret not doing them and they're painful to watch sometimes. But they're a reminder, if I had those opportunities again, I'm clearer now in what I want to do and part of that has to do with age and experience," he said.
NEW "GAMES," NEW BEGINNINGS
After making independent films such as "Soul Survivors" in 2001 and "Weirdsville" in 2007, Bentley embraced the commercial film market with "The Hunger Games," which is expected to be one of the biggest box-office hits of 2012.
The film, based on the first novel in a best-selling young adult series by author Suzanne Collins, sees 24 teens sent to fight to the death in an annual televised event in the nation of Panem.
"Making the choices (my character) Seneca Crane does, you already start to see there's a different thinking to the Games than what was originally intended, which was essentially a punishment and a control mechanism. Seneca is purely about ratings and a great show," said Bentley.
Drawing parallels between the film and the cultural impact of reality television, he added; "If you just take a look at who's considered a celebrity now, it's nobody who's proven anything, and everyone's got their camera on them. It makes it worth less."
Bentley found himself working with the Oscar-nominated 21-year-old actress Jennifer Lawrence on "The Hunger Games," and was impressed not only with her talent, but also by her grasp of celebrity.
"Jen's the same age as me when 'American Beauty' came out...so I was looking at Jen and I thought, 'should I say something of advice or anything?'...but I knew that she had it more together than I did. She's much more prepared for it than I feel like I was," said Bentley.
For Bentley, "The Hunger Games" spells a new chapter in his career, with upcoming roles in "Lovelace" and "Hirokin," and he is eager to make more fulfilling career choices now that he is a father to one-year-old son Charles.
"From this point forward, I want those choices to be of quality...I think that's setting a good example, a good work ethic that I want to instill as much as I can on my son."
"I think more importantly than him seeing me on the big screen right now is that later, when he's taking a look back, he knows that for the most part of his dad's life, he made choices that were of quality and effect," said Bentley.