Nick Jonas (‘Ferdinand’ songwriter): Trying to ‘soak up as much as possible and just try to grow’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Nick Jonas attended his first Golden Globe Awards ceremony this past weekend as a nominee. His tune “Home” from “Ferdinand” lost the Best Original Song category to “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” but he still might be contending at the Oscars when nominations are announced on January 23. As part of The Jonas Brothers, he received his other major awards nomination in his career: for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards in 2009. They lost the category against Adele alongside Duffy, Lady Antebellum, and Jazmine Sullivan.

He has been branching off more into the acting world in recent years. Jonas was a series regular on “Kingdom” for the Audience Network, had a recurring role on “Scream Queens,” and now stars in the blockbuster film “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” with Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black. Upcoming will be the feature film “Chaos Walking,” directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelsen.

Gold Derby hosted a webchat with Jonas recently, which you can watch above. Read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Nick Jonas, let’s start off with congratulations on your first-ever Golden Globe nomination. What was it like getting that news on the morning of those nominations so early in the day?

Nick Jonas: It was an incredible feeling. To be honest, I tried to not think about the Golden Globes the night before, as to not stress myself out with the potential of being nominated, so I stayed up pretty late. I was also jet-lagged from being on a promo run for “Jumanji.” I slept in and my phone had been ringing and I had obviously slept through it so my friend was banging on my door to wake me up to give me the good news and once I found out, it’s a really special feeling when you’re recognized for songwriting. Specifically for me, I think that’s the thing I’ve been doing longest, is writing music, and from my first song I wrote with my dad that was probably pretty terrible when I was about 11 years old to this one, it feels really good.

GD: So you feel like it’s one of those crafts that you can continually improve on in terms of songwriting over the course of your career?

NJ: Certainly. I’ve learned so much in the last couple years alone. After my time making music with my brothers ended, branched out with some acting projects but also was writing music of my own. I had the opportunity to work with so many different people, people like Max Martin, for instance, and Justin Tranter, who I wrote “Home” with, who’s just one of the best, and Julia Michaels and Desmond Child on that side of things as well. There’s so many brilliant songwriters that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, just trying to take a little piece of everything from each person I work with. It’s been great just to be able to soak up as much as possible and just try to grow.

GD: I was interviewing Lin-Manuel Miranda about a year ago. He was up for the song from “Moana” and just coming off of “Hamilton.” I asked him this question, I’ll ask you the same, of all the things done in the industry I think I could probably act a little, I know I could produce, direct, certainly can’t sing, but songwriting to me seems like a foreign accomplishment. What is that like? How do you know how to write a song, especially for a film, where I’m guessing they send you things that they’re working on and let you work on it from there?

NJ: I wish I knew how it happened. I think that a big piece of it was my dad was a musician, a pianist and a vocalist and he wrote music when he was younger. I grew up around that. It started, I think, with a feeling, just an understanding of the way music worked and wanting to express myself in some way and so eventually it became crafting a song and with my dad as my earliest teacher and going from there to all the different people I was able to soak up a little bit from. It’s been great, and I would say that with this moment in particular with “Home” and “Ferdinand,” what makes it so special too is it’s one of the first times I’ve been given an assignment, basically, where I’ve been told, “Okay, we need you to write a song that sounds like this, has this emotion, touches on some of these key story points, but it also doesn’t have to be any of those things. Whatever makes sense for you.” So it’s a unique challenge and one that actually… there was a moment I thought, “Maybe I can’t do this.” So much of my creative process depends on my personal life and just writing about whatever I feel like that day but with this, each session that I went into to collaborate on the song I just didn’t feel I was getting it, and it wasn’t ’til I reached that point of frustration that I went in the room with Justin Tranter and we just started talking about what “home” means to us, this idea that home is everything from your family and your loved ones to the place you come from, to your favorite food, whatever it is for you, home is just the place you feel like you belong and we ran with that and the song kind of wrote itself after that.

GD: I know animated features in general take forever, from the very beginning stage can be three, four, five, six years. At one point did you get involved?

