Rossford native Jonathan Bennett competes on ‘Dancing with the Stars’Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The tongue-in-cheek headline on the British tabloid paper The Daily Mail’s website read, “Jonathan Bennett peeks at Jenna Johnson’s derriere before DWTS rehearsals.” Not the sort of notice Bennett is used to garnering, to be sure, but when you’re doing a show like ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” it’s bound to happen.
“It’s very strange, and often humbling and flattering that they care so much about what we do outside of rehearsal. It’s weird to me,” Bennett said in an interview with Toledo Free Press.
“‘Dancing With the Stars’ is a different machine. Now they want to record you going in and out of the studio, and everything you do in the studio they want to pick up on camera now.”
Bennett is used to being on camera, of course. The Rossford native has worked as an actor for over 15 years now, with roles in “Veronica Mars,” “Smallville,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and, of course, “Mean Girls” on his resume. But “Dancing With the Stars” is different, Bennett said.
“It’s really unnerving. There’s a lot of cameras around all the time, and we rehearse, like, five hours a day, seven days a week. And it just, it tests your limits. And every minute, there’s a camera in your face. So it’s a very unusual experience.”
Bennett has worked at throwing himself into unusual experiences for most of his adult life, though — ever since that day back home where he first fell in love with the theater. “I went and saw ‘Anything Goes’ at Rossford High School, and I was in seventh grade, and from that moment when I saw the show, I went, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
After finishing at Rossford High, Bennett attended Otterbein University in Westerville to study theater. But soon, he decided to make the leap of moving out to New York. “It’s really scary for an 18-year-old to try and make it in the big city. But there is just some underlying comfortability about it that just made me keep going. Because I just knew that’s what I was supposed to do.
“You definitely grow up quick. And I think I can recommend that to everyone: When you’re 18 years old, go and live in New York for three months. That’ll show you how the world works, instantly,” Bennett said. “[Living] in New York, in my early 20s, in New York City, [I was] kind of maturing and coming into adulthood in a place where there’s so much stuff to learn from.”
His first major job was a role on the long-running soap “All My Children,” and from there miscellaneous roles on TV and film would follow. But none have had the staying power of the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” where he played Lindsay Lohan’s love interest. Wait, 10 years? Has it really been 10 years?
“Not at all,” Bennett said. “It feels like we just shot it yesterday. And I just can’t believe the reaction that all the fans have had over the years for the film. It’s incredible.
“There are a few reasons. One, it’s really well done — by [writer] Tina Fey and [producer] Lorne Michaels. They just really know how to do a show. And then number two, everyone can relate to it. No matter what year you are in high school, what grade you are — every high school is the same.”
But now, over a decade later, Bennett is putting all his energy into his run on “Dancing,” competing with his professional partner and fellow “DWTS” rookie Allison Holker. “They called me and asked me if I wanted to be part of the show, and I jumped at the chance. Because I’ve watched the show for years, and I’m really excited to get to be a part of it.”
His excitement isn’t even moderately tempered by the fact that, well, he doesn’t really know how to dance. Oh, sure, he’s done musicals and the like over the course of his career, but learning a few steps onstage is a huge step removed from doing a tango in front of a few million people every Monday.
“I have no experience [with dancing]. I have zero. I have negative experience,” Bennett joked. “Once you’re on the show, then you have to figure out how to dance.”
But in addition to the thrill of competing, Bennett noted how excited he was that folks in his hometown were so fervently behind him. Rossford residents organized a pep rally to view the show Sept. 15, and he’s been overwhelmed by the support. “I have the most amazing fans and friends in Rossford.”
After earning good notices from the judges with his performance, Bennett survived the first cut on the Sept. 16 elimination episode, meaning the journey continues for the young actor who only ever wanted to entertain.
“I just want to do my best every day, and then every week I go back I just want to push myself and do better than I did the week before,” he said.