Before the launch of every fall TV season, I watch all of the new pilots to see what to expect from the broadcast and cable networks. One of the most surprising, unexpected, promising and intriguing shows for me is the DirecTV drama series Kingdom, a visceral family saga that takes place in Venice, California against the backdrop of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) subculture. Former MMA legend and gym owner Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) is so focused on turning his youngest son, Nate (Nick Jonas), into the prized fighter that his oldest son, Jay (Jonathan Tucker), was too unfocused and unpredictable to become.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, singer/actor Nick Jonas (who turns in a very physically and emotionally impressive performance) talked about what attracted him to this project, why he wanted to fight for this role, when he decided to get serious about acting as a career, the level of physicality that comes with this, how his character fits into the world of this show, how exciting it’s been to work with this cast, that he’d like to follow a similar career path to Mark Wahlberg, and that he would also like to get behind the camera, as a writer and director. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
NICK JONAS: The writing is so brilliant, and that really drew me in. Also, the character I play, Nate, is a really interesting guy. He’s reserved, in a lot of ways. He internalizes a lot of the hurt and some of the pain in his life. Each one of these characters deals with demons, in their own way. As the season progresses, you’ll see Nate’s demons come to life. It’s just a really well-written show that I have fallen in love with and am honored to be a part of.
You’ve had such a successful career in music. Was it scary to then jump into acting and have to prove yourself, or was that part of the appeal?
JONAS: I think it was a little of both. I knew that with some of the success that I’ve had in the earlier stages of my career, in a lot of ways, it creates some obstacles and there’s some bias there. So, I was really happy that, in the audition process, Endemol and DirecTV thought that my work was good enough to be a part of this show. But, I did have to fight really hard and overcome some of those biases. Once we got deep into the production of the show, I felt like I had really extended myself and grown in this role. I just tried to give all that I can to it because I think this show deserves the best from everybody. I feel really blessed to be a part of it.
Was there a specific point in your career that you decided to get serious about acting and really focus on it, as a career?
JONAS: When I went over and did Les Mis in London, I went over and did three months in the actual West End show, and then a 25th anniversary concert. I worked with a great director, Adrian Sarple, who instilled a lot of fundamentals in me, as a dramatic actor. I’d done some stuff with Disney, in some of my previous acting adventures, with two seasons of a TV show and some other things, but that was my first step into digging deep. He pulled a lot of things out of me. From that moment, I met with my team and said, “I want to really go after roles that will push me and help me grow.” A couple guest spots on some shows, like Smash and Hawaii Five-O, were good experience and good steps. But, this show and a movie I did last year are the first two that I’m really excited about and feel like show what I can do, as an actor, and are a good stepping stone to where I want to be in my career.
Did you have fun exploring your Hawaii Five-O character and exploring a different side of yourself, in that way?
JONAS: I did. Hawaii Five-O is a great show and that role was fun ‘cause I could play around with it a little bit. There was a freedom to step into the psycho mentality. That team over there is pretty amazing. I did a couple of episodes, which was fun, and got killed, which I think is a rite of passage in TV. It was good. It was a great experience. This is all falling into the right place.
JONAS: I was. I had become pretty interested in physical fitness and healthy living last summer. I got really into it and my physique changed quite a bit. So, when this role came up, there was an enormous opportunity to really lose myself physically, as well. I gained about 15 pounds of muscle for the role, and have since lost about 10 pounds of that, which feels good. But it was the right thing for the role, and to really get that animalistic mentality. The training with the fighting has been pretty incredible because it really gives you confidence that you can’t have unless you know what you know, as a fighter. Now, I feel I can walk into any situation and handle myself, which is not something that I could say before.
Is that something you have to keep up, throughout?
JONAS: Yeah. It’s like anything, with any muscle or talent. You’ve gotta work on it and continue to give it all you have, or else it does go away, or maybe you don’t remember how to transition to each of the moves or where the punches should land. We’ve been really fortunate to have the kind of environment that lends itself to always being able to work on that part of this whole world. I was pretty lucky not to get hurt. I was really sore the next day, after my big fight scene. I was crazy sore, but it was all worth it.
How does your character fit into the world of this show?
JONAS: My character is an incredibly complex person. He really internalizes a lot of the stuff in his life. The major storyline for him is outside of what he’s been doing his whole life, being dedicated to fighting and training, who is he? What does he love? What does he hate? What inspires him? What trouble does he deal with? Those are all questions that will be answered for Nate, this season. That journey is one that I feel like a lot of people go on. It’s not so much a coming of age as it is, if the thing you worked at your whole life was taken from you, who would you be? It’s important for him to go on that journey, and I think the audience will be really intrigued by that story.
JONAS: Nate and Jay are as close as two brothers could ever be and they love each other to death. Even though they’re complete opposites, they really have a deep care for each other. In a lot of ways, Jay has been a father to Nate and has been more nurturing than Alvey because Alvey has been focused on Nate’s fighting abilities his whole life, and not being his father. So, that dynamic is interesting. The mother dynamic and how that works is really complicated and creates really interesting conversation.
What sort of relationship does Nate have with his mother?
JONAS: It develops as the season goes on and becomes really complex and sad, in a lot of ways. He doesn’t really have a relationship with his mother. Just watching that unfold is interesting.
Does that affect how he deals with romantic relationships, in his life?
JONAS: Yeah, there are a couple of major affects with Nate. There are some complications and some demons that he deals with, as it relates to love, romance, sex and just who he is. It really is not something that he’s ever experienced before. He’s been training so hard that he’s gotta start over, in a lot of ways.
What has this cast been like to work with?
JONAS: It has been really exciting. It is an amazing group. I feel so blessed, every day that I get to work with these people. A lot of my work has been with Jonathan Tucker, and we were really fortunate to have time to grow together and to build a relationship outside of our characters. That’s been really infused in our work together on screen. And Joanna [Going] is incredible. Frank [Grillo] is such a strong persona and personality, and this role suits him so well. He and my characters’ dynamic is so interesting. It’s been incredible to work with him, and to have someone so talented to work opposite is a blessing. Everyone has been amazing.
One of the biggest challenges in acting is transitioning from one demographic to another, and you’re doing that very successfully. Have you thought about what types of roles or genres you’d like to do, in the future?
JONAS: Yeah, I have thought about it a little bit. I did this film last year, called Careful What You Wish For. It was a role that felt like a great choice. Stepping off from here, physicality on screen is something that I love to do. A career path similar to Mark Wahlberg would be ideal. The transitions he’s made from serious to comedy, and all across the board, he’s made some amazing choices. I hear that comparison a little bit, when it comes to the acting and our physicality, so it would be cool.
Are you interested in getting behind the camera?
JONAS: Yeah, definitely. I feel like, right now, learning as much as I can and absorbing this new world that I’ve been thrown into has been a great experience, but I’ve also been around it for a long time, in my own way, and I’ve had enough experience now to start thinking about writing and directing. It is an area that I’d love to get into. If the right things came up, I would be all for it.
Kingdom airs on Wednesday nights on DirecTV.