NJ: I got involved earlier this year, so about nine months ago probably they first brought it up to me about being involved in the film, with writing original music. I then spoke to Carlos Saldanha, the director, and he had some amazing things to say about the characters in the film, the world he was creating and he’s one of my favorite animated filmmakers. It was just really helpful to get his take on what he needed in this point in the movie and some other points, and also how he wanted people to feel when they heard it. So I took that and that was kind of the jumping-off point.

GD: Once you finish it and you see it in the final film, what’s that moment like?

NJ: I think I didn’t expect it to feel as emotional as it did. Whether it was the journey to get there, including some self-doubt and feeling like this is gonna be a bigger challenge than I anticipated, to looking around in the theater and seeing the faces of people watching this little bull grow up before their eyes in this montage sequence with my song as the background and feeling what he felt, that feeling of feeling loved and happy, true bliss, with being with people that embrace you for who you are, and it was a really special moment. I thought, too, my nieces being able to watch this film throughout their childhood and know that there’s a piece of me within it as well and also as a film as a whole I think it’s brilliant. It’s a beautiful story and an important message. So I was emotional about it.

GD: So many of the great songs that we think of from movies come from animated features. Is there a particular animation movie that you grew up with that you absolutely love the movie and the music?

NJ: So many. I’m a huge Alan Menken fan and he obviously had some of the best in regard to music in movies, so everything from “The Lion King” to “Beauty and the Beast” that was kind of my childhood and some of those songs really still mean so much to me. And then more recently I gotta tip my hat to [Justin] Paul and [Benj] Pasek who did a great job with “La La Land” and the music in that is phenomenal and the story they were able to tell through the music is incredible.

GD: Yeah, they’re in your category. They just won the Oscar and the Tony Award obviously, and you’re up against them and some pretty heavyweight people you probably grew up admiring like Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige. That’s an absolutely fun category there at the Golden Globes.

NJ: It’s a really fun category. It’s stacked, I think (laughs). I am honored to be a part of that group. I think I’d be lying if I said that leaving that night with some hardware wouldn’t be really great, but I’m also just so thrilled to be in the mix and to be recognized in this way. So it’s just a million, million times thank you to the HFPA and thrilled to meet the other nominees that I haven’t met and congratulate them as well.

GD: One thing about the song category… let me back up with Benj and Justin, with “La La Land” and now “Greatest Showman,” you’re in the acting field now doing a lot of projects, wouldn’t you love to see the original movie musical make a comeback and that could be something that maybe somebody would think of you for as well?

NJ: Yeah. When you see the original movie make a comeback—

GD: Like “La La Land” last year where it was not based on a Broadway musical but actually a new original musical, “Greatest Showman” is an original musical. We haven’t had a lot of those in the past three or four decades.

NJ: Yeah, it’s an exciting time. I started in musical theater as a kid. I did a bunch of Broadway shows and then eventually went back and did a show on the West End and New York, so theater as a whole is a real passion for me and seeing the love for theater on the screen as well and stories translating there is exciting, and now that these great projects with music at the center of the project are really getting a shot, it’s exciting. If there’s a world in which my two worlds collide, music and acting on the screen, singing and dancing and acting as well, I think it’d be incredible. So hopefully something comes along that makes sense or I’ll write it myself!

GD: Yeah, there you go, just write it yourself. And if this song happens to take you to the Oscars, I know we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but those voters are watching all these screeners right now making their decisions, what would that mean to you, to be an Academy Award nominee?

NJ: I think being an Academy Award nominee would be a highlight of my life and career, certainly. I love watching the Oscars and I am a fan of cinema and I kind of become obsessed with the award season as well and seeing what happens. I think it’s equally as exciting at times as being in the room, which is an amazing thing, but to be able to watch as a fan and see people you admire and you respect and have a moment on stage that is potentially one of the highlights of their life, it’s a really special thing, so that would mean the world. I think what I’m trying to do is approach every day one day at a time, so that I don’t stress myself out about it all and remain calm. But I would be honored and thrilled.

