Miss Benny “absolutely” knows that this is their moment. The singer, actor and former YouTuber has just dropped ‘Swelter’, a self-produced and self-released EP of soul-baring pop-rock bangers. “My mouth filled with salt when they came in the room,” Benny sings on ‘My Ex Just Fell In Love’, a song that lives up to its, well, forthright title. “I was a little nervous about putting this music out,” Benny admits, “because in all my years of being a public person, I’ve never allowed myself to be this vulnerable before.”
But the 24-year-old’s public profile is really about to explode thanks to their lead role in Glamorous, a zingy new Netflix series premiering on June 22. They star as Marco Mejia, a gender-nonconforming young queer person whose career as an influencer is going nowhere until he is hired by Madolyn Addison, a famous makeup mogul played by Sex And The City legend Kim Cattrall. “It feels like the amalgamation of everything that I’ve worked towards,” Benny says as we chat over Zoom. It’s still early in LA, where Texas-born Benny has lived for the last decade, but they’re clearly wide awake and whip-smart. “You know, I’ve worked in comedy, I’ve worked in social media and I’ve worked in makeup,” Benny continues. “And so, right now, getting to do all those things at this scale is mind-blowing. It feels major.”
“I’ve never allowed myself to be this vulnerable”
Glamorous isn’t just well-timed to arrive at the tail end of Pride Month, when anyone who’s been marching and/or partying might be craving a lazy binge-watch. It’s also been scheduled to premiere on the same day as And Just Like That…‘s second season, the spin-off series in which Cattrall will (very briefly) reprise her iconic Sex And The City role as Samantha Jones. Given that the actress had previously ruled out ever appearing in the continuation series, reportedly due to tensions with her former castmates, her return has already whipped Twitter into a frenzy. “I look forward to Kim Cattrall giving us the highest paid cameo in the history of television. Queen!” British actress Kathy Burke tweeted when the news broke two weeks ago.
Benny was attached to Glamorous before Cattrall was impeccably cast as Madolyn Addison, but because they had recently re-watched Sex And The City and relished “all her iconic moments”, they could already picture Cattrall in the role. “They [the producers] needed somebody who’s funny, who’s serious and respected and powerful, but also cool,” Benny says. “I was always pitching Kim Cattrall [to them], but I thought it was a long shot. And then the producers surprised me one day at dinner by saying: ‘It looks like she’s signing on.’ And I had a gay heart attack. I nearly fell over because I couldn’t believe it!”
In episode one, we see Marco become awestruck as he enters Madolyn’s office for the first time and clocks all the magazines she has covered. Benny says that in this moment, their “wonder” was intensified because they were also being confronted with multiple images of the icon that is Kim Cattrall. However, it sounds as though the two co-stars hit it off as soon as they met, many months earlier, for a camera test. At the time, Benny was wearing nothing but an oversize shirt, to which Cattrall drawled playfully: “’Well, look at you.’ And I was like ‘no pants, who needs ’em?'” Benny recalls. “And so she replied, ‘Right – who needs ’em?’ And I was like, ‘I’m in!'” As the season progresses, we can expect Benny’s character to give Cattrall’s as good as he gets. “I’m excited for people to see the Marco-Madolyn relationship, because it gets complicated and it gets sticky,” Benny says. “Honestly, it’s iconic.”
Because Glamorous now seems poised to ride the zeitgeist, it’s a little surprising to hear that the show has been nearly five years in the making. Benny was first approached about “a coming-of-age show involving a makeup influencer” in early 2019 and instantly knew it was their “dream role”. However, after shooting a pilot episode that never aired, US network The CW decided not to order a full series. According to Benny, the only cast member to remain with Glamorous after that pilot, the show was then “redeveloped for three years” before Netflix picked it up. “I feel like I’ve grown up with this show and character,” they say. “And it’s funny that it’s just now coming out because I feel like I’ve been doing it for years.”
