Once a virginal boyband star, Nick Jonas tells Alison de Souza how he managed to overcome the pitfalls of child stardom to become a hit solo artist and up-and-coming actor.
Macaulay Culkin, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes… Showbiz is littered with child stars who went off the rails and became cautionary tales about the perils of early fame. As a former boyband member and Disney Channel darling, it could have gone the same way for Nick Jonas, who, as one-third of the Jonas Brothers, seemed as good a candidate as any to self-implode or fade to obscurity once the group outgrew its brand of squeaky-clean pop.
Yet the 23-year-old has not only managed to avoid the stereotypical trip to rehab, he has also clambered out of the boyband scrapheap to reinvent himself as a solo artist, with chart-topping hits such as “Jealous”, “Chains” and “Levels.”
And he has done one better than Justin Timberlake—perhaps the biggest recovering teen idol of them all—by making interesting moves as an actor, too; playing a closeted gay boxer in the television series Kingdom and headlining the James Franco-produced indie film Goat, a harrowing drama about fraternity hazing that was a standout at this year's Sundance festival.
Speaking to Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore in Los Angeles, Jonas puts it down to a laser-like focus on work and maintaining a tight circle, both professionally and personally.
“I think a healthy amount of obsession over what you do is a good thing. I’ve always approached my work with as much care and attention to detail as possible. I try not to go to a place where it goes dark and gets complicated,” he laughs. “But I think that’s key, sometimes—to get a little obsessive.”
It was this single-mindedness that spurred his solo ascent, which was far from a given in 2013, when the Jonas Brothers unexpectedly broke up just before a planned new album and world tour. The singer emerged from that with a determination to work doubly hard to craft a new sound and image—one that seems cannily designed to signal his growing maturity without completely alienating old fans.
Granted, some of the teen girls who idolised him for the virginity promise rings he and his brothers once wore may have been scandalised by the shirtless selfies or crotch-grabbing photoshoots used to promote him now. But many fans have grown with him, he believes.
“I think there are a lot of people who came on the journey with me, which is an incredibly brave thing for them.” The star, who launched an artist-centric record label with friend and fellow Disney alumni Demi Lovato last year, plans to keep moving forward while staying true to his musical roots, a slick blend of pop and R&B.
“I’m done with the new record now, which is really exciting. We’re going to begin launching that in the next month. I work with the same four to five different producers and like to keep my collaborative circle pretty tight so that I feel like they really understand where my head’s at, and what my process is.”
“There’s safety in that, but I also took steps to move forward in the last record. I tried to push myself lyrically as much as possible, and make the most honest and connected work I’ve ever done; and I hope it shows.”
Jonas is finding new fans as an actor, too, his decision to play homosexual characters on two TV shows last year, Kingdom and Scream Queens, making him something of a gay pin-up. The star, who says he embraces his gay fans and hopes to dismantle stereotypes surrounding such characters, is actively gunning for edgier roles like these.
“I’ve been really conscious of trying to push myself to show people what I can do on the acting side, and find roles that scare me a little bit in that they challenge me and the material is dark and gritty.” Like his TV roles, the film Goat will also challenge traditional notions of manhood in American culture; in this case, by shining a light on the extremes of fraternity hazing rituals.
And despite being a heartthrob who has dated models like GigiHadid and Olivia Culpo, Jonas appears to define his own masculinity in a somewhat atypical fashion as well.
The first time he felt like a man, he says, “was when I was 12 and with my mum in Chicago, and one of her very close friends had just passed away.
I was very young but I think the first time you have to comfort your parent, that kind of role reversal forces you to grow up a little bit. It actually made my mum and I very close. That bond was built in a more mature way because I had to support her in a real time of loss. So that was probably the first time I felt like a man.”
Outside of music and acting, the star’s main preoccupations are golf, which he plays whenever he can, and binge-watching TV shows such as Game of Thrones, which at one point “kind of took over any free time I had,” he sheepishly admits.
Following renewed rumours linking him to actress Kate Hudson, Jonas recently took to Twitter to declare that he is very much single.
When he does date, however, the star reveals that he has a bit of a tendency to over-think and over-analyse everything. “When it comes to life choices, and specifically in a romantic sense, I’m pretty in my head at times.”
Girlfriend or not, family and friends continue to be a priority.
“Here in Los Angeles, my brother Joe and I are very close, we spend a lot of time together. Most nights we just end up at this cigar bar that we hang out at, have a drink and kick back and hang out. I’m very social in that way. I like to go and have dinner with some friends and have a nice night out. Just being around people who I care about and who I know care about me is a great feeling.”