When Nick Jonas turned up at the Sundance Film Festival this year, the industry cognoscenti was perplexed. What, exactly, was the youngest Jonas brother doing so far from a stage and his legion of screaming fans? Was he hoping to score a free puffy jacket from a swag suite? Shredding some powder on the slopes? Hot tubbing with some snow bunnies?
“I kept getting asked, ‘Oh, what do you have going on?’ Why are you here, basically,” Jonas recalled.
He was there, of course, because he was in a movie: “Goat,” about two brothers whose relationship becomes strained as they rush a college fraternity. It’s a film that grapples with serious issues — hazing, binge drinking, masculinity — the kind of stuff that wasn’t exactly broached in Jonas’ last movie about a teen music camp that aired on the Disney Channel in 2010.
So he got it — the fact that he seemed an odd fit alongside the likes of Werner Herzog, Lena Dunham and Viggo Mortensen. He knew not everyone had heard of “Kingdom,” the DirecTV series about mixed martial arts fighters that he’s starred on for the last two years. That he’s still known as a pop star, and for good reason: This summer, he saw his new album debut behind only Drake on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and embarked on a 43-city tour with Demi Lovato.
That concert tour concluded at the Forum in Inglewood on Saturday night. Jonas promptly flew to New York for a couple of days of press on “Goat.” And then Tuesday morning, immediately after he touched back down in L.A., he was driven to an empty sports bar on the fringes of West Hollywood that had opened early just for him. He walked in looking bleary-eyed, wearing a black hoodie with glittery palm trees on it. Someone on his team handed him a bottle of cold-brew coffee, a green juice and an egg scramble.
“Can we sit outside?” he asked, settling by a fire pit with flies circling it. He visited a bar like this before he started filming “Goat,” which debuted in 20 theaters and video-on-demand Friday. He was performing in Bowling Green, Ohio, and he asked the audience where he should head for a drink after the gig. When his fans suggested a prototypical college dive, the 24-year-old — who never attended college himself — decided to use the experience as research for his upcoming frat-bro role.
“It was a wild night,” he said. “Shots. Smirnoff Ice. You ever been Iced? It’s a game that you play where someone surprises you with a Smirnoff Ice and you have to chug it on one knee. It happened to me three times.”
Jonas said he wanted to understand “this whole world of drinking to get [messed] up, which is absolutely not the way” he drinks. He was living with his older brother, Joe, when he turned 21, and credits his sibling with helping him safely explore his alcohol limits. (His real vice is cigars, which he was first exposed to when he was 15 and on tour with the Jonas Brothers, because many of the crew members smoked.)
The Jonas Brothers went their separate ways in 2013, but his identity as a member of the boy band has trailed him ever since. When he first told his agent he was interested in pursuing acting, he kept getting pushback: “‘We don’t want a Jonas Brother’ is a lot of what I heard,” he said. “We were no longer the hottest thing, and the acting experience I had in [Disney Channel] movies didn’t really challenge me as an actor. There were a few times where someone would let me read for something, and I’d get down to the very end, and then they’d say, ‘You’re probably one of the best reads we’ve had, but the studio doesn’t feel like we can cast you.’”
James Franco, who produced “Goat,” didn’t share that bias. He’d worked with fellow Disney vets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens on the edgy 2013 indie “Spring Breakers” and was impressed by their transformational performances.
“Those actresses were known for much more poppy things, and then they threw themselves into their roles and were really serious about them. So I had a hunch Nick would do the same thing,” explained Franco, who also has a cameo in the film as a fraternity veteran. “He already had a career, and if he wanted to do this acting thing, I felt like he was going to work harder than anyone. He doesn’t have to do this — he really wants to.”
Still, director Andrew Neel admitted, “he wasn’t someone you were putting at the top of acting lists at that point.”
“He was only known as a pop star,” the filmmaker said. “So initially, everyone was like, ‘Nick Jonas? What? Is this guy acting now?’ There’s a bias against him, like ‘Oh, he’s just a pop star,’ and in a lot of ways, I think that’s good. Because he was willing to come in and work hard. He wanted to earn it.”
And Jonas definitely isn’t playing around when it comes to his acting career. He’s worked with a coach, Rebecca Kitt, for a number of years, and sometimes she’ll come out on his tours with him to help him prepare for certain roles. He admires actors who have made big transitions in their careers — guys like Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum. He’s completely serious when he says that he’d someday like to achieve the famed EGOT — an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award.
Once he even briefly considered discontinuing his social media accounts — he’s on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter — because he worried they were hurting his chances to land big parts.
“I think about that — if I didn’t have Twitter or Instagram, would I have more roles that I want coming to me?” said Jonas, who has 10.9 million followers on Twitter alone. It’s a sentiment shared by some of the most serious actors of his generation — Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Daniel Radcliffe — even as studio heads have increasingly begun to gauge box-office potential via a star’s online following.
But Jonas has lived his life in public since his Disney Channel days, where he first learned what it was like to be on a movie set. On the “Camp Rock” films, the most important directives were to be enthusiastic and to hit your mark. There wasn’t a whole lot of soul-searching.
“I didn’t necessarily love the material,” Jonas acknowledged. “But I don’t want to knock that experience. I’m not one of these Disney haters. I’m really appreciative of the foundation it laid for me.”
Things were far different on the low-budget “Goat,” where he spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a man. In the film, he plays Brett, whose younger brother Brad (newcomer Ben Schnetzer) is rushing a fraternity he’s already a member of. As he watches Brad get brutally hazed by his frat bros — he has to chug endless liquor, grab a banana out of a toilet while blindfolded and physically fight the other pledges — Brett starts to question his loyalty to the organization.
Growing up, Jonas’ father, Kevin Jonas Sr., shaped Nick’s view of masculinity. The family patriarch was a minister and a musician, but he also loved football — “he just kind of let us be who we were without judgment,” said the younger Jonas, who had a similar mix of interests. As a kid, Nick started acting in plays, but he still played sports, even harboring a dream to walk on to the baseball team at Northwestern University. (He visited the campus in 2009, but “it didn’t work out,” Jonas said of how fame affected that decision. “It would not have been as easy as showing up and going to class.”)
Sometimes he wonders what college would have been like, but Jonas said he doesn’t regret sticking to performing. He’s having the most fun he ever has on stage. And he’s slowly gaining acceptance in the acting community too. A few months after the premiere of “Goat,” he got a call about auditioning for Sony Pictures’ remake of “Jumanji” starringDwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
“They were like, ‘Are you OK to read?’” said Jonas, who left Thursday to join the cast for the film’s three-month shoot in Hawaii. “And I was like, ‘Of course I’m OK to read!’ I was so used to people saying they didn’t even want to give me a chance to read at all.”
Source: Los Angeles Times