It looked like things couldn’t possibly get any better for Jeremy Jordan after he transitioned from performing as a swing in Rock of Ages, his first professional show, to originating two roles on Broadway, in Bonnie and Clyde and Newsies, all within three years of moving to New York from his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas.
But then he received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album, both for Newsies, and starred in the film Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton.
And if working as a leading man on Broadway and starring in his first film couldn’t keep him busy enough, Jordan began working on the second season of the TV musical series Smash this past summer.
Jordan celebrated a personal milestone when he married Broadway sweetheart and former Rock of Ages co-star Ashley Spencer in September.
Modestly Jordan describes himself as a “normal guy” but he will no doubt skyrocket even further into fame when Smash debuts its second season tomorrow at 9 p.m. on NBC.
As the new bad boy on Smash, Jimmy Collins is a troubled but genius musician who creates the musical “Hit List” with his writing partner, played by fellow Broadway alum Andy Mientus, while wooing leading lady Karen Cartwright, played by Katharine McPhee.
On the heels of a busy year, Jordan chatted about what it feels like to transition from a role as an understudy to an overnight success, what to expect this season on Smash and which stage show he’d most like a second-chance with.
SDD: You just finished a very busy year. What’s going on with you these days?
JJ: Right now it’s still Smash. We still have another month and a half to finish out the season. I’m looking to see what I can do during the intermediate period and hoping we have a third season.
SDD: So you would be part of a season 3?
JJ: Yeah, I think so. I sure hope so.
SDD: What stands out in your mind as the biggest highlight of 2012?
JJ: There are so many. First of all, I got married so that was wonderful. I took my honeymoon in Hawaii with my wife and that was incredible. I got a Tony nomination, I booked Smash. Those are pretty much the biggest things that happened not only in my career, but in my life.
SDD: Do you have goals to make 2013 an even better year?
JJ: I want to keep moving up, I suppose. I’d love to do another movie. I would love to get back into theatre. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen in 2013 but anything can happen. I’m pretty satisfied where I am right now. I didn’t think it could get any better when I got the Tony nomination and somehow it did.
SDD: You went from being an unknown to a Tony and Grammy nominee so quickly. How has life changed?
JJ: It’s a little bit strange to be recognized a bit more often. I kind of like my anonymity when I’m walking down the street, so it will be interesting to see once the show starts if I lose that completely.
SDD: Have you started to lose your anonymity?
JJ: Only when I’m walking around the theatre district. Most people don’t pay any attention. It’s interesting to have over 20,000 followers on twitter. It’s crazy to think that many people are fans. I’m just trying to focus on how I can be a positive impact on those people.
SDD: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice while you were working on Rock of Ages or with Newsies at the Papermill Playhouse, what would you say?
JJ: Just to not give up. Every once in a while you hit a wall and you’re not sure if it’s going to get any better or if you’re going to get stuck there but as long as you keep paddling forward, which I think I did. And just be open to new opportunities and always be prepared. And when the right opportunity does strike, you’ll be ready and you’ll knock it out.
SDD: I know you’re a fan of Smash. What’s been most exciting for you about being part of the cast?
JJ: There are so many things. It’s great because you get to showcase all your talents. That’s why I always loved musical theatre, because I’ve always been a singer. On this show I still get to sing but I get a lot of scene work and acting as well. I really get to hone my on-camera abilities and it’s such a safe, fun environment and everyone is so cool. It’s really the best of both worlds. I can’t complain.
SDD: How similar are you and your character, Jimmy Collins?
JJ: We’re pretty different. I’m pretty easy going, generally positive all the time, whereas Jimmy is very wary of people, very untrusting. He’s got a lot of really deep-seated drug problems and he goes through a lot of denial. He’s incredibly complex. He has this really seedy past, but at the same time he’s this incredibly gifted musician, so I don’t think he ever knew what to do with it. You see throughout the season him finding his voice and trying to reconcile who he really is. He’s always been this gruff, angry, untrusting person and I don’t think he wants to be like that. You see his layers crack and hopefully he’ll come out on top.
