Thomas Bentey: Filmmaker, Writer and Actor
Jessica Gilbert: Thomas, it’s wonderful to have you in TSM and thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do an interview for the magazine.
Thomas Bentey: Thanks for including me in this issue. I’m happy to talk about my first feature film.
Jessica Gilbert: I know that you started out in acting, and then script writing and directing. What inspired you to get into acting? And what was it that got you interested in script writing and directing?
Thomas Bentey: I always loved performing. When I was a kid, I liked making my cousins laugh at family parties. From an early age, I knew that great performances could have such an amazing affect on people. I saw the first Batman movie in theaters and was just fascinated my Jack Nicholson’s “Joker.” It was so special, so interesting; it just mesmerized me.
I expanded into writing and directing because all the independent films I acted in (despite extreme hype from producers/directors) went absolutely nowhere. Not only did I like performing, but I always had a strong affinity for story-telling. I enrolled in the Master or Arts program at the New School, while continuing to learn the Meisner acting technique.
Thomas Bentey: “Balthasar” in Romeo and Juliet, The College of New Jersey-October 2000.
I played an all around scum bag in a student film called Wasteland at Rutgers in 2002, which made my cousins laugh very, very hard. But the role that is most memorable for me is good old “Joe Lombardi,” suburban journalist from Edison, New Jersey in At the Jersey Shore. “Joe,” while not a dynamic/cool character, did a good job at opening up his eyes to the beauty and serenity of the area. He represented the disdain that many have for the Shore and changed his perspective throughout the film.
Jessica Gilbert: How do you prepare for a role?
Thomas Bentey: It’s about being real. Meisner technique is about being in the moment, working off of other actors and using real life circumstances to bring about emotions. I always ask; how am I like this character? What can I bring to this performance? How do we differ? Who do I know that reminds me of this character? I don’t want to “play” someone; I want to bring myself and my perspective on the character, to the situations in the script.
Jessica Gilbert: Can you share a funny or embarrassing moment you’ve had on stage?
Thomas Bentey: Well, during that first role of “Balthasar,” I missed my cue in one of the performances. The actors on stage improvised, but I was so embarrassed. It took so much courage just to audition and then that happened!
Jessica Gilbert: Tell us about your film At the Jersey Shore.
Thomas Bentey: It’s about the duality of the area, the duality of people. I found beautiful beach days, followed by club chaos to be a very interesting dynamic. The film is also about breaking down stereotypes and finding truth. Not a phony, sugarcoated or glorified truth, but something real.
The supporting characters are great at pulling “Joe” between the different aspects of the shore.
“Danny” is the true Jerseyian. He is a lover of all that the area has to offer and wants to meet his wife in the clubs.
“Marc” was a nerd in high school who has now transformed himself into a club- going, drug-taking, fornicating, party animal.
“Ashley” loves to party, but has other interests besides “house music” and vodka-cranberries.
My character thinks he is way better than the place, but is trying to make sense of it all. His perspective changes and I hope the audiences’ does too.
Thomas Bentey: Hurricane Sandy’s recent devastation on the area is utterly heartbreaking. The images of the Seaside Heights Boardwalk almost completely destroyed, was particularly hard to take. That wasn’t just pieces of wood and metal floating in the ocean, that’s where we spent some of the best times of our lives. Seaside is a “not so far away” vacationland, filled with excitement, bombast and craziness. Memories made there had an everlasting impression on the lives of so many people, including my own. Playing boardwalk games as a kid, riding bikes on the boardwalk with my parents, prom weekends in the dingy hotels, eating pizza with friends, young romances, partying in the clubs till dawn; impacted my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain.
There’s not one thing that makes the shore so special or vastly different from other seaside communities. The spirit of the area is what brings people back year after year; a spirit is too strong and beautiful to let anything keep it down for long.
I love to travel and experience new cultures, but there’s not another place in the world I’d rather spend my summers than the New Jersey Shore. Most shore-goers feel the same way.
Jessica Gilbert: Who are your major filmmaker, writer and actor influences?
Spieldberg is great for his unbelievable combination of both heart and technique. Scorsese has incredible creative vision. Coppola made the best movie of all time. And Spike Lee tells the truth.
Marlon Brando in Street Car changed the world of acting forever.
Jimmy Stewart was so likeable and real, the quintessential “everyman.”
Robert DeNiro, of course is brilliant; Deer Hunter just blew me away, that Roulette scene is unbelievable. Recently, I thought he was great in Everything’s Fine. I have three siblings, that movie really hits home for me.
Al Pacino can play both subtle and intense extremely well.
Sylvester Stallone in Rocky is one of my all time favorites. Stallone did exactly what I want to do.
I think George Clooney is making some great films these days, loved Ides of March and Up in the Air. Ben Affleck is one of my heroes, Argo and The Town were both awesome.
Is there anybody cooler than Morgan Freeman?
Daniel Day Lewis is arguable the best of all time, but Sean Penn gives him a run for his money.
Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman were both insanely good in The Master.
Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks? Tom Cruise is cool too. And you can’t beat Denzel.
I can go on and on, but I also want to say that one of my favorite films is The Family Man starring Nicholas Cage, directed by Brett Ratner. I love pretty much any Christmas movie, but I particularly like this film because it depicts the pros and cons of single and married life so well. Never glamorizing “Jack’s” new suburban situation, like all great movies, Family Man keeps it real. Every Christmas I ask myself, “If I was Jack Campbell, which life would I choose?” I still don’t know.
Thomas Bentey: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”- Albert Einstein
Jessica Gilbert: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Thomas Bentey: I sincerely hope that At the Jersey Shore leads to more film projects. Making this film was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I went into the endeavor not knowing anything, just looking to make my first film for school credit. I feel so much more confident and experienced now as a writer, actor and director. I have many more stories to tell, many more characters to become; I just hope I get the opportunity to do so.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks again for doing this interview, and may you have great success with At the Jersey Shore and all your other future projects.
Thomas Bentey: Thank you, Jessica.
The film is currently available on iTunes and Amazon.com. Please check it out. www.atthejerseyshoremovie.com