The Real-Life 'Smash' Story of 'Newsies' Star Jeremy Jordan

Jordan is nominated for best leading actor in a musical at this Sunday's Tony Awards

jeremy jordan
Deen Van Meer
Jeremy Jordan in 'Newsies.'
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Earlier this year, the cult-classic Disney movie Newsies debuted as a Broadway musical – 20 years after the film, about a turn-of-the-century newsboy strike, first hit theaters, and six months after a successful out-of-town tryout proved to be a bona fide stage hit. Jeremy Jordan, a Texas native who made his own Broadway debut in the hair metal musical Rock Of Ages three years ago, currently plays the same role that a then-unknown Christian Bale tackled in the movie: Jack Kelly, the tough guy with a heart who led the newsies' strike and belted his hopes for a new tomorrow on the song "Santa Fe."

The last year has proved a big one for Jordan, who nabbed a Tony Award nomination for best performance by a lead actor in a musical for Newsies (the show picked up another seven other nods). He also opened another show on the Great White Way (as Clyde in Bonnie & Clyde, a short-lived country-western musical about the infamous couple) and made his big-screen debut alongside Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in Joyful Noise. Jordan spoke with Rolling Stone about his Tony recognition, living a real-life Smash story and being friends with Dolly Parton.

Congrats on your Tony nomination. Can you take me back to when you first heard you were nominated?
Thanks! This was the first year I was eligible for it, so of course I was ridiculously excited. I couldn't sleep the night before. I woke up a few minutes before they were supposed to be announced, grabbed my laptop and sat in bed with my fiance and my little puppy. We watched them and, you know, it was very exciting. My heart was racing, and then after they call your name, you're like, "OK." I was more excited to hear the names of all of my friends being called out. I still haven't quite grasped the fact that I'm a Tony nominee. It's funny how you dream about these sorts of things, and then it happens and it's like, "OK, it's here. I'm still me."

You were a part of Newsies for its out-of-town tryout last fall before moving on to Bonnie & Clyde, and you've talked about the transition back into Newsies being bittersweet because Bonnie & Clyde closed earlier than expected. Did that color your feelings about the nomination at all?
[That morning] I felt mostly the sweetness of it, because Laura [Osnes, "Bonnie" in Bonnie & Clyde] and Frank [Wildhorn, Bonnie & Clyde's composer] respectively both got nominated and I was so ecstatic for them. And while the show didn't get a whole lot of recognition, the fact that it got some is really fantastic. A lot of people, when they congratulated me, kept inferring that it's a nomination for both shows. I don't know about that, but it's nice to feel like people remember that show.

How did you come to be involved in both shows?
For Newsies, I was involved first. The very first reading that we did was of Harvey [Fierstein]'s new book. They'd been trying to do it for a long time, and had scrapped it – then Harvey decided out of the blue he wanted to rewrite it. I auditioned for [the first reading] almost two years ago. They were only casting a couple of roles, and the rest of the characters they were just using people who had worked for Disney before. I had never worked for Disney, and I got cast as the lead. That was great, and I loved the movie as a kid so I immediately connected with it and knew what I wanted to do. With a reading, you only get a week to get a whole show [together]. It felt good, and everybody liked what I did and I just stayed – I never had to audition again [Laughs].

Bonnie & Clyde came into play maybe a couple of months later. Jeff Calhoun, the director of Newsies [and Bonnie & Clyde], wasn't attached to the reading at that point but he was there, and he had see me there, and he brought me for Clyde. Suddenly I was a part of two big shows, and I didn't even really realize it, because at that point Bonnie & Clyde was just doing an out-of-town tryout and Newsies was still just on paper.

While you were recording the soundtrack to Newsies, you tweeted, "Holy shit, I just recorded 'Santa Fe'," which is probably the most iconic song from the movie.
[Laughs] When I did it out of town [at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse], I knew I was going into Bonnie & Clyde and I had a feeling I wasn't going to be able to do the role ever again, you know? I was like, "This is my last hurrah, and then somebody else is going to get to record it when they do the CD." When I was sitting in the recording studio recording it, I was remembering that moment, and I just felt so grateful and so proud and just excited to get to lay down this very iconic song. I just thought of all the little kids growing up and all of the musical theater nerds – people who are just going to listen to it for years and years and years to come and love it as much as I do. [Laughs] It's really cool to be the first.

Have you heard anything from Christian Bale?
No, I haven't. Well, you know, he famously disowned the fact that he did a musical.

Right.
Which is fine. He's a great actor; I guess it wasn't his thing. I'd love to see him come to it – maybe if we win the Tony.

You've also done a reading for the Heathers musical.
Oh, yeah. I've worked with the team doing the Heathers musical a few times. I've heard rumors that it's kicking around again. I think they're hoping to do something in the U.K. If they do anything in New York, I will do my best to be a part of it. It's a lot of fun. I was the lead guy, the Christian Slater role, JD. It's very similar to the movie, because the movie was very campy. It just raises the camp to astronomical heights and has kick-ass music.

So, I have to ask you about Smash and whether you've gotten to watch it.
Oh, of course I've seen Smash!

As someone who's gone through the process of doing a reading, then the out-of-town tryout, then the Broadway show, how accurate was Smash for you?
It's natural for a TV show, especially when you're that ambitious in your first season to go from inception through the end of out-of-town-tryouts, you gotta pack it all in and explore your characters. I definitely applaud them for fitting it all in. A lot of people were saying that they don't find it to be very true. I find it to be pretty close to accurate, the backstage stuff and the inside jokes that people didn't catch.

You made your feature film debut in Joyful Noise alongside Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. What was that like?
They're such pros at what they do. They're such huge music and movie stars, and then you meet them and they're the sweetest, most normal, kindest people and you're like, "Oh! That's what you're supposed to be like when you're a movie star. That's why you're so successful. OK, I get it." I feel like I got to be friends with them, moreso with Dolly because I had a lot more scenes with her. I can say I'm friends with Dolly Parton, so, ha!