'Dumplin' Star Luke Benward on 'Monotonous' Boyfriend Roles and 'To All the Boys' Sequel Rumors (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Luke Benward captured hearts as nice guy Bo in Dumplin', the Netflix adaptation of the best-selling Julie Murphy novel, starring opposite Jennifer Aniston and Danielle Macdonald, that debuted in early December. Serving as the main love interest to Macdonald's Willowdean "Dumplin'" Dickson,daughter of a former beauty pageant queen and who Bo works with at the local diner, Benward's screen time in the film is relatively brief. Even when he's not onscreen though, his character's presence and impact is felt.
"Dumplin' is such a special movie. I'm glad Netflix picked it up and people were able to see it at a high volume. I think the message and the execution by [director] Anne Fletcher and how she told the story is beautiful," Benward, 23, tells ET. Before he became familiar to audiences as Bo, the Tennessee native cut his teeth through various adolescent roles (Disney Channel's Good Luck Charlie, Freeform's Ravenswood) before transitioning to more adult parts (Life of the Party, alongside Melissa McCarthy).
When Dumplin' came around, Benward revealed it was "one of the easier audition processes I've been a part of," crediting much of that to having an immediate rapport with Fletcher. "Right off the bat, we kind of just hit it off. I remember walking out and calling my manager being like, 'Yo, weirdly enough, I think I may have booked this one.' It just kind of fell into place -- meant to be, for lack of a better word," he shared.
Recently, Benward spoke with ET about his breakthrough role in Dumplin', why Bo isn't like past "monotonous" boyfriend roles he's played and addresses rumors that he may be playing John Ambrose McClaren in the anticipated To All the Boys I've Loved Before sequel.
ET: Let's talk Dumplin'! What was the initial draw for you with Bo?
Luke Benward: It's quite rare for real humans going through life but also for characters that we watch onscreen to have a character that's so honest and confident and knows what he likes and loves, and he's going to go after it full speed ahead despite preconceived notions or opinions around him or even the opinions of the person that he cares about. When I read the script, Bo was just this guy full of passion and zeal and happy to be alive. That's what I loved about him. I got so tired of playing the monotonous boyfriend who's just kind of like always there and nice and charming. Bo is nice and charming, but he's dynamic and really makes a point and puts himself out there.
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You see early on that Bo doesn't care about Willowdean's weight. He just likes her for her, even though she herself isn't confident in her own identity. Unfortunately, we haven't experienced that onscreen regularly enough to consider that anything but refreshing...
Absolutely, it's beautiful. Especially with what you just said, they're watching the stars [on their date] and she gets up and leaves. That's another beautiful moment I loved is that he's not like, "Wait, wait! But I like you! What's the problem?" It's almost like, she leaves and it becomes, "What did I do wrong?" It's that honest internal struggle of, like, people are self-conscious in general about their own things and if someone gets up and leaves, it's going to impact each individual person differently. I love that that was the honest take. We all have our own sh*t, you know?
What did you like about Willowdean and Bo's romance?
It's very apparent just from watching them interact and how they go about different [things] -- giving gifts, social interactions, the little glances, I think there is a deeper connection between the two of them. It's that unspoken attraction, you can't really explain it and you get it straight off the bat with them. It's not grounded in this "what relationships should be," "what attraction should be," it's coming from an honest place of, "I really, really like you and I have no idea. I can't explain it, I just do." That is what love is, it's just this undeniable passion that you don't understand.
Because Dumplin' is based on a book, how much of the source material did you digest beforehand?
I didn't want to get too much of an idea in my head. I wanted it to be organic. Obviously, the script took its own liberties. I definitely went through and read the scenes for Bo that weren't in the script, just so I could have an idea of where Julie was coming from.
We learn a lot more about Bo in the book, such as his home life and the relationship with Willowdean is a little bit more fleshed out. Was that helpful to know more of Bo's backstory or did you focus on movie Bo?
There even were a couple of scenes that we did shoot that ended up not making the movie, just because it didn't work. There was a whole scene where we met Bo's mom and his little brother, and there's this whole weird interaction where she's treating him like the golden child but Bo is the "stepchild," for lack of a better word. After, Anne let me know it wasn't going to make it in because it didn't fit in with the heart of the story, which is obviously [Willowdean].
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A second book, Puddin', came out last May. Would you be interested in continuing this story in a Dumplin' sequel?
Yeah, absolutely. It follows Millie Michalchuk, so yeah, we'll see how it plays out. I would love to come back and play Bo again. I think in this story too, it will be Bo and Willowdean in the middle of trying to figure out a relationship, so it could be even more interesting.
You've been acting since you were a kid making a mark on Disney Channel. Has it been strange having people crushing on you years later after Dumplin' who maybe didn't realize you were also in that Disney TV movie they also loved too?
It's honestly fun. Honestly, the older I get the more I'm able to really understand it and have this newfound respect. Because I've been doing it since I was a kid, all the people who are now fans of me have kind of grown up with me in a weird way. We're the same age, we kind of went through the same things at the same time. There is that interesting dynamic. The funniest thing is basically people just going back and forth between fans who had been following me over the last "X" number of years and then the fans who just followed me. There were all these people who were like, "You're just on the bandwagon blah blah blah!" It was so funny to see them figure out who the OG fans are. (Laughs.)
(Laughs.) Honestly, I'm just messing around. There's nothing to it right now. I just like playing with people. People were getting excited about it, I thought might as well instigate a little bit. (Laughs.) Yeah, I'm an antagonizer. I have been since I've been a little kid, so sometimes I can't resist.
And you and Noah Centineo are friends, so it seems well within the realm of possibility.
(Laughs.) Hey, I'm not saying I wouldn't love to do it. I'd love to. I'd love to work with him.
Would you want to play that character? Would you want to be in that world?
Yeah, absolutely. I'll be honest, I don't really remember John Ambrose. I'll probably have to watch the movie again but like I said, I'd love to work with my boy. We'll have to see how it shakes down, but I'm not opposed to it.
Have you talked to Noah about being a heartthrob or do you just not touch that?
We talked about that a little bit but it's hard. There's not a lot to say. It's so amusing and entertaining. It's just like, "Cool, this is what it is now." It was like a month after he really blew up and I found out that Netflix had bought Dumplin', and so I did make the joke, "Noah, watch out, I'm coming for you!" (Laughs.)
You just did a film with Melissa McCarthy and you have a bunch of films coming out over the next year or so. What can we expect to see from you?
Last year, I did three indies, which was so rewarding and artistic and freeing experiences. I did a thriller, [Grand Isle,] with Nic Cage -- I actually have to go back and finish it. It's almost Get Out-esque, where it starts out slow and then sh*t hits the fan and then it just goes bonkers. Did another indie [Wildcat], which was really intense and dramatic, where I was being tortured and dying throughout the entire film. Then there was another indie [Playing God] where I play a con artist -- a brother-sister con artist duo -- and we're trying to pay this debt off to this very dangerous guy. All very different characters, all different stories and I think it's going to be a cool year if they all come out.
What is your own personal taste? Do you tend to lean toward stuff that's a little off-center?
I love it all. I hate it when people say that but I truly do. I just like good, honest art; despite the genre, you can have great films. There's a quote from Oscar Wilde and the more I go through life and pay attention, the more I'm like, "Wow, he's a genius. Basically, he says, "There's no such thing as a bad story, just bad storytelling." When I read scripts, I want to break it down to the base level of is this told from a perspective that is both aware and passionate? It's not like there's a certain type of story I'm looking for or a certain type of character I'm looking for, I just want honest, real art that'll impact people. And I want to play any and every kind of character on the planet.