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Jonathan Bennett Returns to ‘The Christmas House,’ Hallmark’s History-Making (Literally!) Holiday Franchise




Jonathan Bennett Returns to ‘The Christmas House,’ Hallmark’s History-Making (Literally!) Holiday Franchise

The annual parade of dozens — perhaps hundreds — of brand new Christmas movies has become of the great American traditions. These movies, the majority of them premiering on cable networks like the Hallmark Channel, are united by a formula and, more importantly, a feeling. Their goal is to comfort audiences, first and foremost. But who says you can’t make a little history while providing audiences with cozy holiday cheer?

That’s exactly what Hallmark did when it premiered The Christmas House during its 2020 lineup of holiday fare. The ensemble film made history by putting a gay couple front and center in a Hallmark holiday movie for the very first time. The Christmas House was part of an unexpected and unintended wave of queer content, all of which hit the networks and streaming service during the 2020 season. America’s favorite holiday pastime fundamentally changed to better reflect America as it actually exists — and a lot of really great movies were made in the process.

As one of the two gay leads in The Christmas House, Jonathan Bennett was — and remains — at the center of it all. He’s fully aware of the importance of The Christmas House. After all, how many Hallmark actors can say that their script and jacket from their holiday movie are now part of the Smithsonian archives? It is not hyperbole to say that The Christmas House made history. The film is part of a literal archive of queer history curated and preserved by the world’s largest museum!

When you’re part of a genre-redefining experience like that, it’d be hard to turn down the chance to come back and do it all again. And that’s what The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls is: it’s a chance for the entire cast to come back and show what happens to a modern family after the happy ending that’s guaranteed at the end of every Hallmark movie. Jonathan Bennett is back along with his TV husband Brad Harder, ready to show the next chapter in Brandon and Jake’s life together. Decider got the chance to speak with Bennett about his return to the newest Hallmark franchise ahead of The Christmas House 2′s debut — and just like last year, Bennett remains enthusiastic and honored to be part of this history-making holiday series.

Decider: Let’s talk about the response to The Christmas House last year. Where did you watch it? Did you watch it live?

Jonathan Bennett: Yes, I watched The Christmas House live with my sister and my nieces and nephews, and our close friends and my fiancé in our house at Palm Springs. It was such a special moment because I didn’t know that I was going to be getting proposed to a couple days later.

The Christmas House - Brad Harder, Jonathan Bennett
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

To be an actor that got to be part of a history-making movie and to play a role that was history-making in the Christmas movie space, with my soon-to-be fiancé next to me at our home was just such a magical “art imitates life” moment. Christmas House is all about family in 2021 and what that looks like, and a gay couple that are in love and wanting to start their own family. And little did I know I was just moments away from taking a step towards creating our family.

What was it like returning to The Christmas House? And speaking of art imitates life: didn’t your partner in the film, Brad Harder, adopt a child during the production of the first one?

He literally adopted their second child during the hiatus between the two movies. Our Mitchell family has a cast group chat that goes all year long because we really do have the dynamic of an actual, real life family. Everything from Treat [Williams] being the dad to me and Robert Buckley being brothers who just want to screw with each other the whole time — like, the group chat goes on all year. So when we all came back as a cast and had our first cast dinner before filming, it was like we had never left and we picked up right where we left off with a deeper connection and a deeper relationship with each other than we had the previous year, just like real family. I think that’s what Christmas House 2 is all about. It’s about taking the relationships in the family to a deeper level.

The Christmas House 2 cast
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

Where do we find a Brandon and Jake in The Christmas House 2?

Brandon and Jake come home for the holidays and they want to kind of create their own family unit and their own new traditions in their family with their two adopted children that’s separate from the giant Mitchell family traditions. And I think it’s so important because that’s what a lot of couples go through at the holidays, wanting to be able to do their own thing while balancing the traditions of the larger family unit.

There are also plot elements that are so unique to the gay experience. What was it like when you read some of those scenes and realized you were going to be talking about this stuff in a Hallmark movie? 

