Need another reminder that Nick Jonas ain’t on Disney anymore? In the first few minutes of new movie Goat, he snorts coke, pounds a beer and plots a foursome. But the film, an unflinching look at fraternities, masculinity and violence, takes a much darker turn after that: Jonas, 23, who plays the older brother of a new pledge, participates in horrifying scenes depicting hazing gone wrong. After premiering to strong reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January (and picking up a $2.25 million deal from Paramount Home Media), Goat has yet to announce a theatrical release, but it’s a big-screen breakout for Jonas, who also stars in Audience Network’s series Kingdom. Jonas sat down with Billboard to talk Goat, his “nearly finished” second solo album and brotherly love (and tension).
What attracted you to this movie?
The questions we’re asking — about masculinity, fraternity culture, its dark side — and the relationship between these two brothers. It really [reminds me of] my brother Joe. He’s my best friend. In Goat, the key in the relationship is that both brothers admire something in the other. Even if Brett, my character, can’t be as loving as he is with Brad at the beginning of the film around his fraternity, that love is there.
Brett puts a lot of pressure on Brad to be a part of his frat. Did you feel similar pressures before you left the Jonas Brothers?
Actually, we had to relearn how to be family once the group ended , which was a conversation I initiated. There were a couple of months where we had to figure out how to just have a relationship outside of our work. It took time. It was a real thing. Everything’s fine [in Goat] with Brett and Brad until Brad pledges the fraternity — then we have to learn how to be brothers in a new environment. If you have brothers, or people close enough that you would call them brothers, this film is going to make sense to you.
Goat has some hard-to-watch scenes. Which was the most difficult to film?
The scene where we pull Brad out of his dorm and make him eat shit in the bathroom. That was really hard — just real sadistic and twisted.
If you went to college, would you join a frat?
Probably not after having made this film. (Laughs.) Not if it meant I would subject myself to hazing and humiliation. But also, I want to make it very clear that this is not an indictment of fraternity culture. Similar situations happen in the sports setting — there’s hazing there too. I would have loved to have had a traditional college experience, though.
Do you think something can be done about hazing that crosses the line?
I think the key is to start a conversation. I don’t think this film is the cure — I don’t think that any of us think that we’re changing the world necessarily. But if we can start a conversation and progress the thinking a little bit, that’s a win. And it’s not about “fixing” it — it’s about revising it, maybe.’ Cause it is something that’s important to a lot of people. [We need] a revision so that this story doesn’t repeat itself.
On Scream Queens, your character died last season, but there are rumors you’ll make a return for the second season. What can you tell us?
I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know. [Co-creator/executive producer] Ryan Murphy is full of surprises. Last time I thought I was dead, I wasn’t. I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. I mean if they want me to come back, it was a great experience, a fun show to be a part of. It was a real challenge ’cause most of my acting has been pretty serious roles, so to break it up and do comedy’s great.
Is it hard getting back into music mode after filming an intense movie like Goat? How do you balance your two careers?
I’ve been really inspired by Lady Gaga and the strides she has made in the acting space. I’ve been shooting [the third season of] Kingdom for a couple of months, and then the focus shifts to music for the summer — the new record, new single and tour. Then there’s some projects I’ve had my eye on for fall and next year on the acting side. Judd Apatow came to the Goat screening — that’s a guy that I would kill to work with.
How’s your next album going?
I’m nearly finished. I had to get really vulnerable and push myself. When people hear it, they’ll see it’s coming from a really honest place. It has been a complicated year but an amazing year. In my personal life, a lot has changed and a lot has been challenging, and I think the record does a great job telling that story. I played [Joe] the record; his input was very helpful.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of Billboard.