STAGE TO SCREENS: Jeremy Jordan Dishes On His New Role as Bad-Boy Heartthrob of NBC's "Smash"
By Michael Gioia
Jeremy Jordan, fresh off his Tony-nominated turn as the rebellious paper boy Jack Kelly in Broadway's Newsies, turns up the angst and anger for the second season of NBC's "Smash," where he takes on the new role of bad-boy songwriter Jimmy Collins.
"Yeah, he's very angry," Jordan told Playbill.com on Jan. 16 from the Brooklyn set of TV's musical drama series "Smash," where he filmed Joe Iconis' "The Goodbye Song" — a number from the new musical Hit List, composed by his character, Jimmy Collins — alongside co-stars Katharine McPhee and Krysta Rodriguez. "He's very passionate as well, and he doesn't trust anybody except for maybe his best friend Kyle, played by Andy Mientus, until Karen comes in — Kat McPhee's character — and she starts to open him up a little bit."
Brooklyn-born singer and songwriter Jimmy Collins enters the world of "Smash" when Karen Cartwright (McPhee) finds herself visiting a 46th Street bar (the exterior was shot at New York City's Joe Allen restaurant), where Jimmy and his best friend and writing partner Kyle Bishop (Carrie's Andy Mientus) earn cash and remain afloat while finishing up their book-musical Hit List. Karen, who overhears Jimmy singing material from the musical, is convinced that the piece, in fact, can become a "Hit." (Season Two of "Smash" premieres 9-11 PM Feb. 5.)
"[Jimmy's] had a lot of really, really bad things happen to him in his life; just recently, things have been good..." continued Jordan. "That's when he started writing this musical with Kyle, and so the idea of sharing this very personal [material], which is his music, [is very difficult]."
Karen, however, is persistent about getting his piece produced, and so a new "Smash" star — and love interest for Karen Cartwright — is born.
"It's like there's that sort of unspoken connection between [Karen and Jimmy] from the moment they meet," said Jordan. "There's something that draws them together — that sort of unspeakable energy — [but] each one keeps getting in the other's way… It's like this constant tug and pull, and just when you think something might happen with them, something gets in the way. Life, circumstance and themselves are not making it very easy for them to be romantic with each other in a consistent manner."
Although their relationship blossoms within the first few episodes of this season's "Smash," Jordan hinted that audiences will see the ups and downs of Jimmy and Karen throughout the year. Karen is simultaneously intrigued and put off by Jimmy's edgy personality — a 180-degree spin from her former fiancé, the buttoned-down mayoral aide Dev Sundaram (played by Raza Jaffrey, whose character was axed).
Jordan also hinted that Jimmy Collins is an object of desire for his writing partner, Kyle, quietly slipping in that Mientus' character is "secretly in love with him."
On his character's wild side, Jordan explained, "I think that Jimmy has had a history with drugs, and it's sort of his go-to when he doesn't understand or know how to deal with things. I wouldn't say he's a drug addict, by any means. Maybe he was at one point, I don't know…but he definitely has that sort of crutch. It's what gets him through tough times." When under pressure, Jimmy Collins makes mention of his recreational use of scotch, weed and cocaine. Jordan added that Jimmy's reasoning is because "he doesn't want to face reality."
"Yeah, he can definitely be seen as a bad boy," said Jordan as he continued to spill the details on Jimmy from the "rehearsal room" seen on "Smash." "He's kind of a womanizer…and he doesn't give a shit about what anybody thinks about him. I think he cares about what people think [of] his work…and then when he meets Karen, he finally, for the first time, actually starts to give a — I keep saying shit, I'm sorry — care about what people think."
Jimmy Collins' work, Hit List, the new musical written with Kyle Bishop (Mientus) uses songs of real-life rising songwriters in the musical theatre scene, such as Joe Iconis, Drew Gasparini, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, among others. "For the amount of material they wanted for each new episode, it began to be too much [for "Smash" composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman], so they sort of started spreading it out, which makes Jimmy look like he's like some musical genius who can change styles," said Jordan with a laugh. "While all the music is much more pop/rock/contemporary, it does shift a bit from Broadway/pop to true-blue pop music that you would hear on the radio today to more traditional, contemporary musical theatre, too… It definitely gives [Jimmy] a nice range."
The cast members on set explained that Hit List begins at the New York City Fringe Festival — getting "a lot of traction," said Rodriguez, whose character is in the cast of Hit List — and moves Off-Broadway. "The New York community embraces it immediately," said Jordan of Hit List, "and suddenly it's on this fast-track to the top, which is completely plausible."
Jordan explained that the Hit List cast is comprised of "the new people plus a couple of the returning characters," and that McPhee's character has "migrated to the cool, young group."
Tony nominee and rising star Jordan said that juggling both stage and television was a bit overwhelming; last summer he was shooting by day and performing Newsies at night. "When I first got cast, I wouldn't have told you it was easy. I would have told you it was the hardest thing in the world because I was also doing Newsies at the same time, so on my day off, I would be here… I ended up leaving [Newsies] right before my wedding in September," said the busy actor, who tied the knot to recent Rock of Ages cast member Ashley Spencer.
Although Jordan is finding comfort starring on the small and big screens (prior to "Smash," the actor was seen opposite Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the 2012 movie "Joyful Noise"), it won't take much to get him back on the Great White Way. "I miss the theatre. I do. You miss the camaraderie with your castmates that you see every day," admitted Jordan. "It's very humbling having to learn to let go once you filmed a scene [for television], and it's out of your control completely. It's humbling, but it's difficult. On stage, you're the final product."
Before heading back for another take of "The Goodbye Song," Jordan said that the second season of "Smash" will be "younger" and "sexier." With Jordan, Rodriguez, Mientus and Hit List on Season Two's roster, the shimmer of youth seems obvious.
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
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