GD: Yeah, last year I can remember I was at a party talking to Justin Timberlake and he had a similar start to his career that you did, acting, still songwriting, still a big music star, but he got his first Oscar nomination last year, and he was just beyond thrilled and then, he didn’t tell me this at the party but then he got to open the actual show and be the first guy out on the performance stage last year, so that’s a great guy to potentially emulate coming up for this year.

NJ: For sure. Watching Justin kick off the Oscars last year I think was a highlight for everybody and that song obviously was so important to the film but also just to pop culture so, gotta tip your hat to him and he really kicked off the show in a great way, and so if there’s a version of that for me this year I’d be very happy.

GD: Let’s talk about acting. “Jumanji” out now, one of the biggest box office hits around the world, what was your first thought when they approached you about relaunching this after so many years?

NJ: I think my first thought was just some curiosity as to what the plan was. It’s such a beloved title, the original film obviously beloved in so many ways and so I wanted to see what the approach was gonna be in telling a new “Jumanji” adventure. And then I read the script and I fell in love with the story and this new angle they were taking with the video game aspect of it all, with the body-swap concept as a whole and my character really has the opportunity in this film to set some of the emotional grounding, which I love. I had been doing a TV show for a couple years called “Kingdom,” which really pushed me in my dramatic acting space and “Goat,” another film that again, was just really important to help me grow as a serious actor, so to be able to bring some of that into this film, which is an exciting rollercoaster ride for the audience was really nice, and obviously a very funny film as well and getting to work with a couple of the biggest movie stars in the world was a nice touch as well.

GD: You mentioned “Kingdom,” I did wanna bring that up today. We’ve interviewed several of your cast members over the last couple of years and now you’re leaving that show, that character behind. All of you are. What’s it like saying goodbye to a character that you’ve come to know over a two- or three-year period?

NJ: It’s tough. It’s a strange thing too ‘cause right now at this moment in particular, I don’t know what it is, but people are discovering the show. Maybe it’s the second wave of discovery online or whatever it is. So I’m getting stopped about that a lot and it means the world to hear that people are fans of the show and I think it also comes with a little bit of sadness knowing there was probably a lot more story to be told and I think any time you get to play a character that really stretches you as a person in the way that playing Nate did, getting to work with some of my very close friends and lifelong friends, was a really unique and incredible experience so I will miss it a lot and I hope that this season of discovery continues ‘cause I do think it was a great show with a lot of potential as well.

GD: Where will we see you next? I know people are watching “Jumanji” right now, but what’s coming up?

NJ: I just wrapped a movie before I started the promo tour for “Jumanji” up in Montreal called “Chaos Walking.” It’s a Doug Liman film, one of my favorite directors, and it’s with Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, and it’s a story based off a book series and really exciting project to be a part of. A lot of potential with this one as well I think, both for the visual approach to the film but also the story itself and this idea of noise and all of our noise being our thoughts in our head and our visuals in our head being seen and heard, and how that affects how we interact with each other but also just the pursuit of truth, and that’s what Tom Holland’s character goes on with Daisy Ridley and I’m kind of a villain in that one, which is a fun thing. So from being one of the ragtag crew of heroes in “Jumanji” to a villain, I’m just trying to keep the variety alive here in the acting side of things.

GD: Well like I said as we led off, congratulations on this Golden Globe nomination. It’s probably gonna lead to a lot of great things, not just now but down the road and I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Globes before. Have you done those parties and such?

NJ: Yeah, I’ve been one time to the Globes with my brothers years ago and last year I kind of third-wheeled with my brother and his fiancé and her show was nominated for quite a few so I just hung out and had a couple drinks (laughs). But this year, nice to be there for a reason.

GD: I’ve always heard people say, take it easy until your category’s up and over, and then you can do whatever you want and you know there’s parties all over that building so that’s the way to kind of approach it. I remember one person I was talking to said their category didn’t come up until like three-quarters in. They so wish they hadn’t had as much as they had had by that point.

NJ: Yeah, I’m sure (laughs).

GD: Well have a great time, we’ll see you here next weekend, I guess, for the Globes.

NJ: Sounds good, thank you for your time.

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