Growing Up With God - by Karen Anne Overton
Life in the spotlight hasn’t always been easy for Nick Jonas. While the music industry is tough and unrelenting, and the acting world makes every participant fair game for discussion and critique, it’s arguably been the pressures of playing the impeccably behaved Christian kid that have weighed heaviest.
But with a new album due and gradual big screen acclaim coming his way, the charming 25-year-old has proven that with hard work, conscience and a little faith, it is possible to live your truth in the public eye.
He isis not the first former Disney alumnus to shirk off his innocent mouse ears and take on a sexy, provocative persona, and he certainly won’t be the last, but the transformation of Nick Jonas from dimple-cheeked boy-bander to muscle-bound leading man is more staggering than most. And the American’s coming of age is particularly noticeable given that the handsome 25-year-old has achieved the ultimate goal of balancing a chart-topping career with a bubbling Tinseltown presence. It’s a potential minefield for some, but Jonas is living the dream. “I hope I never reach a point in my life where I have to choose between music and acting,” he begins. “Giving up music would suck – it’s been my life, but acting is new territory for me that I love, and being forced to quit either isn’t something I want to contemplate.”
And why should he be forced to choose? After all, one glance at Jonas’ career tells us his talent has always been broad and unassuming. Having started landing roles on Broadway at the age of seven, he wrote his first song at ten and two years later was releasing his debut album on Columbia Records. Such an early gift for the arts is rare, and even more remarkable is his ability to survive the snake pit of showbiz as he continues to evolve.
“For me it’s always felt like a natural progression. I’ve never been forced to pursue a certain route and that’s why I’ve always enjoyed the experience. If you don’t enjoy it, how are you expected to give 100 per cent?” he questions.
“After all, being busy is being happy.”
Indeed, the ‘Jealous’ crooner is at full speed right now. There’s an upcoming album and accompanying tour, and following on from a rousing performance in the recent Jumanji revisit, Welcome to the Jungle, Jonas will play the villain in Chaos Walking, due out in March 2019. Based on the young adult science fiction series of the same name by Patrick Ness, the film is set in a dystopian world. It is a world in which creatures can hear one another’s thoughts. It’s the first of three movies in a trilogy, and could provide another significant stepping stone for Jonas, with distributors Lionsgate hoping the film will equal or even better the success it had with The Hunger Games series.
Accordingly, Jonas offers humility when asked how he feels about landing a role which will see him star opposite Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland, arguably two of the biggest stars on the planet right now. “In each role, I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to showcase more of what I’m about,” he says.
“The film is based on a series of books, so it could maybe turn into something big. And my character is someone very different from those I’ve played in the past – he leans more on anger and aggression, and that’s new for me.
“I’m really not a nice guy in this, and that’s the fun side of the job, exploring a new side to myself and my acting,” he adds with a flash of sinister glee.
The notion of the once baby-faced star portraying evil intent is certainly an interesting one, though Jonas knows all too well the complexities of ‘public persona’, having been through the media wringer… such is the plight of finding success so young when one’s sense of self is yet to develop, and then being required to become a man under the constant scrutiny of the press. And given the many dichotomies in his life, it is remarkable he has maintained such clarity and personal dignity.
The son of a former Assembly of God minister, Jonas and his brothers Kevin Jnr, 30, Joe, 28, and Frankie, 17, were raised in New Jersey. Their day-to-day world was rooted in rules and religion, and they were expected to be the epitome of perfectly behaved Christian children. “Religion was a major part of our upbringing and, given that my father was a pastor, we had to exemplify publicly everything that he was about. So there was a lot of scrutiny from the very start, and I guess I have always lived with that level of attention.
“But with that came a lot of comfort and companionship,” he continues. “The church is the widest family you can have, and there were always so many good people around, so that feeling of protection was very real.”
Regardless, in other ways it was an upbringing that was sheltered, given the brothers were home-schooled by their mother, Denise (a former sign language teacher, and singer). And yet, it is this cloistered environment that seems have fostered an abundance of musicality among the Jonas clan, with their father an enthusiastic musician and songwriter who regularly performed Christian songs he had composed.
It was Nick, though, who exhibited real promise as a performer, and he landed a showbiz manager aged just six when he was scouted in a barbershop while his mother was getting her hair cut. Soon, the precocious youngster was appearing regularly on Broadway in roles such as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, Chip in Beauty and the Beast and Gavroche in Les Misérables. It was while starring in Beauty that Jonas penned his first song with his father, titled ‘Joy to the World (A Christmas Prayer)’. Later released to Christian radio through INO Records (a Tennessee label which specialised in Christian songs), the single caught the ears of execs at Columbia who furnished the promising youngster with his first major label record deal.
While signed with the label, Jonas decided to enlist brothers Kevin and Joe to form a band, the Jonas Brothers. Their trio of musical talent and wholesome handsomeness made them an instant hit with young fans, and garnered appearances on numerous Disney soundtracks, accompanied by a relentless touring schedule. By 2007 the band had switched to Hollywood Records where they would make their acting debut on the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, and so formally began a stellar rise to global acclaim.