When when I read that scene where Brandon has a moment with Jake where he’s talking about how gay couples have to be perfect because otherwise they’re going to get the dirty looks, I literally started crying. I’m so proud of Hallmark Channel for being pioneers and not telling just gay stories, but telling real stories. And I think that’s what sets Hallmark Channel apart from everyone else.

Christmas House 2 - Brad Harder, Jonathan Bennett

The other reason I started crying is because I identified to this beyond measure as an actor who’s been a gay actor in Hollywood for over 20 years. That line really resonated with me, because the pressure in Hollywood to succeed is monumental for a straight actor. When you’re a gay actor, the pressure is over the moon because you feel like you have to compensate and make up for the fact that you’re gay. And that was a huge part of my early 20s. I wasn’t out publicly at the time, so the pressure I had to be this guy that Lindsay Lohan fell in love with [in Mean Girls]. I felt like I had to overachieve, to be a better actor, so I would get the roles because I was afraid if they found out I was gay, I wouldn’t get the roles.

The film also explores Brandon’s relationship with his brother, played by Robert Buckley. They have a dynamic that very much hinges upon Brandon being confident enough to know who he is and the inherent bravery it takes to be gay publicly. It’s wild that I’m talking about this in terms of a Hallmark movie.

Isn’t it nuts?

It’s so great. How did you and Robert Buckley develop this sibling rivalry onscreen? Did they notice that vibe between you two on the set of the first and amp it up for the sequel?

There are a few times in an actor’s life when they get to work with an actor like Robert Buckley and have an instant chemistry that’s undeniable. From the moment we met, we had this brotherly competition to us that just was organic. It was immediate. In the first one, everyone noticed how much we acted like real brothers. Like, all we’re trying to do is either scare each other, or screw with each other. And when it came time for the sequel, I think the writers in Hallmark noticed, “That’s a fun dynamic we haven’t really explored that is true and organic. Let’s focus on that.” I think it’s a really smart idea because it shows what a real family is.

The Christmas House 2 - brothers
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

This is how much we act like real brothers: Robert knew I was getting ready to do a shirtless scene in a movie after this that I had to get ready for and I had to be really strict on my diet. So Robert would go and get chocolate croissants and muffins that you can’t not eat from this amazing bakery and put them on my chair. And I was like, “Who are these muffins from? Why does someone keep putting muffins with my name on them?” And then Robert just turns me and goes, “Oh, it’s almost like someone knows you have a movie coming up and doesn’t think you have the self control to not eat it.” My jaw hit the floor! So that Sunday when he was watching football, I had to have a whole box of doughnuts delivered to him to make sure that he went off his diet as well. So the rivalry we have is so fun. Robert and I said to each other, rarely in an actor’s career, you get this organic, brotherly chemistry that just happens and it’s just undeniable when you watch us together.

Your rivalry in the movie is, on the surface, about who gets to be the king of Christmas. As an actor, now that you’ve done two Christmas movies back-to-back, how do you feel about being associated with the holiday for the foreseeable future?

I mean, I am never gonna turn down the title of the king of Christmas. I definitely won’t let Robert Buckley take it.

The Christmas House 2 - Jake, Brandon, Phylis, Bill
Photo: Hallmark

Do you see a Christmas House 3 in the future?

In my opinion, I 100% think there will be a Christmas House 3 because I think the Hallmark Channel just needs more of the Mitchell family. They look like what a family in 2021 looks like and the fans have become so attached to these characters. They identify with these characters because they aren’t perfect. The family isn’t perfect. The family has quirks and they try to put on the perfect Christmas, and what we learn from them is that the perfect Christmas doesn’t exist — but what doesn’t make it perfect is what makes it beautiful. And I think that’s the heart of the Mitchell family. You fall in love with them just like you did the Griswold family. They aren’t perfect, and that’s what makes them beautiful.

The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls premieres on Hallmark on Saturday, December 18 at 8 p.m. ET

Watch The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls on Hallmark


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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