As the holiday season continues full steam ahead, so does the Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas. If one Christmas House wasn't enough, get ready for double the holiday cheer. On Saturday, December 18, the Mitchell family and their love for the holiday return in The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls.
In the sequel to 2020's The Christmas House, the Mitchell brothers, Brandon (Jonathan Bennett) and Mike (Robert Buckley), find themselves in an unseasonably heated sibling rivalry for the ages, and their parents Bill (Treat Williams) and Phylis (Sharon Lawrence) have to manage it.
In the movie, out actor Bennett, 40, plays the Mitchells' oldest child, a high-strung, somewhat-competitive gay man who owns a bakery in Colorado. He's married to the much calmer Jake (played by Brad Harder), and the couple has two kids.
"Reuniting with the Mitchell family in The Christmas House 2 is absolutely the best feeling I've ever had in years," Bennett (Means Girls, Dancing with the Stars, Cheaper by the Dozen), tells The Advocate. "Robert and I have such amazing brotherly chemistry that you don't really get as an actor more than once or twice in your whole career."
And that fondness and chemistry also apply to the whole Mitchell team. Bennett reveals the movie family shares a year-round group chat. Even on set, he says, the cast can act like real family members. Bennett says Williams's phone would go off and they'd help him turn it off, and that Lawrence would tell Bennett and Buckley to be quiet during scenes, "just like a mom would."
As the connections are strong between the cast members, so too are the bonds highlighted in the movie. During this Christmas go-around with the Mitchells, Bennett says you see deeper layers to the characters.
"You're uncovering the quirkiness and the beauty that is the Mitchell family, which I have dubbed the Griswold family of the Hallmark Channel," Bennett tells The Advocate. "You're seeing into these characters on a deeper level. And when you do that, you uncover these quirky elements to each of these characters that make them tick."
The movie highlights how the characters aren't perfect. "They want to put on the perfect Christmas and there's no such thing as the perfect Christmas," Bennett says. "When we see their imperfections, that's what makes them beautiful."
"We all try to keep up the facade that everything's perfect and Christmas is super easy for everyone and it's just such a great, great stress-free time when it's not," he adds.
While the movie explores each characters' reasons for trying to make Christmas look like an Instagram post, there's an especially poignant moment that many queer viewers may relate to.
At one point in the movie, Bennett's character tells his husband Jake that "we have to be better." In the scene, he's referring to how LGBTQ+ people must be respectable and dignified and "better" than non-LGBTQ+ to be accepted by families, neighbors, and even society.
"It's about being held to the norm but ... [also] having to supersede the norm," Bennett explains.
He refers to his own experience as a gay actor and always having to go beyond what was expected because he thought he wouldn't measure up to his straight counterparts.
"There were years that I would be auditioning and wasn't strong enough or ready to come out of the closet yet. And so, I felt like I had to act better and look better and try to supersede all the other actors that were straight that I was up against," Bennett shares. "I had to supersede it with being more productive than everyone else: not having one movie on your plate, but having like five movies in development that you're writing and pitching."
He adds, "I think that goes back to our childhood as young queer people, you know, there is a sense of, for me, not being enough and when you feel like you're not enough, you have to overcompensate."
Bennett says that he's proud to be part of the Hallmark Channel because it's showing these complicated family stories that are still centered on an important message.
"What's so inspiring about the Hallmark Channel of 2021 is that the movies reflect the audiences watching them," he explains.
The original Christmas House was the first Hallmark Channel movie to prominently feature a same-sex couple and the first to show a same-sex kiss.
It was on The Christmas House set that Bennett's partner, TV host Jaymes Vaughan, proposed to him. Bennett says that planning the wedding for next March is "probably the most exciting and stressful time of my life." The couple is launching their #SafeandCelebrated Campaign around their wedding to help people find LGBTQ+ supportive venues and vendors for the entire wedding process.
"Because no one should not feel it's not enough. It's not enough to feel safe anymore. That time is over. You have to feel celebrated. The businesses and vendors that you go to should be just as excited about your wedding as they are a straight couple's wedding," Bennett says.
The queer history made by The Christmas House was also noticed by the Smithsonian. Bennett tells The Advocate that some props from the film and a copy of the script made it into the museum's LGBTQ+ archives.
As for the viewers this year, Bennett hopes those watching The Christmas House 2 can appreciate their families -- whatever that looks like -- a bit more.
"Don't be afraid to tell your family members how much they mean to you whether it's your biological family or your chosen family," he says. "Don't be afraid to open up your heart and tell them how much they mean to you."
The Christmas House 2 premieres on Saturday, December 18 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Watch the trailer below.