Interview: Jeremy Jordan Makes ‘Joyful Noise’ in Film Debut

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CHICAGO – It is a story as old as show business itself. Plucky understudy replaces a Broadway musical lead on the same night a movie director decides to take in the play, which results in the understudy getting his first movie role. It happened exactly like that to stage – and now screen – performer Jeremy Jordan, who made his debut over the weekend in the film “Joyful Noise.”

Jordan is from Texas, and headed to New York City right after graduating from Ithaca College. After doing some regional theater, he moved up to the Broadway cast of “Rock of Ages” in 2009, where he was discovered for the movies (story below). He recently starred in the musical version of “Bonnie & Clyde” on Broadway, which closed in December of 2011 after only 69 performances. His portrayal of Jack Kelly during the tryout run of the new stage musical “Newsies” (based on the 1992 Disney film), landed him the same role for the Broadway version coming in March of 2012.

Gospel Lovers: Jeremy Jordan with Keke Palmer in ‘Joyful Noise’
Gospel Lovers: Jeremy Jordan with Keke Palmer in ‘Joyful Noise’
Photo credit: Van Redin for Warner Bros. Pictures met up with Jeremy Jordan last week, during his promotional tour for “Joyful Noise.” He talked about Broadway, his stage-to-screen transition and playing Dolly Parton’s grandson in his debut film. What is your background as a singer, when did you start, how has it been woven into your career?

Jeremy Jordan: My Mom claims she discovered me singing in the shower, when I was a boy soprano, riffing on Mariah Carey. [laughs] I was then active in choir both in grade school and middle school, and started doing some musicals, which got me into theater and acting. I then went to college for theater, where I had a great voice coach and of course took acting classes. After that, I moved to New York City, and started working fairly quickly. I will be in my fourth Broadway production in March. How did all that activity get you into the film ‘Joyful Noise’?

Jordan: It was my very first time on stage that did it. I was an understudy for ‘Rock of Ages,’ and was on for the lead actor because he was sick. I had never even been on a Broadway stage before, and the writer and director of ‘Joyful Noise,’ Todd Graff, was in the audience that night. I went on, sang some rock music, tried not to pee myself, and everything worked out okay. The story is almost barf-worthy. [laughs] Had you seen Todd Graff’s previous movie ode to stage musicals, ‘Camp’?

Jordan: I didn’t watch ‘Camp’ until a couple years ago, but I came from South Texas, so I had no idea there were theater summer camps. When I got to college, everybody in theater studies had met each other in camp, and I missed out on that. Did the presence of Dolly Parton, who seems like a pretty stable show business type, help you in your transition to a big-time movie set?

Jordan: Absolutely. Dolly is depicted as larger-than-life, and she can be, but when you meet her she is the sweetest and most unassuming person. She will give the time of day to anyone. Working with her became very easy, very quickly. We were like family almost instantly. It became almost casual, ‘yeah, I’m going to have some scenes with Dolly today.’ [laughs] The film had a more casual approach to blending the melting pot of America in a small town in the South, even highlighting several mixed race and cultural relationships. Was there an intention aim by Todd Graff in approaching it that way? Do you think that would be possible in the real American South?

Jordan: I have very strong feelings about this. One of the best things about the movie is this mixing of races and cultures. In a way, I feel the movie is ahead of its time in that aspect, because generally when you see that it’s always an issue, it’s always out in the open. But in our movie, there is never word one about black, white, Asian, anything like that. It’s just simply a given. The fact that it was intentional makes a statement, and what makes it even more powerful is not saying anything about it. Religion is another theme of ‘Joyful Noise.’ Was religion a big factor on the set?

Jordan: It was not. People were fairly open about their beliefs, in and around the set. Todd Graff is openly agnostic, and formerly Jewish, about as far away from gospel as possible. I was not raised religious, but others in the case were raised around gospel music. It was very accepting, and very open. When we filmed at the church, the pastor would come along and give a little prayer, and that was really the extent of the open religion on the set. It was more of a loving set.

Grandmama: Jeremy Jordan with Dolly Parton in ‘Joyful Noise’
Grandmama: Jeremy Jordan with Dolly Parton in ‘Joyful Noise’
Photo credit: Van Redin for Warner Bros. Pictures Recently, you were the lead in a new Broadway musical, ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ which closed quickly after it opened. What was the genesis of your involvement, and what were some of the behind-the-scenes circumstances surrounding your quick run on Broadway?

Jordan: ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ had been the works for many, many years. They started out with a few songs, and had their first production about three years ago in California. It was successful there, but the thing with musicals is you keep working it until you get it right, which is different from movies where you do it once and hope it works. I came aboard in the second round, when the show was in Florida, and it was another big smash success.

When we came to Broadway, one of our composers – who is very talented – tends to be a critical whipping boy. He writes catchy tunes, but critics seems more interested in Stephen Sondheim-type musicals, that kind of quirky feel. So getting the money together was difficult, we had about 30-odd producers, that only put in so much money apiece. That left us little to draw off, if the show needed to borrow money. It didn’t have the critical praise, so we were relying on word-of-mouth. It was lauded by the community, audiences loved it, but for some reason the critics didn’t like it. What was that meat grinder like for you?

It’s tough because you put so much heart, love, faith and hope into a show. And everybody around you is saying it’s great, and then a few people who get paid to tell you their opinion says it not great. Producers get scared, people pull out and we didn’t have any money in reserve. We were making below our profit margin every week, and we didn’t get time to build that word-of-mouth audience. In coming from your stage background to a film set, what was the most difficult factor for you in the movie making process?

Jordan: Being a stage actor, it was difficult to bring it down when performing in a film. You have to worry about tensions in your body a lot more. On stage, the audience is getting a general picture of you, and if you have a few ‘-isms’ they can be easily hidden, but on film they are not. Sometimes when I talk, my mouth starts to droop a bit, and things like that. Trying to overcome those little ‘-isms’ and try to make myself presentable was hard. It’s still a process that I’m learning. You can do as much in film with a shift in your eye, as a grand gesture in theater. What advantages did the production have because director Todd Graff also wrote the script? Did it allow for a looser set and improvisation, or did he want you just to stick to the script?

Jordan: It depended on how much time we had. There were times when he would say, ‘I know you want to do something different, but say this, and let’s move on.’ But he was very open. If someone felt like their character wouldn’t say something, he would come back with ‘what do you want to say?’ Dolly especially, she wrote half her lines. He was all about that. A writer can only bring so much to a character, and the actor completes that. Since you just completed your first film, whose type of career would you like and why?

Jordan: I’m trying to think of a musical stage actor who has crossed over, there aren’t many. Harry Connick Jr. and Hugh Jackman come to mind. In terms of acting, I’ll take the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon any day. [laughs] Has the buzz for this film opened up anything for you, career-wise?

Jordan: Well, now I’m doing another Broadway show, ‘Newsies,’ and that starts in March, so I’ll be wrapped up for awhile in that. I’ve had a lot of meetings, but nothing has come up as yet. Since this is my very first movie, most people don’t get a chance to see it until it comes out.

“Joyful Noise” opened everywhere January 13th. Featuring Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Courtney B. Vance and Kris Kristofferson. Written and directed by Todd Graff. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

Auset Nu's picture

Jeremy Jordan Fantastic in Joyful Noise

Wonderful talent! I love to see people who can act, dance, and sing. He’s fantastic!!!

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