Jonathan Bennett Parties It Up in Van Wilder: Freshman Year

The actor who plays the younger version of the popular character talks about the new DVD

While it certainly can't be an easy task to play the younger version of a beloved character, Jonathan Bennett actually has some experience in that department. After a string of TV guest-starring roles, he broke into film with his role in Mean Girls and Cheaper by the Dozen, but he also played the younger version of Bo Duke in Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning. Now he's taking on Ryan Reynolds classic character Van Wilder in Van Wilder: Freshman Year, which will hit the shelves on DVD on July 14. I recently spoke with Bennett over the phone about this new film, and here's what he had to say.

The original Van Wilder was such a beloved movie, so I was wondering what were your initial thoughts when you first heard about this prequel and what initially got you on board?

Jonathan Bennett:Van Wilder is one of my favorite movies and when it came out, a lot of people commented, early in my career, that I reminded them of a young Ryan Reynonlds. When this part came about, I got really excited because the character is very close to me and my little quirks and things are very similar in real life. So I was excited to just do this film and play around and have fun with it. I mean, what early-20s actor who's into comedy could ask for a better character to play than Van Wilder? There's no better character you can ask for, as an actor, to go and spread your comedic wings and go with it.

So, as far as your own college experience, did you have your own Van Wilder at your college that you maybe drew off of?

Jonathan Bennett: You know, I didn't. I went to college for a very short time, for about a year, and it wasn't the craziest place. My college experience wasn't as crazy as Van's college experience but, then again, I don't think anyone's is. This is Van Wilder, for God's sake. This stuff just doesn't happen. That's movie magic right there.

So did you just go back and study the film again, or what kinds of things did you do to prepare for this?

Jonathan Bennett: You know, I watched it once. I had seen it so much that I knew Van and I knew how the character was. I had watched it once when I got the initial audition and then once I got the role, I made it a point not to watch it anymore. I knew Van, I knew how it was and if you watch it too much, then you're just trying to do Ryan Reynolds doing Van Wilder instead of Jonathan Bennett doing Van Wilder. So, as far as the character goes, there are a lot of things that Ryan did that I kept, because you just have to, in keeping it true to Van. People expect to see Van Wilder when they watch the movie and I'm not going in and trying to make it a completely new character or make it something completely different than he is, because he's Van. He talks in a certain speech pattern, he has certain inflections he uses in his voice, and you have to keep all those attributes because that's what people are going to want to see. But, then again, since we're doing it freshman year of college instead of senior year, what I wanted to bring to it, as far as my own take on it, was a more of an innocent Van and maybe a little more of a wide-eyed and heart-on-his-sleeve, because, that way as we, hopefully, do more of these movies in the future, we see him progress through college and we kind of see why he might have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder with women and partying and stuff. So, when he gets to be the original Van in the first one, he gets to be a little more guarded, so I tried to play him a little more innocent, a little bit more naïve and a little bit more vulnerable version of Van.

I really enjoyed how they portrayed the college, being run by this military hard-liner, as opposed to the original movie. Was that quite a surprise when you first read that in the script, how Coolidge College was?

Jonathan Bennett: You know what it reminded me of? Every time I see it, it's what I call the perfect 80s comedy formula. You have Animal House, Meatballs, the formula that just works and gets people to watch it over and over again because it never gets boring. I mean, how many times have you seen Animal House and Meatballs? You watch them all the time and it's the same formula, I think, with this, which I really loved. The dean of Coolidge College being all military and Van shows up and wants to make a change. The characters that inspired me were the original Van, Ryan Reynolds, but he is a little bit younger, so I thought there was a Ferris Bueller element to him, so it's kind of like the youthfulness of Ferris Bueller meets the college, crazy boy of Van, because Ferris was really innocent and there's two moments in our film where we actually break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, and that's what Bueller did, back in the day.

I also thought the origin of Colossus was quite interesting too, so was that the same dog that they used in the first film?

Jonathan Bennett: No, it's not. They got a second one because I think that dog grew up and got too old. The funny thing about working with a dog is that no matter what you do in the scene, if the bulldog gets it right, that's the take they're going to use. My most nerve-racking scenes were shooting with the dog because you didn't want to screw it up. If he sat at the right time or raised his paw at the right moment, you know that whatever you're doing in the scene, that's what's going in the movie so you better have it right every time you work with the dog.

