Welcome to the Jungle: Nick Jonas Talks About Transition to Acting, Fun Times on Set


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Alison Nieto Culture Editor

On December 15th, incoming Culture editor Alison Nieto and 15 other journalists had the opportunity to speak with Nick Jonas as part of the “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” college conference call. Jonas plays the part of Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough in the sequel to the original 1995 film.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” follows the path of four high school students, who all happen to be stuck in detention on the same day. After discovering the video game “Jumanji” in the basement of their school, they decide to take a break from cleaning and play. Suddenly, they are sucked into the game as their chosen avatars. There, they must beat the game in order to return to the real world. Unlike the classic Robin Williams’ movie, the characters are brought inside the world of Jumanji in the sequel. This interesting take on the board game modernizes the game into a video game so it is more relatable to kids.

When creating the sequel, Jonas said that the cast and crew had the utmost reverence for the original 1995 “Jumanji,” which starred the late Robin Williams and quickly became a favorite among adults and children.

Jonas is best known for his work in the music industry, most notably as a member of The Jonas Brothers, a band formed with his older brothers, Joe and Kevin, in the early 2000s. Nowadays, Jonas is working on his third album, which features the already released single, “Find You.”

Jonas says he didn’t focus on outside opinions while transitioning from music to acting. “I try not to stress about perception,” he said. “I think, for me, it’s just about taking strides to grow.” He says that there was a “warm welcome to the acting side” and that for himself, being patient with his blossoming career and trying to make good choices in the roles he takes are the most important things.

 Creating a sequel to a beloved classic is no easy feat. When asked if the process was stressful because of the way in which the original “Jumanji” affected so many people, Jonas replied that knowing it was a classic “was something to keep in mind, just to find a way to pay homage to the original. I think from there, it was about finding a way to also tell a new Jumanji adventure, a new story.” He goes on to explain that the goal of the movie was to find something new that could “take this beloved classic and introduce it to a brand-new audience.” Jonas believes that the film’s writers, Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers, “did a really brilliant job in the writing” of the sequel and the characters in order to make the film enjoyable for fans of the older movie, as well as a new generation of Jumanji fans.

Because the video game takes place within the jungle, the majority of the movie was filmed in Hawaii. The cast of “Jumanji” (which also includes Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan) and production team went to Hawaii in search of the perfect location. While the cast may not have had to contend with the fantastical creatures of “Jumanji” during filming, they did have to deal with a plethora of Hawaii’s own critters, including centipedes and countless other bugs.

“Insects were really the main deal,” Jonas said. “There were a lot of centipedes and mosquitos.” He recalls a moment of filming in which Johnson exploited Hart’s fear of insects. “The funny thing was basically that Dwayne caught wind pretty quick that Kevin Hart was not a fan of the bugs. And so, he made sure to plant a bunch of bugs everywhere that Kevin was, even if they were, you know, not real. And still, Kevin’s reaction [was] always good [for] laughs. And thankfully they’re filmed, so you can find them online somewhere. Good times all around.”

Jonas praised the cast dynamic on set. “My favorite thing about shooting and the whole process was my connection with Jack [Black]. He’s just the best, one of my favorite guys and someone I hope I get the chance to work with again.” Out of all the characters in the film besides his own, Jonas expressed desire to play Johnson’s character, Spencer. “I think Dwayne’s character is pretty awesome. He’s got all the coolest strengths and no weaknesses,” Jonas said. “Also, being that big for a day would be kind of fun.”

One of Jonas’ favorite scenes to shoot was filmed in a helicopter. “It was a fun scene to shoot, challenging you know, because it’s all green screen and you really have to use your imagination,” Jonas said. “I think the director, Jake, really helped us all stay in the moment and give us an understanding of what the post production behind the scene was gonna be.”

One of the interesting things about this film and its characters is the contradiction between the avatar’s characters and the personalities of the students who play them. For example, self-proclaimed queen-bee Bethany, prides herself on her looks. She is drawn to the avatar Professor Shelly Oberon, the curvy genius at the character selection menu. However, much to her surprise, Professor Oberon is the exact opposite of everything Bethany values. Played by Jack Black, Bethany is forced to reconcile with a persona so unlike her own and learn how to deal with weakness. On the topic of strengths and weaknesses, I asked Jonas what his character’s weaknesses were and how, as an actor, he relates to that.

“Alex has a couple weaknesses,” Jonas said. “Mosquitos are one of them. Strengths are making margaritas, which is not the most useful tool in the jungle, as well as flying although that has been challenging for him as well. In my own life, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my strengths and weaknesses would be, if I had to categorized it like the video game and I think my strength would be that I’m very driven, very focused. My weakness would probably be that I get in my head sometimes and kind of overthink things.”

All signs point towards success for Jonas as he expands his role in film. The morning of the premiere of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” Jonas received a Golden Globe nomination for best song for the animated movie “Ferdinand.” “Last Monday was one of the craziest days of my life,” Jonas said. “I’m really proud and humbled to be in a spot to keep this thing rolling.”

 “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is now playing in theaters everywhere.