Haley Bennett Relives Her Awkward Date Scene With Jonathan Majors in "Magazine Dreams"

(L-R) Elijah Bynum, Haley Bennett, Jonathan Majors, and Taylour Paige visit the IMDb Portrait Studio at Acura Festival Village at Sundance 2023. Image Source: Getty Images for IMDb /Corey Nickols

Imagine a dimly lit room in a small house that is covered with photos of muscly, oiled-up male bodybuilders. This room exists in "Magazine Dreams" — a feature from writer-director Elijah Bynum that premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival — and it belongs to Killian Maddox (played by Jonathan Majors), an amateur bodybuilder who is caring for his ailing grandfather. Killian spends his days training excessively in his garage and at the gym, all in an attempt to win the world championships and appear on the cover of esteemed magazines like his idol, Brad Vanderhorn (Michael O'Hearn).

Killian's obsessive tendency to "fix" his body initially borders on vanity, but a deeper examination of "Magazine Dreams" reveals a larger truth at the heart of the film: he simply wants to be remembered. Killian fears being invisible, and like many of us, desires to have a place in the world where he is recognized. So, he fights with every ounce of his being to achieve the spotlight he so desperately craves.

"The true message is that we have to help each other heal."

The audience is rooting for Killian — despite his rage and violent behavior. In his unhinged actions, Killian's insecurity and mental health struggles become apparent, which is perhaps why he's ultimately a sympathetic character. It's clear he feels constantly judged, and in turn, he's unable to achieve any real emotional intimacy.

In one scene in particular, he asks his crush, Jessie (Haley Bennett), out on a date. The duo work together at a local supermarket, and the entire exchange is awkward and endearing all at once; the audience is hoping that, finally, Killian will find someone who can consistently be on his side. But when Killian and Jessie go on their date at a local steakhouse, the initial charming banter between them transforms into what Bennett describes as a "date from hell," thanks to Killian's never-ending rant about his bodybuilding.

"I loved the scenes between Jessie and Killian when I first read the script," Bennett tells POPSUGAR. "At first, she was really excited and hopeful to find a connection with another human being. Both Jessie and Killian are shy and uncomfortable characters. Jessie also feels unworthy, and Killian carries so much dark trauma. But, during the date when Killian starts talking about his family history and his bodybuilding, she is crestfallen when she sees how swallowed up he is by his obsession and ambition."

During that date scene, though, Bennett was actually uncomfortable. She reveals that the temperature was upwards of 105 degrees in Los Angeles on the day of shooting — the real irritation of the sweater she was wearing, plus the sweat and the heat, added to the onscreen cringe-worthiness.

"This scene will inspire memes," Bennett jokes.

When the date ends poorly (with Jessie excusing herself to go to the bathroom and then ultimately leaving the restaurant), Bennett's character is overcome with shame for not being able to foster a connection with Killian.

There's a very obvious theme in "Magazine Dreams" — the characters are pretending to be OK even when they're not. When Bennett first read Bynum's script, she was fascinated by the underlying themes of empathy and self-sabotage as a result of trauma and how the writing successfully translated these concepts cinematically. To prepare for the role, she thoroughly read the script to gather clues about her character, did a lot of dreamwork (which involves unpacking and deciphering the meaning of your dreams for the purpose of gaining more self-awareness), and channeled aspects of her own life into the character, like she does with any role. For instance, in that particular restaurant scene, Jessie feels humiliated when Killian attacks her for not knowing his idol; Bennett thought about the times she experienced humiliation in her personal life and used that as a mechanism for the scene, she says.

Bennett has appeared in other buzzy films like "Till" and "Hillbilly Elegy"; she's also just wrapped filming "Clicquot" in France, in which she portrays the titular role, the woman behind the famous Champagne label. But the premiere of "Magazine Dreams"on Jan. 20 at Sundance was the first time Bennett had watched her most recent release in its entirety.

"I was just reeling by how intense and powerful the film was and how it shook me to the core and the marvelous performance and craftsmanship that went into making it," Bennett says. "The film blew me away, and it was no small feat for a film that was made on a 24-day schedule . . . Jonathan's performance was so powerful, and it will be hard to find a better performance in 2023 than in Jonathan Majors."

And even more than that, Bennett says, she hopes the film helps those who watch it. On a larger scale, the movie shows that we all matter, even when our own traumas have us feeling broken.

"Filmmaking for me is holistic and therapeutic, and I view creativity and storytelling as healing," Bennett says. "That's why I wanted to be part of making this film, because the true message is that we have to help each other heal."

And that message is crucial for society-at-large, she adds: "America needs to heal urgently, so that bad things don't keep happening, and that starts with us, the individuals, the storytellers who are responsible for us to empathize with each other — and I think 'Magazine Dreams' carries that message forward."