The Transformation Of Mr Joe Jonas

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The Transformation Of Mr Joe Jonas

Words by Mr Evan Ross Katz | Photography by Mr Jai Odell | Styling by Ms Julie Ragolia

11 November 2022

The night before we meet, Mr Joe Jonas is watching Mr Harry Styles perform during his sold-out run at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was Styles’ first show since his return from the Venice Film Festival, where his film premiere for his film Don’t Worry Darling quickly descended into a tabloid maelstrom amid rumoured rifts between cast members, mixed reviews and bizarre accusations that Styles had spat at his co-star, Mr Chris Pine. Styles playfully shrugs off the drama at his concert, the entire episode is all too familiar to Jonas.

“There have been a lot of situations in my career where, like this, a small thing has been blown out of proportion,” he says as we sit outside of a coffee shop in Gramercy Park, the neighbourhood he’s calling his New York City home after bidding adieu to SoHo in 2020. “It’s had this trickling effect, which is partially why I decided to take a mental health break from social media. Now I’m addicted to not knowing what’s going on.”

For a pop star who’s spent half of his life making albums and touring stadiums, Jonas, 33, slyly evades main-character energy. He rose to fame alongside his brothers, Nick and Kevin, during the Disney wave of the early 2000s, in which, along with a cadre of today’s pop stars, including Mses Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, he cultivated a rarefied fandom and behemothic commercial success. He recorded four chart-topping albums with his brothers at a breakneck pace between 2006 and 2009, before he formed a new band, DNCE, in 2015, which garnered the breakout earworm “Cake By The Ocean”. Four years later, the Jonas Brothers reunited.

By most metrics, Jonas has enjoyed an incredible career thus far, if one that’s been largely perceived as squeaky-clean. Slowly, though, he’s pushing against that, with his own move into a serious acting role in the Korean War-set film Devotion, which premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. It signals a distinct shift away from his previous creative output, one he hopes will give him something more elusive than fame: critical respect. But as the sideshow surrounding Styles’ move into acting has proved, there’s a delicate balance to be struck for Jonas – to lasso his stardom so that it pulls interest, but not focus.

He’s both self-deprecating and self-aware about his own position. “I know I’m not going to be their first choice for the role, right?” he says. Then, after a pause, “There’s a lot of good that can come with having a name like mine attached, but it can also be a distraction.”

Jonas wears a sunflower-coloured baseball hat embossed with the word “CATERPILLAR”, which he found rummaging at the Quality Mending Co, a place he frequents during his Citi Bike-assisted adventures around the city with his wife, the actor Ms Sophie Turner. He’s in New York working on new music for the Jonas Brothers’ long-rumoured sixth studio album, their second after a decade-long hiatus.

Much of his life is in flux: a new film, new music, and – oh yes – a new baby, a second daughter, welcomed in July. “I’m a little less scared,” he says of parenthood this time around. “You don’t need to check their pulse constantly to make sure they’re breathing. You get over those fears.” Still, he admits, “I feel like a kid raising kids.”

Nevertheless, fatherhood hasn’t slowed down Jonas’ eagerness to expand his creative efforts. There’s been no shortage of acting offers over the years, but it was the stillness of Covid that found him finally ready to wade into the waters. When he read the script for Devotion, he knew he had found the project for him. For one, he loved the role. For two, he’d be fourth on the call sheet, not number one.

“I know I’m the new guy,” he says. “So, I wanted to be surrounded by great people who I know I can learn from. I know they were like, ‘Let’s see if this Jonas kid can do it.’ And though that’s for them to decide in the end, I was going to show them how hard I was going to work at it.”

The film is based on the bestselling book of the same name, which tells the true story of two elite US Navy fighter pilots (played in the film by Messrs Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell). Jonas plays Mr Martin “Skip” Goode, a fighter pilot who flew 40 missions during the conflict. It’s a far cry from his Disney-led acting efforts in mid-2000s teen hits such as Camp Rock.

“The lingo on the set is the same, but the style is obviously different,” he says. “Disney is slapstick and loud – the more Blippi you can be the better. I had to unlearn that. Everything is 10 steps back, even every facial reaction. If I had anyone else, I think I might have taken on this challenge knowing I might fail, but with [director] JD [Dillard], there’s a sense of comfort in knowing he won’t let me fail.”

“There’s a lot of good that can come with having a name like mine attached, but it can also be a distraction”

Jonas is pulling double duty on the film. He is also singing an original song with Khalid entitled “Not Alone” for the film’s closing credits. He says it’s his favourite song he’s ever written, tied only with the song “Hesitate”, which he wrote for his wife. “I wanted it to be a male duet, partially because this movie tells the story of these two guys that have this deeply emotional bond,” he says of “Not Alone”. “I wanted to match that in some version. My friend was like, ‘Did you call Khalid yet? And I was like, ‘Oh fuck,’ you mean the most obvious person?”

For Jonas, acting is less a career pivot and more a follow-through on his young ambitions. As a child, he emulated Messrs Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno and the kids on the 1990s sketch comedy show All That. In his parent’s basement, he’d put on “The Joe Show”, a late-night talk show for him and his friends. Early on, he learnt the appeal of being an entertainer.

These days, his comedic chops are largely confined to his TikTok account, where he moonlights as a comedy creator. It’s not the virality he craves (he’s had that), but rather the shift in how people see him. “That I can be my authentic self and it’s accepted makes me feel really good,” he says. “It’s not a thirst trap, or me trying to be suave, or showing off a six-pack.”

Between his natural charm, classical good looks and his gravitation between comedy and a desire to move into more challenging waters, there’s a template for Jonas in the figure of Mr Matthew McConaughey, who made his own journey from bongo-playing cheeseball to Hollywood legitimacy with Oscar-winning turns in films such as Dallas Buyers Club. Fittingly, the two spoke often during the filming of Devotion.

“He’s a dragon slayer,” says Jonas of McConaughey. “He’d share stories about the extremes he would go to to feel what his characters feel, standing barefoot on the ledge of a 20-storey building, his feet bleeding. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go to his level, but for me, it meant I had to step up.”

He had help, too, in the form of his wife, Turner, whom he calls “the best acting coach ever”. She would run lines with him and co-host game nights at the house they rented during filming in Georgia. On the subject of Turner, Jonas is careful, aware that any words he says about their relationship can potentially fuel an entire news cycle.

“I want to feel like an open book,” he says. “But when we started dating, I realised that I didn’t have a ton of stuff that was just for me. And in the end, it makes me a better person to have something for myself.”

This is an industry where divulgence is seemingly a prerequisite. Has he ever felt the backlash of being at the whims of a culture that increasingly foams at the mouth to expose, to cancel, to crucify?

“I come back to why I do this,” he says carefully. “I’m still so grateful to do this, so if being in the public eye comes with some of that drama and the eye rolling and if you have to swat some beef with a person you met once, then so be it.

“Besides, if it means I get to wake up and do this another day, then it’s all worth it.”

Devotion is out on 23 November