Nick Jonas on Sundance Film ‘Goat’ and How He Wants to Shape His Acting Career

After roles on TV’s “Kingdom” and “Scream Queens,” Nick Jonas continues his onscreen reinvention with “Goat.” The indie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, tells the story of two brothers (Jonas and Ben Schnetzer) who must endure their college fraternity’s terrifying hazing practices. Jonas spoke to Variety about the part and the direction in which he wants to take his acting career.

Did you sit through the movie at its premiere?
I did. I had seen pieces, but this was the first time I sat through it all the way through. It was a really intense experience. My friend came with me and said he was watching me watching it, and I couldn’t relax. It does the job it’s supposed to do. But it leaves you in a strange place after.

Did you have to audition?
I did. I went in and read [with director Andrew Neel]. I met him in New York for a coffee and just talked about the story and the characters. I told him I’d do whatever it takes to be in this movie. A couple weeks later, I came in and read. To be honest, I thought the audition was terrible. I was so concerned. I always feel that way after auditions. I guess I’m very critical of my own work.

You work with an acting coach, right?
I did. We broke down every scene. I like to connect it to my real life if I can. Obviously, a story about brothers is pretty close to home. It’s like a therapy session and an acting session. We just kind of got into the brother dynamic and let it play out. For the character, there’s a real arc, a real shift. So it was important to make sure we had all that clear.

Did you research college fraternities?
I spoke to a few guys who were in a fraternity. Andrew gave me a documentary to watch called “Frat House,” which we pulled a lot from in the film — even little tidbits of improvised dialogue. It was one of the most real documentations of fraternity hazing culture. So that was big. For me, the focus on the character’s back story and research, my angle on it came really from a place of masculinity, and the conversation we’re trying to start. I feel like that is what the story is about.

What’s the conversation?
The idea of masculinity and what it means, especially at that age, 18 to 24. It’s such an important time in young men’s lives. Brad, Ben’s character, is really fighting to regain his masculinity throughout the whole movie. I think less evil and harm would be done to the world if men of that age were OK with who they are, with not being alpha.

What’s more important to you right now — acting or music?
It’s a very tough question, and I get asked it a lot. I feel like I never have a great answer. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can do both and most people have to choose. It’s been great to see Gaga this year, and what she’s done. I’m a fan of what she’s accomplished in the sense that she’s been able to do acting and music and made an impact on both. I’m hopeful I can continue to find roles that can show me in a new light, push the envelope and start a conversation. On the music side, it’s a passion.

Are there careers of other actors that you look to for guidance?
I really admire people who have been able to redirect in a big way from where they started. People like Mark Wahlberg did that and continues to do that. Steve Carell has been someone who has been amazing to watch. I thought he was so brilliant in “The Big Short.” Then there are people that I admire as an actor: Tom Hanks and Julianne Moore.

Would you like to star in studio movies?
You know what? I haven’t done one yet. I wouldn’t know. I guess the closest thing I did to that was “Scream Queens,” where the budget was equivalent to a movie. It was a great experience and a fun character. If there’s a role that comes up, maybe. I want to grow and evolve. I feel like there’s more space for that with smaller projects.

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