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'Mean Girls' star Jonathan Bennett always wanted to be a Broadway star. Now, he finally is

The original Aaron Samuels spoke about his career evolution, including how starring in inclusive Christmas romances "repairs" parts of him that were "broken."
Jonathan Bennett
Getty Images / TODAY Illustration

As Aaron Samuels in the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,” Jonathan Bennett embodied the high school heartthrob for a generation — and he knows it.

“No matter how much work I do, on how many different projects, I will always be Aaron Samuels,” Bennett tells “That’s just what people will say. And that’s a good thing. Because the movie was so powerful.”

Aaron Samuels was the undeniably cool, but always kind, love interest in the 2004 movie, torn between Lindsay Lohan's Cady Heron and Rachel MacAdams' Regina George. Christopher Briney takes over as Aaron Samuels in the 2024 "Mean Girls" musical adaptation.

Jonathan Bennett and Rachel McAdams in "Mean Girls"
Jonathan Bennett and Rachel McAdams in "Mean Girls"Alamy Stock Photo

Moving beyond the “grool,” October 3” and the “hair looks sexy pushed back” of it all, Bennett has continued in Hollywood. As a Hallmark leading man, Bennett has also helped in the network’s turn toward inclusivity, putting LGBTQ+ storylines on its Christmas movie slate. He’s also fulfilling a lifelong dream on Broadway. 

Below, Bennett reflects on the career that “Mean Girls” launched.

What it's like to be a Hallmark ‘Avenger’

Bennett went from "Mean Girls" heartthrob to Hallmark heartthrob. Since 2010, he's starred in eight different Hallmark movies, starting with "Elevator Girl," which co-starred Lacey Chabert of "Mean Girls."

“What’s it like to be a Hallmark Avenger?” he asks rhetorically of his own career. “The Hallmark universe is the most special universe to be a part of.”

For that, he credits the fans, who are "as much part of the family as everyone who works on (the films)," and the people who make the movies. When he announced his "Spamalot" casting, "They all said it felt like one of their kids booked his first Broadway role."

Notably, Bennet has been the face of the network’s shift toward more inclusive holiday content.

Jonathan Bennett in "Christmas on Cherry Lane"
Jonathan Bennett in "Christmas on Cherry Lane"Syd Wong / Hallmark Media

Bennett starred in “The Christmas House, the first Hallmark Christmas movie to feature a gay couple as part of the ensemble cast, in 2020. He then led 2022's “The Holiday Sitter,” the first to feature a gay couple as its lead storyline. His most recent Hallmark holiday film “Christmas on Cherry Lane,” was nominated for a GLAAD award for outstanding film — streaming or TV.

Bennett understands why the seasonal love stories resonate (and they really resonate: Hallmark unveils up to 40 holiday originals a year).

“For a lot of us, and for myself included, the holidays can be hard. Hallmark is a place that so many people can turn to and feel that they’re part of something, because they are," he says.

“The stories we tell matter to people because the holidays and Christmas are for everyone We make sure that our stories and our characters reflect the people that watch our movies.”

The 'relief' of being himself onscreen — and off

Bennett, who identifies as gay, said that playing LGBTQ+ characters in romance movies a “relief,” calling it something he needed to do for himself.

“For so long, I lived in the closet and was a closeted teen heartthrob, which is what we were told to be in the early 2000s," he says.

Bennett says GLAAD recognition and the parts themselves "patch up (his) heart with little band aids" from past experiences, "from having to feel like an imposter when you’re playing all these roles and weren’t able to be yourself."

“It repairs the parts of me that were torn and broken when I was having to not be my authentic self early in my career,” says Bennett.

"It’s not that I felt weird playing straight roles. It’s that I couldn’t also be myself while doing that,” he continues.

A 20-year bond with the ‘Mean Girls’ cast

As happy as Bennett is where he landed, Bennett still thinks fondly his past roles — like Aaron Samuels. Coming on 20 years, Bennett says cast of “Mean Girls” is still in touch. 

“Everyone in the original cast is still friends. You get random texts from everyone. I mean, everyone’s busy with their own lives. But when big life moments happen, like Lindsey (Lohan) having a baby... the group chat lights up, and it’s like ‘ahhhh!’”

He's especially close to Chabert, who played Gretchen in "Mean Girls" and is also a Hallmark regular. (Bennett jokes that people call them “mom and dad.”)

“She’s just an angel of a human being,” Bennett says of Chabert and their long-lasting friendship. “I remember celebrating her 21st birthday with her during the filming of 'Mean Girls.'"

He says their bond has remained strong, in part because of “Mean Girls.”

“When you meet on a movie that becomes such a part of pop culture and such a part of people’s lives … it’s a very bizarre thing to be in a movie like that,” said Bennett. “To have this sister that goes through the (same) career and life trajectory. It’s a special bond.”

Now, Broadway: A dream come true 

Bennett took over the role of “Sir Robin” in Broadway’s ongoing “Spamalot” revival starting Jan. 23, marking the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. 

“Since I was 5 years old, there’s never been a bigger dream than being on Broadway,” says the actor.

As a theater kid in his Ohio high school, Bennett starred in the likes of "Damn Yankees," "West Side Story," and "Little Shop of Horrors," before moving to New York at 19 to try and do it again — professionally.

Jonathan Bennett (top right) in high school, back when he was a "theater kid."
Jonathan Bennett (top right) in high school, back when he was a "theater kid."Courtesy Jonathan Bennett

But Broadway didn't materialize. Instead, once in New York, he ended up booking a role in the soap opera “All My Children” and small TV parts. Then came "Mean Girls" and a move out west.

“There has been an itch that has never been able to be scratched,” he says.”Forty years of wanting to be on Broadway, because I grew up as a musical theater freak. Never in a million years did I think at this stage of my life, I would be able to then go and make my Broadway debut. And so it literally is the biggest dream of my life coming true.”

Courtesy Jonathan Bennett

Bennett took over the role from actor and Broadway veteran Michael Urie.

Bennett says that Urie was the first person to text him with congratulations. “He said, ‘Hi, it’s Michael Urie. I’m so excited that you’re taking over the role of Robin. I’m at your disposal, whatever you need. Can I take you to lunch? What can I do to help you feel good about this?’” Bennett says.

The help, he says, was welcome. After a career in film, Broadway was daunting.

Courtesy Andy Henderson

“I don’t know what that feels like or what it looks like. Do I have rehearsal? How many rehearsals? How do I learn this part? It’s the unknown, which is incredibly frightening,” he says.

Preparing for the role, Bennett watched Urie perform, which he calls a “masterclass in comedy.”

“He took me backstage and personally introduced me to single cast and crew member, and then took me out to dinner and said, 'What do you need to know?'”

Bennett says the rest of the cast was equally helpful. “The rehearsal process with this cast is so welcoming,” he says. “Every single person has come up to me and said, ‘We’re so excited you’re here, we’ve got your back. Anything you need, we’re here.’”

Looking ahead to his debut, which unfolded Jan. 23, he says he only invited two people to be in the audience.

Courtesy Andy Henderson

“My husband and my best friend growing up are coming to my opening night because I’m going to be too excited and have too much adrenaline," he says.

He said he didn’t want more friends there because he “would be too excited."

That pure excitement is Bennett’s inner theater kid showing, and celebrating, this new adventure. 

“Every single night you step on that stage. Remember that there are thousands of theater kids that are lined up that would do anything to be standing where you are, and never take that for granted.”