CNS REPORT: By Alicia Ambrosio
Catholic News Service
MADRID (CNS) -- Playing a character with no apparent redeeming qualities was a blessing that helped Wes Bentley regain sobriety after years of addiction and isolation.
The actor made the comments to journalists in Madrid for the premiere of director Roland Joffe's film, "There Be Dragons," about the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei.
Bentley, the son of two Methodist ministers from Jonesboro, Ark., said he grew up in a "loving, supportive, spiritually strong family." Over time he said he "drifted into another world" where "things got very dark and lonely. I had isolated myself from everybody who cared about me."
The first scenes Bentley was asked to shoot were scenes in which his character, Manolo, was 78 years old, on his deathbed and about to reveal long-held secrets to his son.
In the film, Manolo grew up with and attended the seminary with St. Josemaria but left after one year and ended up becoming a spy for fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, tore apart families, as well as the country.
Manolo's decisions would lead him down a path of betrayal, vengeance and isolation.
Bentley said staring at himself in the mirror as an old man made him realize that he did not want to end up in the same position. "I had many things in my life I had to put right and it was scary, very frightening, and that was the turning point where I started making the right decisions," he said.
What further helped Bentley on his road to recovery were the people working on the film. "The people on it were the most important part," he said.
Before arriving on the film set, Bentley had stopped using the substances he had been abusing. "But the hole in my heart was so large that some of (the cast members), when I was expressing things, they could see that. They were there for me without knowing they were. ... They were there to help me," the actor said.
One of those cast members was Charlie Cox, the British actor who portrayed St. Josemaria in the film. He came into the film not having ever heard of the saint even though he was raised Catholic.
To prepare for the role, he read biographies about St. Josemaria, visited Opus Dei centers and did a weeklong retreat with Father John Wauk, the Opus Dei priest who served as a consultant to the film.
Cox said the process of preparation not only helped him understand sanctity, but also helped him reconnect with his own faith in God.
Asked what made St. Josemaria a saint, Cox said, "It's a lifetime of consistently beautiful decisions, and a lifetime of dedicating his life to the work, which for me is what made this man saintly."
The actor said reading the Spanish saint's writings he realized that the principles espoused by St. Josemaria are very simple, but difficult to apply to one's daily life. Cox said he also gained a new understanding of faith and how it can grow and change.
During the retreat, he and Father Wauk would get up early every morning and do a one-hour meditation that would begin with the two men getting on their knees and Father Wauk saying, "I firmly believe you are here, that you hear me." Cox said on the fourth or fifth day of the retreat he told Father Wauk that he couldn't identify with that statement, because he did not firmly believe God was there.
"What I'm understanding now is that's OK," he said. "That faith (Father Wauk) is describing is not entirely or necessarily an act of his own will, it's a gift, it's a grace," the actor said.
Cox said once he had started inviting God in to his life on a regular basis, he noticed his faith began to grow. "I find myself getting closer to that place that Father John describes" he said.
The moment that consoled Cox most regarding his faith was watching a DVD of St. Josemaria giving a talk in Chile. "He said, 'Some days you may wake up and you may have no faith, you may feel like you have no faith, no inclination to speak to God that day. What you do with that is you tell him that, and you involve him in that,'" the actor recalled. "That was key for me."
"There Be Dragons" is based on St. Josemaria's early life. Most events depicted in the film either actually happened or were based on things that happened. The character Manolo is fictional, but based on people St. Josemaria knew.
The film, which premiered in Madrid March 23, was scheduled to open in the United States May 6.