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The Hemi Q&A: Nick Jonas

The boy-band megastar has spent the past few years dodging mobs of frenzied fans, selling millions of albums and, in his spare time, picking up glossy acting gigs. We catch the maturing performer as he descends on Broadway for his biggest role yet.

Author DAVID CARR

ILLUSTRATION BY JEFFREY DECOSTER

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Nick Jonas, age 19, headed to Broadway to take over the role of corporate climber J. Pierrepont Finch in the revival of the classic musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. More than a few tweens and teen girls have bought, and will buy, tickets over his six-month run, and many of them will undoubtedly leave the theater vowing to marry Mr. Jonas. They may express this wish, in fact, at the very top of their lungs. The smart parent will respond by saying they could do a lot worse.

Yes, Jonas is cuter than a bug’s ear, but the New Jersey-raised performer is also talented, humble and well mannered, with a reputation for not having much of a reputation — except, that is, for selling records. Along with his two brothers, Joe and Kevin, he’s made four albums that collectively have sold more than 8 million copies. The band started as a solo project for Nick, then a Broadway child prodigy who had appeared in A Christmas Carol (as Tiny Tim), Annie Get Your Gun and Beauty and the Beast. Eventually his siblings signed on, and in 2007 the Jonas Brothers released a self-titled album that would mark the genesis of a pop phenomenon; the next year, they had three songs in Billboard‘s top 10 simultaneously.

Through it all, Nick Jonas has kept up his other pursuits, starring in Les Misérables in London’s West End in 2010 and Hairspray in 2011, and logging guest appearances on Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” and “Smash,” NBC’s Broadway drama/procedural featuring Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston. In other words, as he transitions from tween darling to adult star, Jonas runs toward new opportunities as if he’s being chased. (Which he sometimes is, when security isn’t what it should be. But more on that later.)

HEMISPHERES: So tell me about the play. How do you succeed in business without really trying?
JONAS: The show was written and created back in the ’60s, so now it’s a period piece. It looks at the corporate world — how dysfunctional it can be at times, but also how entertaining it can be. My character, J. Pierrepont Finch, finds a book that basically becomes his navigation tool. The idea is that if you have the knowledge of how ridiculous the corporate world can be, and you have the drive, you can rise to the top.

HEMISPHERES: Did your experience inside the music business inform your approach to the role?
JONAS: A little. When we signed on with Columbia, our manager said, “Congratulations, you’re part of the biggest machine in the world.” Then he said, “And I’m sorry to inform you that you’re part of the biggest machine in the world.” Eventually we had to part ways with them to go to Hollywood Records here in L.A., but luckily enough, we did learn in those early days a few ways we could achieve some of the things we wanted to.

HEMISPHERES: These days, a lot of performers build up a certain amount of fame and then make a big play for Broadway, but in your case it’s the opposite: The stage is a familiar place.
JONAS: I did four Broadway shows, from when I was 7 until I was about 11. It was my school and I learned a lot. It was great to be around like-minded people, people I related to, because they were passionate about the same thing I was passionate about. Plus, I got to perform on a Broadway stage every day, which wasn’t so bad.

HEMISPHERES: The title track from your solo record, Who I Am, as well as the video that goes with it, gets at the issue of identity and being OK with all kinds of people. Two things that you personally emphasize the most are being a brother and being a diabetic. Why is being a diabetic an important part of your identity?
JONAS: At first I didn’t have any diabetic friends, and didn’t really know too much about diabetes in general. Once I learned how to manage it myself, I wanted to be able to speak about it openly and encourage and inspire other people living with it.

HEMISPHERES: I was at the White House correspondents’ dinner after the Obama inauguration, and at the afterparty you and your brothers came into the room and it just about tipped over, so many people ran toward you. What was that like?
JONAS: At that time, it was still kind of shocking, but we always looked at it as a positive thing because it meant the work that we were putting in was paying off. But it did take some getting used to.

HEMISPHERES: I’ll bet. Care to share any especially harrowing boy-band moments, when you thought your personal safety was at risk?
JONAS: A couple of years ago we were in Madrid, doing a signing outside this big department store. They thought there would be 2,000 or 3,000 people there. Our head of security thought that more people would show up and that we needed more barriers and a better setup, but the department store people said, “Look, we think we got this under control.” Sure enough, when we showed up, there were more than 10,000 people. There were clearly too many for the space we were given, and it got out of control very quickly. In the middle of the signing, the police came and shut us down, saying it was unsafe. But they made this announcement while we were still onstage. We had to make our way out with probably 3,000 fans literally chasing us through the shopping mall.

It was like a horror movie. We were just booking it for the car. Then when we finally got to the car, it wouldn’t start. Just in the nick of time the car started and we jetted up this alley and got out of there — but it was scary.

HEMISPHERES: All these people, girls mostly, they love you and they care about you, but they don’t really know you, do they?
JONAS: You know, what I would say about our fans is that they really do. The thing that I think is so amazing about them, and that sets them apart from other fans of other artists, is that they’re really aware of who we are. Jonas Brothers fans are a force to be reckoned with.

HEMISPHERES: Do you think part of that is because you’ve made careful choices and haven’t been — how to say it? — sleazy in your approach to celebrity?
JONAS: As far as our values go, I think the thing that really connects with our fans more than anything is the fact that we’re a family first and we always have been. Even in this past year, when we’ve all gone and done our own things, at the end of the day we’re a family. As far as not being sleazy goes, we’re not perfect, we never have been and never will be, but we do try to be good guys.

HEMISPHERES: You’re a big advocate of Broadway as a family experience, but the cost of tickets can be mind-boggling.
JONAS: I understand that it’s an expensive thing to do, and financially it’s a stretch for some people, but I’d say it’s just something you have to experience at some point in your life. There’s always something incredible about a story being brought to life, where you have singing and dancing and acting all in one place, and there’s really a limited number of places where you can go and see that kind of spectacle.

HEMISPHERES: For all your love of stage extravaganzas, you’ve also been doing some TV work, including performing with Anjelica Huston on “Smash.”
JONAS: Working with Anjelica was a bit of a nerve-racking experience. She’s such a legend and I was definitely nervous going into it, but it turned out that she’s one of the friendliest and sweetest women I’ve ever met.

HEMISPHERES: You grew up in New Jersey, and now you’re spending a lot of time in New York. Let’s say you have a night off. I’m guessing that doesn’t happen much, but what would be a good New York night out for you?
JONAS: I’m a huge baseball fan, so once the season starts up, a perfect night for me would be watching the Yankees beat the Red Sox, with a hot dog in hand. That would be a brilliant night out. I’m hoping that after the run is done I’ll get that chance.

DAVID CARR, who covers media and culture for the New York Times, went through a boy-band phase himself — back when The Monkees were a big deal.

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