“It’s clear it was a passion for faith and song that put us on the path and I’ll always be grateful for that,” says Jonas. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a gift from God, but he certainly had a very obvious role in pushing us in a certain direction!”
From the outside, life under Mickey Mouse’s colourful umbrella looks as delightful as any Disney fairy tale. And yet, it is not unusual for stars to burn out quickly once the reality of industry pressure begins to hit home. Miley Cyrus, Debby Ryan, Demi Lovato and Lindsay Lohan are all former Disney sweethearts who have either struggled with addictions or had brushes with the law, as they struggle to forge an identity outside of their squeaky-clean on-screen personas.
For the Jonas trio, this struggle was more of a creative one as they stared across a chasm between the very different identities of being a product of a major brand, and standing as credible artists. Following the release of their fourth studio album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, the band decided to spend a period apart to focus on solo projects, and despite a brief reunion, eventually called it quits in 2013. For the youngest of the three, the reality of no longer having the security of his brothers and the support of a major record label was difficult to come to terms with.
“I genuinely believed, at 21 years old, I was done. I had so much anxiety and it wasn’t a great time for me,” confesses Jonas. “Thankfully it didn’t last long – I snapped myself out of the funk and pushed myself. I had to ask myself what I wanted to achieve, where I wanted to go with music, and with acting; and once I’d done that, suddenly the obstacles seemed less intimidating to overcome.”
Alongside the artistic angst, there was also the personal scrutiny relating to the performer’s decision to renounce his purity ring which had symbolised a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage. The rings had become such an enormous part of the Jonas Brothers’ identity as a brand (Kevin married in 2009, while Nick and Joe made the joint decision to ditch their chastity bands) that eyebrows were raised when these so-called pledges were abandoned, leading fans to wonder if the religious angle had been just a marketing ploy all along. Jonas insists that it wasn’t, nor was it a consequence of being unable to resist the scores of beautiful women who’d begun to knock on his dressing room door… though his relationship with fellow Disney star Selena Gomez certainly had sway over his decision.
“It was a deeply personal move and was rooted in my ability to reflect clearly on childhood beliefs, having had enough time away from it to foster my own understanding and interpretation of faith.
“A long time before it was a commitment that was asked of us by someone at the church, but we were too young then to understand what was being asked, and we hadn’t learned enough about faith or ourselves to decide if that was the way we wanted to celebrate religion.
“So I think when you make your own choices and fall in love, you are entitled, as a man, to be OK with your own choices.”
The irony of publicising chaste intentions, it seems, is that you end up drawing even more attention to your sex life, with something as sacred as one’s virginity becoming public property. Like when he appeared on The Wendy Williams Show in 2015, and the outspoken presenter asked Nick if he was still a virgin. But rather than become defensive, or speak ill of his upbringing, he simply shrugged the question off, displaying the kind of true maturity that has nothing to do with a person’s sexual activity.
“Any journey into religion should be a deeply personal experience, and I will always stand by that. God means different things to every single person on the planet, and so he should.
“I know there is a lot of public opinion out there but nothing to me matters outside of my own relationships. I’ve asked that I am not judged and, in turn, I won’t judge.”
And his stance has worked. In 2014, Jonas scored his first Billboard number one with simmering pop hit ‘Jealous’. Managing to finally relinquish his teen heart-throb persona, the shirtless, toned star rides a motorbike while singing in a Justin Timberlake-esque falsetto. Having spent the last few years dabbling in Hollywood, Jonas will almost certainly hope to emulate that previous success with his upcoming album. After all, he admits that while acting is enjoyable, it pales in comparison to performing.
“Honesty, if I had to choose between the two I will say performing on stage – there’s nothing like it. You get an immediate response, it’s instant satisfaction, and that energy feels very gratifying. That’s really special to me.”
He also insists that a jetsetting career can’t get in the way of the thing he values most, his family. And though “there’s a crazy amount of travelling right now”, Jonas always cherishes coming home. “It’s nice to come back to the family fold and recharge your batteries with the ones who know you best,” he says, warmly.
“Home will always be where I’m loved and accepted for who I am, no matter what I do, and that for me will always be my family. My family is my home.”
So, it seems that despite his daring new persona, Jonas hasn’t really strayed too far from his roots.
“I go to the gym, not every day, but most days. It’s not about how often you go to the gym, for me anyway, it’s about the food you eat and the amount of good sleep you get.
“Getting to bed at a reasonable hour before midnight is so important; I would always substitute an hour of sleep over an hour in the gym, given the choice.”
The true mark of adulthood, however, is being able to revel in your own achievements without comparing yourself to others. So, considering the fact he and brother Joe both have have rocking bodies, as well as successful singing careers, surely a little sibling rivalry must flare up occasionally?
“We are definitely competitive but not in music or the entertainment industry stuff. It’s more like games and sports – we’ve always been that way,” he says with a laugh. “I used to be intensely competitive, a really sore loser, but now it doesn’t matter so much to me.
“I’m learning to chill. It’s just a game, get over it.”