The life and times of actor Jimmy Bennett can be summed in three simple words: No Ordinary Teenager.
How else to explain the career of a kid who in the span of a mere 14-years has not only shared the screen opposite the likes of Steve Carell (Evan Almighty) and Bruce Willis (Hostage), but more recently stepped into the shoes in of a young James Tiberius Kirk under the watchful eye of some guy named J.J. Abrams. What’s more, Bennett can currently be seen every Tuesday night on ABC’s NO ORDINARY FAMILY alongside such TV Addict favorites as Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz and Kay Panabaker among others. Which is precisely where we caught up with the actor, as he took a break from shooting to answer a few questions from this slightly more ordinary television blogger.
Before we get into NO ORDINARY FAMILY, we’re obligated — as a die-hard EVERWOOD fan — to ask you about your time on the series. Considering how young you were, do you remember anything about playing Nina Feeney’s son Sam?
Jimmy Bennett: I honestly don’t. I remember there was a bird on the stage which flew away and got lost on set, but I don’t even remember who I was working with!
One thing we imagine you will have no trouble remembering is your most notable pre-NO ORDINARY FAMILY role, that of a young James Tiberius Kirk in J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. What was it like working on that film?
It was really fun and really hot! First of all, it was 102 degrees in Bakersfield when we were filming, but just being with J.J. Abrams was super cool. He actually bought me the whole Star Wars collection because on the set I had told him I had never watched any of the old ones, and he was like, “Oh my God, I’m buying you the whole box set.” Plus, getting to jump out of that car was really cool, it was set up in different stages and it took two weeks to film a sequence that I originally thought would take two days.
Did NO ORDINARY FAMILY co-creator Greg Berlanti remember you from your time on EVERWOOD when it came to casting the role of J.J.?
He did remember me and I’m pretty sure he had been following me since EVERWOOD so that when he found this project he said, “We have to audition this kid.” So when I went out, I didn’t have to test or anything. I just went to the producers, saw the director for the first and second episode which was David Semel and they just offered it to me. And I’m pretty sure the same thing happened with Kay Panabaker, she didn’t have to audition either.
J.J.’s relationship with his small screen sister Daphne [Kay Panabaker] is one of the highlights of the show because it’s so real and genuine. Is that something you two have worked on off camera, or did it just come naturally?
Kay and I get along awesome in real life, and I think that has to do with my sister Amanda, whose 18 and just moved away to college. I was kind of upset, so Kay took me under her wing as my new fake sister, well not my new sister, because my sister is still here, but you know, the one that’s here and that I can talk to and stuff. Which is why I hit it off so quickly with Kay, within the first day in fact we started texting each other and became really close.
Is working with Kay, Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Autumn Reeser and Romany Malco as much fun as one would expect?
We have a lot of fun on the set. In fact, there’s this game we play where everyone walks around with these safety pins and tries to poke you when you’re not looking so that you always have to be looking everywhere. Kay actually got me when I least expected it, and I can’t get her back, because she’s Kay and would kill me! It’s more fun when you’re poking someone then getting poked, and I guess you have to be there, but the set is just full of laughter and so relaxed. Plus, Michael Chiklis is awesome at “Words with Friends.” Everyone on the set plays it and I’m actually stuck right now and have no word to get back at him with. [Editor’s Note from one rabid “Words with Friends” to another: Both “QI” and “JO” are completely legitimate words if you find yourself stuck!]
Last week’s episode finally saw your TV parents team up to upend a bad guy. Is it safe to assume that J.J. and Daphne will soon be joining them in fighting crime?
Because of how protective our parents are, I don’t think they’re going to invite J.J. and Daphne to help them fight crime just yet. At least as of now, and all of this could change at the end of the season because we barely know what’s more than four episodes ahead, but as far as I know we’re sticking to being teenagers with cool abilities that we like to show off once in a while.
The evolution of your character J.J. has been interesting in the sense that at the start of the series he was using his powers for selfish little things like getting ahead in school, or making the football team. But lately, he’s been using them for more nefarious purposes, such as winning money in poker to buy some sort of super-computer. Is there a chance J.J. might have a little “villain” in him?
Since my two parents are basically superheroes, fighting crime and helping the world, I think J.J.’s always going to have the respect to know what’s good and what’s the right thing to do. Sure, he may have an urge to do a selfish act, like any regular teenager, but I don’t think he’ll go as far as committing a crime, counting cards yes, but actually committing a crime, no. He’s a super genius, so he’s going to know when he’s crossing that line and I don’t really seem him going over to the dark side.
And speaking of the dark side, how do you avoid heading there in your real life in terms of evading the tabloid headlines that far to often plague young Hollywood stars?
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I don’t live in Hollywood and didn’t grow up in that whole LA scene. I live down in Huntington Beach, a mellow area where the biggest concerns are surfing and skating and stuff. It’s really a whole different world than in LA. Had I grown up in LA, things might have been different, but I have a good group of friends that I’ve known since before this whole acting thing happened so it’s not all about being my friend just because I’m an actor. Plus, my parents try to keep me away from all that stuff as much as they can and I really appreciate that because I don’t want to end up as one of those headlines.
You mentioned your sister is off at College, is that something you’re thinking about?
Right now I am taking all of the math and high level classes that I need to actually go to College if I want to. But as of now I think I’m going to finish my High School year and see. One school that I’ve been dying to go to is NYU, as I love the New York area. So I’m getting an education so that I’m prepared should this whole acting thing not work out.
Well thus far, the whole acting thing seems to be working out. And assuming that continues, do you have an actor in mind whose career you’d like to emulate?
Leonardo DiCaprio. And it’s not just because of his new stuff, Inception was awesome, I’ve seen it five times now, but if you look back at his old stuff like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries, he’s just such a great actor and someone I look up to as an actor.
NO ORDINARY FAMILY airs Tuesday nights at 9PM on ABC (CTV in Canada)