Jonathan Bennett shows a new side of himself in 'Spamalot'

Most people know the actor as the original Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls, but he's also a lifelong theatre fan getting to flex his over-the-top comedy chops.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Jonathan Bennett was relieved to find out our interview, conducted from our respective NYC apartments via Zoom, would only be audio-recorded. "I don’t have to worry about how my hair looks!" he said with a laugh. He had nothing to worry about, though, for he had his hair pushed back — and as Mean Girls fans have known since 2004, "his hair looks sexy pushed back."

That movie, and his role of teenage heartthrob Aaron Samuels, continues to follow the now-42-year-old Bennett, even as his career in Hallmark holiday flicks earned him the equally memorable moniker “The Gay King of Christmas” and a GLAAD Award to boot.

But Bennett is also the self-proclaimed "biggest musical theatre nerd in the world," and on January 23, the lifelong Broadway fan made his debut as the cowardly Round Table knight Sir Robin in Spamalot.

Spamalot is adapted from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of Bennett's favorite films growing up. That was the exciting part; making a Broadway debut alongside an established cast (Bennett replaces original star Michael Urie as Robin) was the scary part. But the Broadway world has already welcomed him with open arms.

"I've been seeing Broadway shows for 30 years, and I haven't seen a show that is as special as Spamalot in decades," Bennett said. "It's because of the cast and crew and creatives that created this and how much they care."

Bennett spoke to New York Theatre Guide about all things Spamalot, Broadway superfandom, and yes, Mean Girls.

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Were you a Spamalot fan before joining this production?

I saw David Hyde Pierce [as Sir Robin] in the original Broadway production years ago. But Spamalot, I didn't really know this as much as I know other musicals; I grew up [only] watching the movies. Though I joke, you could put me in Wicked tomorrow, and I would know every single track, line, and blocking because I've seen it, like, 29 times.

How did you land the role in this revival?

Spamalot called and asked if I wanted to step into the role of Robin and replace Michael Urie because he had to leave for a scheduling thing. I thought it was a joke at first.

I was like, "There's no way that I would get to be on Broadway, which is the biggest dream of my entire life, and get to do Monty Python humor in Spamalot. This seems too good to be true." And then, lo and behold, here I am, sitting in rehearsals.

Do you appreciate the humor differently than you used to now?

What's interesting about Monty Python humor — there are certain scenes the audience is used to hearing a certain way. It's like Mean Girls: There's iconic lines like, "So you agree. You think you're really pretty?" No matter what happens, our brain will always go to Rachel McAdams and [her] exact cadence.

For this, it's been finding those moments that we really have to deliver on that Monty Python mark, and then finding moments where you can add some twist to it to keep it fresh.

What's your fresh twist on Sir Robin?

My Sir Robin is a little dimmer than other Sir Robins. There might be one or two more bulbs out on his tree. He's a little more excitable and eager. When you have that mixture of a little more dim but a lot more excited, you get this mix of highs and lows in the character.

He's cowardly, but he's also excited to be there. He's like, "I'm afraid to fight, but I'm still happy I'm wearing the armor, this is fun."

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What was it like to step into a cast with an established rapport?

The first person to text me when we closed my deal for Broadway was Michael Urie. He said, "Hey, it's Michael. I'm so excited you're stepping into these shoes. I'm at your disposal, whatever you need." Which is the classiest class act I've experienced in my 25 years in the entertainment industry.

He took me backstage, introduced me to every single person, took me to our dressing room, gave me a tour of it, and then took me out to dinner and said, "What questions do you have? There's no dumb question, ask away."

I'm so grateful to have him do that because I was so scared. I didn't know what it's like to step into a rocket ship that's already blasting off on Broadway. You're going to step into one of the principal roles, and you've never done it before? He helped with all those unknowns so I could feel more comfortable.

On the flip side, what was the biggest challenge of learning your first Broadway show?

The choreography and the blocking. But once I stepped on that Broadway stage at the St. James Theatre, to quote Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, there's no place like home. I felt at home. I go, "This is where I belong; I forgot."

So this is something you've wanted for a very long while.

Since I was 5 years old, I've wanted to be on Broadway. I grew up as a giant musical theatre junkie. I am so obsessed with musical theatre that Wicked invited me to the 20th anniversary show just because they knew I was a superfan.

I just never got to do it because, after moving to New York to pursue my career on Broadway when I was 19 years old, I ended up booking the soap opera All My Children. That led to Mean Girls and moved me out west, so I never got a chance to scratch that itch of wanting to be on Broadway.

Darn Mean Girls getting in the way of your dream!

I guess I had to go make one of the most iconic pop culture movies of all time. But you know what? I'm glad I did because that helped me get on Broadway.

Do you hope Spamalot will make your fans see a new side of you as an actor, beyond Aaron Samuels or Hallmark?

I get to play three character roles in [Spamalot] that are so over-the-top and ridiculous, and I don't think anyone's ever seen me do that before. I'm excited for the Mean Girls and Hallmark fans to come see Spamalot on Broadway and see me make a complete fool of myself. I hope this is just the beginning of many more live theatre shows that I get to do.

What are your other dream roles?

I would love to be Billy Flynn in Chicago. I would love to be Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. And I would love to be in Titanique. It is the best thing.

Finally, I must ask: Have you seen the new Mean Girls movie?

I have not seen the new Mean Girls because Daddy's been too busy rehearsing to be on Broadway, darling.

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This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Top image credit: Jonathan Bennett at his first performance in Spamalot. (Photo by Andy Henderson)

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