Jill Bennett has her fingers in quite a few pots and she shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. This is where you clap and nod with approval if you're in the LGBT community. See, if it weren't for the Jill Bennetts of the world, the community would undoubtedly fall silent and progression within the civilized world for LGBT youth, adults and seniors would lapse. Jill Bennett is a leader, utilizing her artistic craft and on-point banter to shed light in the dark closet from which many in the LGBT community still hide.
I had the chance to talk with Jill amidst her hectic filming schedule last week. We discussed her funny, realistic and relatable Web series called We Have to Stop Now, in which she co-stars with real-life girlfriend Cathy DeBuono and real friend off-set Suzanne Westenhoefer. Meredith Baxter, who had just humbly come out of the closet on The Today Show the very day of my interview with Jill, had recently finished filming scenes for the second season of We Have to Stop Now. There were definitely some exciting developments occurring for Jill and I was there to pick her brain all about them.
Windy City Times: So, I was catching up on your shows and you guys are hilarious.
Jill Bennett: Thank you. We hope people will catch on. I assume you're talking about We Have to Stop Now. We had a pretty small but very steady following in the first season and we really didn't have money for a publicist or ads or anything like that, but we're hoping we can get the word out and get more people interested in the second season. I think we really hit it out of the park this time around. There's a lot more comedy and we've got a lot of really amazing guest stars to come. Meredith Baxter, ironically enough with the news of her coming out today, is in the second season. We're really excited.
WCT: It's very interesting that you just mentioned Meredith Baxter. Her coming-out is perfect timing, although I'm sure it wasn't planned to go along with her guest starring on We Have to Stop Now.
JILL BENNETT It is perfect timing. Obviously, when she came onboard, she was not out and had no plans to be out as far as we knew. Because she came on the cruise with us on the show, that's how it all came about. I think that at the end of the day, it's going to be a very positive thing for her. She is just very private. I am very opinionated about people that are in the closet, but I've always said that if you're a private person to begin with, for me, it doesn't really seem appropriate for you to have to come out either. She just leads a very private life and hadn't really been out in the media that much in the last year so there was nothing about that that said to me, "God, you should be out," you know? Obviously, we're really happy that she came out and we're hoping that it's a very positive experience for her. You know, it's hard I think for we private people to go and discuss our personal lives and she did an amazing job on The Today Show. I think she did an amazing, amazing job and I think she's handling it very, very well. It just came about so quickly and it was going to be in a tabloid and she wanted it to be in her own words, which I totally get.
WCT: I understand what you mean about the privacy issue in the public eye. Coming out versus staying in the closet is definitely a tough decision for some people. On that vein, let's talk about Suzanne Westenhoefer. She is hilarious! Her stage show is extremely funny and relatable. How did it come about that she was cast in the show alongside you and Cathy?
JILL BENNETT Cathy knew Suzanne socially. They weren't super-close, but we had actually gone out to dinner I think about a month before the role of Susan came about and Suzanne was telling us about acting and how she had taken a really intensive acting course a few years ago. She said that she'd really love to do it. It's just one of those things. A lot of people have a hard time, if you don't have the right outlet for stand-up, to transition into actors. She said she's always wanted to do it and then this show came about and there was this role and we were trying to figure out who we wanted for this role and we said, "Suzanne." I think it was Cathy, actually, who thought of Suzanne for the role first and we were like, "this is perfect. She's out, she's funny, she's smartshe's perfect." That's how we got Suzanne. I feel like the whole second season really upped its game.
WCT: Do you find that you spend a lot of time laughing with all of the comedic women on the same set sitting across from each other?
JILL BENNETT Oh, absolutely. I mean, we're all very good friends and, outside of working together, we have real friendships with one another and that obviously is going to bleed into our show and the chemistry and how we interact with one another. We improvised a little bit more with the first season only because we didn't quite know what the show was, but for the second season, we knew what the show was and we also added storylines, characters and a lot of plot. So, we made the decision not to stray too far away from the script, which is kind of weird for TV. Typically, in television, there are tons of re-writes and some are even done right in front of the audience while filming, but we really didn't do that this time around. I think that makes this season a better show. Our writer really knew how to write for us this time around because she knew us better and our characters better.
WCT: It's obvious that you're very active in the gay community. Did you get any push back from agents, managers, etc?
JILL BENNETT The thing is, until you have a fan base, no one really cares if you're out or closeted or anything at all. It didn't come about until I did Dante's Cove. I was actually in the original cast of Dante's Cove way back in the day. We filmed about three episodes and then, for about a year, I was doing press for the show anticipating that when we went back to film I would be playing the same character. As it turned out, I did not want to come back to the show because of some of the changes they had made, the format and the director they had picked, but during that time I had started doing press for the first time as an actor.
While we were filming those three episodes, the producers came down and I said something to a few of the actresses. They had cast all of these really, really straight girls as the lesbians and I was really kind of not happy with some of the dialogue. I was telling the actresses, you know, "cut your nails. I don't mean to be stereotypical, but there are certain things that are just not flying for me here." So, they thought that was really funny and they said, "So, wait, you're gay? Would you be willing to be open about that?" and I said "yeah, absolutely." I always had been. It's just that up until then nobody cared. So, it was at that point that I started doing press and my manager said, "Could you just say that you're bisexual? Do you have to say that you're gay?" I was like, "no I'm not gonna lie and I'm not gonna say that I'm bisexual. Whatever happens, happens." He didn't really argue with me. I think he knew it was pretty pointless.
WCT: It's [ 2010 ] and we're still fighting for human rights. Do you see an end in sight?
JILL BENNETT I do see an end to it. I think right now what's happening is that so many people are starting to come out and homosexuality is seeping into every aspect of life. We are in politics and everywhere right now. I think there is just an initial knee-jerk reaction to it that we're experiencing right now. When Ellen came out of the closet, it helped us immensely. Like, I would say things 100% improved when she came out of the closet. We started to have more gay characters on TV and more and more people came out and I just think we're going through a knee-jerk reaction with the general public and I think it's going to calm down. I think that once it sinks in and we keep going the way that we're going, it's gonna calm down. I see an end to this within the next few years, I really do. You know, Adam Lambert's little performance at the music awards ( referring to the American Music Awards in which Adam Lambert's performance included kissing a man onstage and receiving a virtual blow job ) , to me, that wouldn't have happened five years ago at all. You know, he had the balls to do it. Yes, it was outrageous, but Madonna and about a million other people have been doing it in a heterosexual way for years. He did it! It's going to become more and more common in the next few years, and it's not gonna be a big deal anymore. We just have to put up with resistance for a little while and we have to keep doing what we're doing which is not shutting up, essentially.
WCT: I think that having you guys out there is very helpful.
JILL BENNETT Absolutely, thank you.
WCT: What new projects do you have in the works?
JILL BENNETT And Then Came Lola is a lesbian romantic comedy making the rounds at film festivals right now so we hope our fans will support that. We are working on a film project with writer Paula Goldberg who wrote Out at the Wedding. It's a really interesting story and something that hasn't been done in the lesbian community yet. Not only is the film original, but also the way we're going to release it and get it out to the public hasn't been done before. I can't say more yet, obviously, because we're still in the planning stages of it, but we will be releasing information on it soon. Please stay in touch via Facebook, Twitter and our Web sites. We will update everyone soon.
To learn more about Jill Bennett, visit www.twitter.com/jillbennett14, www.facebook.com/jillbennett14 or www.jillbennett.com .