“When Kim Cattrall joined ‘Glamorous’ I had a gay heart attack”
Benny says Glamorous has “changed a good amount” since the pilot, partly by virtue of the fact that they – and Marco – are four years older. Originally, the show would have opened with Marco being hired by Madolyn “straight out of high school”, whereas now their character is “already in [his] twenties, dating and vibing and partying and living life”. Still, Benny says the series’ fundamental intention remains the same – namely, “to show a queer young person’s first experiences with career success and failure, [as well as] heartbreak and falling in love.” Only now, Marco is less of a “sweetheart” than he was originally envisaged. “We kind of see him get into trouble,” Benny says with an implied wink, “which personally I love.”
The depiction of queer characters on-screen has steadily improved since 2019 thanks to hit shows like Heartstopper and It’s A Sin, but Benny believes Glamorous can add new threads to the tapestry of LGBTQ+ representation. “What’s so great is that the majority of our characters are queer, and different types of queer,” they say. “Normally, when there’s a queer character on a show, [the writers] put all of the stereotypes and jokes that they can into that one character.” In the process, that character doesn’t “really get to breathe” and any sense of “individualism and nuance” is lost. But, because Glamorous explores a range of LGBTQ+ experiences, Benny says each character “gets their own space to exist”. In this respect, the show simply reflects what they describe as their own “homonormative” life. “It’s so many different shades of queer”, Benny says, “with a couple of straight people peppered in.”
Benny’s life didn’t always contain so many shades of queer. Born in Dallas, Texas, they say their childhood was “challenging in all the ways that any queer person who grows up in a less accepting environment finds challenging”. Like many closeted teenagers, Benny sought solace online, though not every 13-year-old builds their own hit YouTube channel. Kid POV, on which Benny displayed a flair for sketch comedy, was successful enough to win endorsements from top-tier YouTubers Troye Sivan and Tyler Oakley. “[My upbringing] made me very resilient and even more determined to pursue my dream,” Benny says today. “I wish and I dream for future queer kids that they don’t have to experience that need to be self-reliant. But for me, I try to take the positive from it.”
Benny freely admits that before they achieved YouTube fame, they dreamed of being a “child star” like fellow Texan Selena Gomez. “I went to the same acting school as her [in Dallas] and I was basically like, ‘I’m gonna be Selena Gomez,'” they say. After getting an agent, Benny moved to LA at 14 “for what used to be called pilot season” in the pre-streaming era, and never looked back. “I came close to booking so many shows but the Selena Gomez fantasy just didn’t happen for me,” they say. Benny continued making YouTube videos until they were 18, at which point “it felt natural to segue into other creative fields”.
Teaching themselves to write and record music, then release it independently, was one creative field that Benny explored with characteristic elan. In 2019, having acquired the nickname-turned-stage name Miss Benny because “I was always dressed to the nines and had my face done perfectly”, Benny dropped a series of alt-leaning electropop singles. “I been skinny-dipping while I’m sipping rosé,” they sing on that year’s ‘Every Boy’, “I just wanna kiss a boy in every place.” Their new EP ‘Swelter’, Benny’s first new music since then, is rockier and more mature. “I always joke that the first songs I released were about hooking up with boys and being a party girl,” they say. “But this EP is about what happens after the party when everything settles and your heart gets broken. Now, I have all of these feelings that I need to scream out.”
During those intervening years, while Glamorous was being redeveloped, Benny’s acting career gathered momentum with credible, on-brand guest spots in American Horror Stories and Love, Victor. Now, at 24, they are more than ready to take the lead. “It’s happened for me now in a much bigger and better way than I could have even dreamed when I was 14,” they say. “At the time, I was [auditioning to play] the ‘quirky friend’ or some fun, goofy person who says two or three lines. But now, instead of that, I get to be Selena Gomez. It’s almost like somebody wrote this [trajectory] for me!”
‘Glamorous’ is released on Netflix on June 22
Featured image credit: Dan Prakopcyk