But in terms of being like me, I suppose I have some denial issues here and there, but generally a pretty happy person. I’m definitely not as musically gifted as he is in terms of composing. I think he’s a little more risky and dangerous than I am too.
SDD: You go back and forth between playing historical roles (Newsies, Bonnie and Clyde) and original roles (Joyful Noise, Smash), do you approach these roles differently?
JJ: I think it’s more challenging to play an original role but there are challenges to both. For an original role, especially for TV, you don’t get to create it because the writers are creating it as you go. So you’re like ‘I don’t know what my character’s back story is’, then throughout the season it’s revealed and you’re like ‘Oh, that’s what I’ve been hopefully playing this whole time.’ That’s pretty difficult because you really have to start from scratch and you really have to try to uncover who this fully-developed character is.
When you’re working with a historical figure you have a lot of facts, a lot of information, and you’re trying to rebuild who that someone actually was. The only thing that really makes that difficult is you really want to honor that person so you really have to try to get it down perfectly. Luckily, I haven’t had to play anyone who is still alive.
SDD: Which project would you most like to return to for one day?
JJ: I would love to do Bonnie and Clyde again. We didn’t get to do enough of it and it was really wonderful.
SDD: How do you find balance between being a rising star, a husband, a dog owner, and all the other hats you wear?
JJ: It’s very difficult, especially with the schedule that you have with television. Since I’ve been married, my wife and I haven’t really seen much of each other at all, so we try to find little pockets of time any time we can. Hopefully once the show is over it will be easier. I try to take care of my dog as much as possible. Sometimes she has to go to day care but I give her as much love as I can while I’m home.
SDD: Is there something that you haven’t done yet that you would like to try in the future?
JJ: There’s so much that I would love to do. I really want to explore the film world more. I’d love to do a play on Broadway, I’ve never done a play. I always say I want to write something, but I can never really get enough time to sit down and focus on it. I think I’d like to do that eventually as well.
SDD: What piece of advice or words of wisdom do you live by?
JJ: There are lots of things I live my life by. I always try to see the best in every situation and sort of try to find the best in people. Whether someone’s acting in a bad way, I still try to find something good about them. Or even if I’m watching a movie or a show, I try not to focus on the negative aspects of it. I try to find something I like and hopefully leave with that. I think that’s a really good way to live your life because then you’re not really focusing on negativity and you’re surrounding yourself with positive energy.
In terms of acting: Always take risks. That’s my mantra in terms of acting and singing. You never want to play it safe because it’s boring.
SDD: Should we expect to see you return to the stage in the future?
JJ: Oh God, yes, of course. I’m itching already. There’s nothing like it, honestly. I love doing TV and film but the stage is where it’s at in terms of fulfillment as a performer.
SDD: Why should people watch Smash this season?
JJ: I think it’s going to be a younger, sexier energy. More songs, more dancing, and much more focused plot line. It’s all about the theatre.
“Rapid Fire” Questions
SDD: Who would win in a fight, Jack Kelly or Jimmy Collins?
JJ: Jack Kelly
SDD: Who is the co-star you would most want to work with again?
JJ: Oh, that’s tough. Probably Laura [Osnes].
SDD: Which Newsie would you most want to work with again?
JJ: Kara [Lindsay].
SDD: Have you seen Newsies since leaving the show?
JJ: Yeah, seen it a couple times.
SDD: Do you prefer a fedora or a newsboy cap?
JJ: Oh man, I love a fedora, but I would probably never wear it in real life.
SDD: What is your least favorite song on the radio?
JJ: Anything by Ke$ha.
SDD: What’s your favorite curse word?
JJ: Probably the ‘F’-word.
SDD: Who is last person who made you feel star struck?
JJ: Probably Bernadette Peters.
SDD: What’s your drink of choice?
JJ: Captain Morgan.
SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.
JJ: I’m just a normal guy.