As the brutal Winter Storm Jonas barreled its way across the East Coast this weekend, Nick Jonas made his way through his first Sundance Film Festival with the fraternity hazing drama Goat. The timing wasn’t lost on the former Disney TV rocker-turned-thesp, who showed admirable restraint completing the JoBros #WinterStormJonas trifecta before Goat premiered to strong reviews Saturday night.
“It’s kind of ironic. The whole thing is bizarre, that while we’re here for a media-heavy couple of days that’s happening,” he told The Daily Beast, cracking an exhausted smile at the end of a long day of Sundance madness, mindful of the dangers the lethal Winter Storm Jonas has already wreaked.
“It’s funny, but I hope everyone’s safe. That’s the main thing. But we can have a laugh. [Joe and Kevin] did some funny Instagram posts, I stuck with the Twitter—keep it simple.”
Jonas has racked up serious acting cred of late on the small screen in Scream Queens and Kingdom, his MMA fighter drama that’s set to return for a third season this year. In Goat he lends his supporting weight to the tale of Brad Land (Pride’s Ben Schnetzer), a college freshman still reeling from a violent summer attack who pledges his older brother’s fraternity, enticed by the promise of status and security.
The Sundance competition title is directed by Andrew Neel, who also adapted the script with David Gordon Green and Mike Roberts from Brad Land’s memoir. James Franco, one of the film’s producers, also makes a frenetic cameo as a fraternity alum who comes back to party a little too hard one night. Goat illuminates the hyperviolent frat rituals that go instantly from awesome to alarming, placing emotionally unprepared youngsters into dehumanizing pressure cooker scenarios that many of them are unprepared to handle.
Jonas plays Brad’s older brother Brett, an affable elder frat bro who begins to doubt the awesomeness of fraternity life when he sees Brad undergo the extreme physical and psychological bullying of Hell Week. The role demanded surprising nuance from Jonas, who has sex, does cocaine, and binge-drinks onscreen—what will the tweens think?!—but also leads by example, quietly questioning the century-old tradition of men forming familial bonds by being abusive dicks to one another.
“I think that growth is super important in any creative platform and in life in general, and in the TV show I’m doing a lot of drugs and I’m having a lot of sex,” Jonas smiled, “so it wasn’t foreign to me.”
“And I’ve had sex and drank a lot [in real life], so there are parts of this film that are perfectly real in some sense,” he laughed. “But it’s important to take your fans on a journey. And it’s the responsibility of any artist to say, ‘This is what I’m connected to, this is what inspires me, and hopefully you can ask the same questions I’ve asked of myself.’”
Goat borrows a handful of difficult-to-watch hazing scenes from actual campus shenanigans ritualized across the country every year, painting a damning portrait of the seductive lure of belonging that has enticed young men to go Greek for a century. But what happens when the hard-drinking, super macho douchebro mentality spins out of control?
“It’s a provocative film and I hope it stirs up a discussion,” mused Schnetzer, who at 25 is actually older than Jonas in real life by a few years. “These are male issues. What does masculinity mean to a certain demographic of a generation now that’s trying to find a rite of passage, find a definition of manhood?”
“At the core is this concept of modern-day masculinity and what that means, but also brotherhood—and not the love you think you want, but the love you actually need,” added Jonas. He waxed older and wiser on the fragile volatility of today’s modern man. “I think there’s a distorted view because of the inability to be honest and to be transparent as a man sometimes—especially at that age,” he said. “It’s a taxing age in the sense of you’re coming into who you are and in that is a lot of insecurity.”
“The thing I really drew from it is that everyone has their own journey. This is by no means an indictment of fraternity culture,” he added. “There’s probably a lot of good in it for some people.”
Jonas was just 13 when he and older brothers Kevin and Joe Jonas signed their first recording deal in 2007 as a teenybopper trio. After skyrocketing to Disney fame, the group disbanded in 2013 in a highly public split when Nick got the itch to branch out on his own.
He explained how his relationship with his brothers changed when the JoBros broke up. “Mine’s adapted quite a bit,” he said. “I mean, having gone from working with my brothers every day for years to not—and me being the one to initiate that conversation, of closing that chapter—was very hard. We had to relearn how to be a family, which is kind of a big thing.”
“I would say I’m very close with my brothers now, especially my brother Joe,” he paused. “Actually, that relationship was a big part of the relationship that I had in the back of my head [while filming Goat]. After the film was done, I had a lot of perspective to bring to that relationship that I didn’t have before.”