If anyone would have said even five years ago, as their Christmas-movie stock began to escalate, that the Hallmark Channel would make history, folks probably would have run out to a Hallmark store and gotten you a “Get Well Soon” card. Yet here we are, on the eve of The Holiday Sitter, their first-ever LGBQT+-led rom-com and we are so ready to don our gay apparel and get festive.
Starring and executive produced by Jonathan Bennett, the Mean Girls icon who already helped Hallmark earn its rainbow stripes by costarring in the inclusive Christmas House movies, Sitter finds his workaholic bachelor Sam suddenly stuck watching his sister’s kids instead of heading to Hawaii for the holidays. Soon, though, things get merrier and brighter after he literally falls for the handsome and equally unattached neighbor Jason (George Krissa), who helps him not only keep the kids occupied but also see that he deserves the family ties he’s always longed for. And not to spoil anything, but the film also ends with easily one of the Top 3 all-time best kisses Hallmark has ever served up. Here, Bennett shares the importance of Sitter and why the Hallmark Channel is on the right side of history when it comes to representation.
Jonathan! I’ve been talking with people at Hallmark about the elevation of their movies and Sitter is a perfect example. They’re just higher in quality, the writing is funnier, you’re getting to do physical comedy and the sets are gorgeous.
Jonathan Bennett: Aww, thank you.
You recently described this movie as “Gay Uncle Buck” and that totally works. Now, obviously there was The Christmas House movies, but this is Hallmark’s first rom-com featuring two gay leading characters, right?
Correct. I had this idea because I grew up watching ’80s comedies and because I’m a Guncle myself, I loved Uncle Buck. I said, “What if we did a movie where an uncle comes home for the holidays and has to take care of his niece and nephew, who he doesn’t really know, and do a complete fish-out-of-water story…and he’s gay?” I brought it to Hallmark and they jumped at the idea. And so that’s how The Holiday Sitter was born. I think it was born out of truth, right? Like, anytime you take something that’s true and real, you can find the heart and the humor in it. And I think there’s so many LGBQT+ people and straight people that are, you know, uncles to their chosen families.
Clearly, there’s tons of romance in the movie, but it feels like the heart of it really is how Sam doesn’t feel that connection to family that he could have. And I feel like as gay men, we grow up into realizing that, yeah, we can now if we want, either with family of choice or biological, if they’re accepting.
Absolutely. Like, I grew up not really connected to my family the way my straight friends were connected to their families…because they all had kids. They were all getting married and having kids. And as a gay man, that wasn’t really an option for me. And it wasn’t until recently that equality happened and we were able to move the needle forward in so many ways. But like for me, my internal clock was still catching up to the idea that that could happen. And I think so many people are gonna relate to that, because it isn’t easy to be told “No” your whole life and then all of a sudden you’re told that for you it’s a possibility. You still gotta catch up to that mentally and in your heart.
And that needle you speak of is really moved forward by content like this, which is not specifically gay or straight or whatever. Anyone can watch this and that conversation can still happen.
The conversations in this movie are so real and it was important for us and the Hallmark Channel to have a completely queer creative team. Our director, writers, producers and actors were all queer. It was important for the network. They really wanted to make sure we had a fully queer team to be able to tell this story authentically and make sure we did it right so everyone can watch it and say, “Oh yeah, I can identify with that.” That was really important to us.
I want to add that it’s such a blessing what the Hallmark Channel has done. They have created a safe place for queer people to tell stories and as an artist, there’s no better gift on Earth than a place where you walk in and say, “Hey, I wanna do this and I wanna tell this story” and you just have the complete support of the network behind you. That is the dream come true.
The freedom to tell authentic, inclusive and universal stories…
That’s right. And that was important to us when we were making The Holiday Sitter. You know, there’s been a lot of LGBQT+ films that have come out in the past few years and they’ve been great. But here, we didn’t set out to make a “queer film for queer people” or just a “gay rom-com.” We just set out to make a really funny rom-com that takes place at Christmas that just happens to have two men as the leading characters. And there’s a big difference because we didn’t make this for a gay audience only. We made this for everybody because Christmas is for everybody. The Hallmark Channel’s for everybody and the audience intended for this is everybody.
Speaking of everybody, I am fully expecting everyone who watches this to catch the perfect Mean Girls reference…you actually made “Fetch happen” work as an organic joke!