So the dog is the real diva of the set then?

Jonathan Bennett: Yeah, the dog's a real asshole, you know. He's just a real diva. He shows up late to work, won't go through hair and makeup, he's a diva.

So you have quite a cast here with Kristin Cavalarri, Jerry Shea, Nestor Absera, Steve Talley, Nic Nac, so what was it like just going to work with these guys every day?

Jonathan Bennett: I haven't heard of any of these people. I don't know what you're talking about. Calamari? Do we know what her name is? Cavalouey? I'm kidding. I knew Nic Nac and Talley before we shot the film, so as far as they're concerned, I was friends with them way before this, so getting to go to Atlanta, Georgia and getting to shoot some of the craziest party scenes you've ever seen in your life, with two of your good friends, you can't ask for a better summer. It was just awesome and, as far as Kristin is concerned, I tested two of three different girls in screen tests and she was always there, always ready, she's just awesome, as far as her work ethic on set. She always shows up, she always knows her stuff, she's great. Her and I got along really well. If her and I could get through a scene without laughing, then that's the scene they used too. Literally, watching the movie, we'd think back with what takes we were laughing on, and pretty much every single take we were cracking up. We had a good time together.

I also saw on the DVD that you guys also poke a little fun at The Hills as well with that little Decatur feature, so did you do that after filming, or how did that work?

Jonathan Bennett: Let me tell you what Decatur is. We filmed that on our days off, usually, but I only had one day off a week, so I would literally work every scene of every day so I had one day off a week and the last thing I'd want to do was shoot Decatur in a local pub. But once I was up there, it was so funny. To watch Steve Talley do improve and watching them rip on Kristin and then watch her rip on them back, Kristin is a fun girl, but she has an edge to her. The cool thing about her is she can hang with the guys. Even when Nic Nac and the guys are poking fun at her, she does not hesitate to throw it right back at them.

There's also a part on the DVD where people are talking about the different pranks that they've pulled, and there wasn't much on your end, so has there ever been a Van Wilder-esque prank that you've pulled in the past?

Jonathan Bennett: Oh god. I feel like everything I do is a prank, my entire life. I am such a shitster and I love causing trouble. I love stirring the pot with people, so, on a daily basis, I'm always doing something, whether it be seeing my friend's car parked on the street and I flip all their windshield wipers up and turn all their mirrors upside down. Little shit like that to bigger stuff. I'm always doing something. I just can't think of one off the top of my head.

You've talked about hopefully doing more of these, so has there been any talk of a Sophomore Year?

Jonathan Bennett: Oh yeah. There's definitely talk of it and I hope people watch it and want to see it, because I would love to play Van until I'm 50. It's the best character ever. I'll play Van Wilder until I die.

Van Wilder: The Middle Aged Years

Jonathan Bennett: Yeah. Van Wilder: Retirement Village. That's what it's going to be. Van Wilder: Shady Oaks. That will be the last one.

So I see you're attached to a film called Slightly Single in L.A. with Rumer Willis and Haylie Duff, so is there anything you can tell us about that, or when it's going into production?

Jonathan Bennett: We're set to start production this summer. We're just waiting for the go-ahead. Everything is lined up, but I think they're working out some dates for some of the actors, but yeah, it's definitely going to start shooting this summer.

So can you tell us about your character in that or anything about the film in general?

Jonathan Bennett: Yeah, let's not talk about it yet until we have a green light above us and we're filming it because I don't want to say anything I shouldn't.

So is there anything else that you're lining up now, or are you just waiting for that project to go ahead?

Jonathan Bennett: Yeah, there are some TV things that are in the works. I hate saying stuff because it's always bad. My theory is unless you have a plane ticket in your hand and you're going to film it... you never know. With the economy the way it is, things happen.

I understand. So, finally, what would you like to say to the fans of the original Van Wilder to get them to pick this up on DVD next week?

Jonathan Bennett: If you liked the first one, you're going to love this one. It's got more sex, more partying, more crazyness in it and it's really good and funny. It's like the first one, on steroids, where all the parties and crazyness is concerened. The put the crazyness on steroids.

Nice. Well, that's about all I have for you, Jonathan. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with your new films.

Jonathan Bennett: Yeah. Thank you so much, bud.

You can watch Jonathan Bennett as the young Van Wilder in Van Wilder: Freshman Year when it comes out on DVD on July 14.