Courtesy of Andreas Laszlo Konrath / Trunk Archive
Consider it the historic changing of the underwear.
Last fall, a year after the musical group he formed with his siblings called it quits, Nick Jonas popped up in a cover story for Flaunt, paying homage to Mark Wahlberg’s shirtless, crotch-grabbing Calvin Klein ads of the early ’90s. The images set the Internet ablaze. The torch was passed. His gay following was born.
Today, the 22-year-old is modest when discussing his new status as a sex symbol. “I don’t really see myself as an icon, gay or heterosexual,” he says. “I just need to stay in my own headspace and not really invite that into my world. I just stay true to myself and work hard.”
If the snaps of Jonas smugly dropping trou weren’t enough to draw the adulation of the gay masses, a season-finale plot twist in his intense and intensely physical DirectTV mixed-martial-arts drama, Kingdom, would seal the deal: Jonas’s character, Nate Kulina, was himself gay. The reveal, which found the protagonist getting kicked out of a gay bar and then hooking up with another guy, may have shocked some viewers, but Jonas knew Nate’s secret from the get-go. “Everyone at Kingdom was really transparent about the character and some of the things he would go through,” he told BuzzFeed News late last year. “And in my prep work, I wanted to be aware so I could properly tell this story.”
In Kingdom’s upcoming second season, Nate continues to battle his demons, his secret life coming back to haunt him. “He’s still very much in the middle of a struggle with himself — that this is who he is,” says Jonas. “In the first couple of episodes, Nate is not necessarily being honest with himself. He’s hiding a lot, and that blows up in his face and he has to quickly get real. He’s living in an incredibly masculine world, with a lot of stereotypes attached and not a lot of acceptance. In telling the story, we’re trying to be as honest as possible.”
The actor-singer is calling from L.A. during one of the few breaks in his incredibly hectic schedule. Studying lines, circuit training three to four times a week, and perfecting his moves as a fighter for Kingdom (“I’ve learned enough to kick somebody’s ass if I need to”) are just a few of Jonas’s commitments these days. He’ll also be touring the U.S. through the end of October to promote his new solo album, Nick Jonas, and he has a prominent role alongside Ariana Grande, Emma Roberts, and Lea Michele in Scream Queens, the new Fox horror-comedy produced by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story)
In the series, a college campus lorded over by original “scream queen” Jamie Lee Curtis falls prey to a string of murders that are somehow linked to events that took place two decades before the story begins. Jonas plays a preppy frat brother, but he can’t say what else happens.
“It’s going to surprise people and keep them on their toes,” he teases. “I think it’ll find its audience very quickly.”
Murphy reached out to Jonas about working together even before the idea for Scream Queens materialized. “The biggest thing for me was being able to work with someone like Ryan, someone with a clear vision,” Jonas says. “You only get better by working with brilliant people. I’m taking more steps into the acting space, getting darker and more dramatic, so having something that is more of a comedy — and showing that I can do that as well — is a priority.”
But not as much of a priority as thoughtfully portraying a queer character, despite the accusations of gay-baiting that have been lobbed at him (Jonas may have been the first male celeb in recent memory to be condemned for showing too much skin).
“I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that my intentions are completely genuine,” Jonas says. “At a time when acceptance is something we need to be aware of, to not be accepting and to assume there are ill, selfish intentions? I think that’s incredibly ignorant.”
Scream Queens premieres September 22; Kingdom premieres October 14. Season 1 is available on iTunes and VOD.