I mean brilliant, right?! I think you’ll see there’s a little homage to Mean Girls in the phone calls that you see, too. How the calls slide in just like they did with the Plastics.
That’s the thing I have been talking about all season. Hallmark’s movies are starting to get more clever…they have raised their game. There is so much legit comedy in this one.
I’m excited for audiences to see this because I really hope they like my comedy. This is the movie where I felt the freest in my life, of all the projects I’ve ever done, Mean Girls included. This movie is my No. 1 favorite project I’ve ever done and the one I’m most proud of. Hands down, no question. And with the the Mean Girls nods, when that movie came out, it was a different time in my life, I was a different man and it was just different, you know? I wasn’t out publicly, I wasn’t really even comfortable with being gay myself and I was so petrified that if I came out publicly, the Mean Girls fans were gonna reject me. But there finally came a point in my life where I just had to come out for myself and when I did, the complete opposite thing happened. I was embraced and celebrated and lifted up by the Mean Girls fans and I owe my entire career to them. They have been my rock and my support the whole way and so now, here I am in a holiday movie where I’m playing gay and I’m having a meet-cute on-screen with a boy, just like I had my first meet-cute with Lindsay Lohan, and I wanted to do something to tip my hat and say “Thank you” to all the Mean Girls fans watching. So I hope they take away that fun moment when they find that Easter egg.
You mention the meet-cute with George Krissa…
Um, so handsome.
[Laughs] I call him Gorgeous Georges. It was so fun casting his character because he had to have so many qualities. He had to be good with comedy, he had to be super hunky and handsome. He had to have blue eyes, he had to be taller than me. He had to have all these attributes and be out and gay and Canadian. And I was like, “I don’t know if we’re gonna find him, we’re asking for the unicorn here guys!” And then I watched his audition tape and at one point, he turned around on the tape and smiled and I remember holding my breath going, “Oh, oh my gosh, please just open your mouth and be decent.” [Laughs]
That’s all I remember saying. And he opened his mouth and not only was he decent, he was charming and funny and understood comedy and was the whole package. I called my husband first, and then I called the producers to say we found him. From day one he’s been my Jason and he did such a great job. Our chemistry is probably my favorite chemistry I’ve ever had with someone on camera. I think you really root for them to be together.
Oh, very much so. From the get-go, there’s a very palpable, “Okay now…yes, I see it.”
I wanted to make sure that we did our meet-cute just the way all the other Hallmark movies had a meet-cute. I wanted to do the classic trope of me falling down the stairs and literally being caught in his arms because that’s how a lot of them happen! So let’s do that, let’s do the exact thing that other meet-cutes do and just have it be two men.
So the premiere is this Sunday. Are you and hubby Jaymes Vaughan hosting a screening party?
Well, I’m gonna be at Christmas Con in New Jersey, so I’m gonna be doing a watch party at the hotel, I think with some of the other Hallmark stars there. The convention ends at 5pm I think, and then we’ll watch the movie together hopefully at the hotel restaurant or something.
I’m just so proud of the LGBQT+ community because it’s really important that we ask for representation. We ask to have representation on-screen and I’ve just been so honored at the support we’re getting from GLAAD just saying, “Hey guys, this movie needs to be seen.” We need to support the stories that are told if we’ve asked for them. And so I’m just excited and grateful that hopefully everyone’s going to watch this movie and support it on Sunday night because we’ve asked for it and we’ve delivered it.
Has there been any discussion of a Christmas House 3?
Everyone asks about a Christmas House 3! And you know what? That is above my pay grade, but I would do one in a heartbeat. Call [the film’s star] Robert Buckley. He’s in charge of that one, not me. So I just show up and make fun of him. That’s my only job in that movie. I will gladly show up to the set and make fun of Robert Buckley any day. [Laughs]
And we will all show up for that as well. Congratulations and thank you for making this because honestly, if this came out when I was, like, 20, this would’ve helped so much.
And that’s why we made it. It’s like, you gotta think of the young Damians and the young Jonathans that are sitting there watching this and maybe feel more seen. Because we deserve our Christmas movies too. Again, Christmas is for everybody, it’s not just for one kind of family or any one type of person. It’s for everyone.
The Holiday Sitter, Sunday Dec. 11, 8/7c, The Hallmark Channel
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