By Lynn Barker
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jeremy Jordan may not yet be a household name, but the up and coming performer has starred on Broadway, most notably playing the lead role of Tony in a 2010 production of “West Side Story.” The Corpus Christi, Texas native now makes his feature film debut co-starring opposite Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in the gospel music-filled “Joyful Noise.” Jordan, 27, plays the boyfriend of actress/singer Keke Palmer, best known for her acclaimed performance in the 2006 drama “Akeelah and the Bee.”
We wanted to know more about Jordan so we got him to call us from his new car while waiting for his fiancée Ashley Spencer, winner of the reality show “Grease: You’re the One that I Want,” to come out of a meeting. Besides “West Side Story,” Jordan also starred in the Broadway productions of “Rock of Ages” and a regional production of “Newsies.” He also guest starred on NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU.”
Q: Tell us how director Todd Graff found you for this film. You were the understudy in the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” and he just happened to be in the audience when you went on?
Jordan: Yeah, I was understudy for the lead role and hadn’t gone on yet. The very first time I stepped on stage, I got to be the lead part. I had little to no rehearsal. Todd happened to be in that audience and had just finished writing the movie. Timing mixed with good preparation. That’s what we always say.
Q: How was working with Keke and did you two meet and maybe have lunch or dinner beforehand to get to know each other?
Jordan: She’s hot! We had about a month of rehearsal. It’s a musical and there’s a lot of dance numbers and singing so we really had to prepare and get all that stuff ready beforehand. We rehearsed a lot of our scenes together. We got to know each other really well. We met at the audition when we had to read together. We instantly connected. It’s hard not to connect to her because she’s so incredibly outgoing. She’ll, right off the bat, open up 100 percent to you. You can’t help but love her.
Q: What do you think you learned from her that you might not have known before and what were you able to teach her?
Jordan: She definitely helped me by me watching her and how she dealt with people professionally because I’d never been on a set so I didn’t know how to deal with the crew. She was very helpful in that aspect. I think I brought more acting experience to the table and she asked me questions about that. I also was her big brother, a sounding board for her when she (personally) had relationship things going on.
Q: That’s sweet. Can you relate to small-town people having economic problems like they do in the film?
Jordan: Certainly. I can relate on a few different levels. I grew up in a smaller city. We had a lot of economic issues growing up in my family. We moved around a lot. You always are looking for that one thing that can give you hope or make you feel like it’s not all going downhill forever and that’s sort of what the choir in “Joyful Noise” is doing. We’re doing our best to uplift this town. In real life you just have to find those few things that can keep your spirits up when everything seems to go against you.
Q: Which musical number in “Joyful Noise” did you enjoy most? “Maybe I’m Amazed” or…?
Jordan: I loved doing that. That’s the biggest showcase for me and singing with Keke was great. But my favorite one was getting to sing a duet with Dolly Parton. She wrote the song. It’s just the two of us sitting on a piano bench in her den. I got to play the guitar and accompany her. It was really something else. She’s a lot of things and none of them bad.
Q: How about working with Queen Latifah?
Jordan: She’s a trip! She’s a doll. She’s so chill and down to earth. You would never think she’s this big diva that everybody portrays her to be. She can turn it on but she’s really just a cool, hip, funny, normal person.
Q: What musical artist or band are you really into now?
Jordan: I like all kinds of music but my sort of jam is alternative singer/songwriter stuff. There’s a new artist Brendan James. I love Gavin DeGraw and Marc Broussard, I also love Adele, that really soulful sound. It’s almost why I got into the Gospel thing for this. It’s all from Soul and that’s the kind of music that I’ve always gotten into.
Q: Who were your idols growing up?
Jordan: I’ve always felt connect to Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio and guys like that. Those are guys that I always feel like I would kill to have their career. They can pick and choose which movie they’d do and always have great characters. Growing up I’ve always loved Harry Connick Jr. He’s a great crossover star.
Q: Who would you love to have as a leading lady?
Jordan: Wow, Natalie Portman. That’s the one! That’s it. If that happens, I’m retired!
Q: Who, real life or in a novel, would you like to play someday?
Jordan: Wow, well I just got to play Clyde Barrow in “Bonnie and Clyde”(musical). That’s the first time I ever played a real person and really enjoyed it but anybody in history that people misunderstood and you can bring a new light to.
Q: You are a Texas boy so were you familiar with church music or Gospel music?
Jordan: I was in choir a lot in school but honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about
Gospel music. I knew what it was and knew the style of it but didn’t know this whole world of it. This movie has opened me up to that pretty incredible world. It’s one of the best styles to sing. It’s about opening up yourself and letting go of all inhibitions, just singing straight from your heart. There are tens of thousands of people who show up to the competitions [between choirs].
Q: How are you like your teen character Randy and how very different?
Jordan: I guess I’m like Randy in my love for music. I’m very relaxed and chill and always looking for a joke and Randy’s always trying to make people laugh, make light of things and not take people seriously. I’m different in that he sort of puts on this “bad boy” air and tries to cover up that he’s really not this person. I’ve always been a goody goody. When I was a kid growing up I never got in trouble or anything. Randy always gets in trouble.
Q: So you were a good guy. Also when you were a teen?
Jordan: When I was eighteen I was very small and meek and now that I’m a little bit older I get to play the 18 or 19-year-olds who aren’t small and meek and get to relive my high school years every once in a while.
Q: Did you have any input into the songs you sang or the choreography?
Jordan: Probably more into the choreography. I had a say with some of the riffs I had to do on spot but the instruments and background vocals were already set when I recorded. With choreography, we definitely got to play around a bit. There’s actually a whole choreographed dance with me and Keke that got cut from the movie. I’m sure it will be on the DVD extras. We were at the dance club. We spent a lot of time on it.
Q: What is the most striking difference between acting and singing on a stage and doing a feature film?
Jordan: It’s not really that different. You are still playing a character that is real and has different wants and needs. It’s really just a technical thing. It’s about not moving around as much. In film [your movements] are a little more subtle. You can do just as much with a flick of your eyelid then onstage you would have to have a big arm gesture. Another big difference is on stage you get to tell the story all the way through in two hours or so whereas on a film it takes much longer and is random and [not in order].
Q: What’s next for you?
Jordan: I’m going back to New York. I did a regional production of “Newsies” but taking it on Broadway this time.