No, it’s not a Mad Lib generated to excite kids who grew up in the early 2000s: a Jonas brother is starring in a movie directed by Michael Moscovitz — aka Anne Hathaway’s love interest in “The Princess Diaries.”
Nick Jonas and filmmaker Robert Schwartzman (as the guitar-playing, car-fixing, M&M-eating heartthrob is known in real life) have been friends since the early days of their fame. They met when Schwartzman’s band Rooney, which gained prominence after appearing on another early-aughts staple “The O.C.”, opened on tour for Jonas Brothers.
But they never officially worked together until they collaborated on the indie “The Good Half,” a comedic drama that premieres this week at Tribeca Festival. It’s the third time directing for Schwartzman, who is more often behind the camera since “The Princess Diaries” and in 2018 co-founded the distribution company Utopia.
In “The Good Half,” Jonas plays a writer named Renn, who travels home to Cleveland for his mother’s funeral. As he reunites with his family — Brittany Snow plays his high-strung sister, Matt Walsh portrays his well-meaning father and David Arquette is the step-dad — and meets new friends, he’s forced to come to terms with his past. It’s a more dramatic role for the 30-year-old Jonas, one that’s far removed from the rockstar-next-door he played in his film debut as a teenager in Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock.”
Prior to the premiere of “The Good Half,” Schwartzman and Jonas reunited over Zoom to discuss the making of the film, their appreciation of bowling and a potential Jonas Brothers-centric musical.
Between the Jonas Brothers and “Princess Diaries,” this is a huge crossover for ’90s kids. How did you two meet?
Schwartzman: I have a band called Rooney. So Rooney was making records and touring, and Nick and I both worked with a producer named John Fields, who said ‘You gotta get together and meet Nick and the band.” We got to connect in those early days of music. When the brothers were starting to tour, Rooney went on the road with Nick and the band [in 2008]. It was great. We grew a friendship from there. Did I get that right, Nick?
Jonas: That’s exactly right.
Schwartzman: Word for word?
Jonas: I’m very impressed. Once we met, I was still 15 or 16 years old, I just remember we went bowling a lot. And now look at us, we’re making movies together.
Schwartzman: By the way, I take full responsibility for being a rambler in these situations so you will have to stop me. But I will say, Nick is a really good bowler. Like, a crazy good bowler. And I love bowling. I went through a phase of bowling every night. Nick was on another level of bowling. It would be nice to reunite and and do a bowl-off together.
Maybe at the afterparty! How did this movie come together?
Schwartzman: I received a script to perhaps direct and fell in love with it because it dealt with an important subject, which is, what do you do when you lose somebody? I lost somebody close to me when I was very young; my dad passed away. It’s scary to tell a story that’s very emotional and personal. But it’s important. It’s almost therapeutic.
Why did you think of Nick for the lead role?
Schwartzman: Obviously, he’s a very talented musician and has done incredible work as an actor. But that initial vibe was there and the trust of being able to work with someone I could really collaborate with openly, who would be honest with me when I needed the honesty back.
Nick, how did the project land on your radar?
Jonas: John Taylor, a mutual friend of ours, sent me the script and said, “Robert is directing this movie. I love it. Tell me what you think.” I read it in about an hour. I just blew through it and really connected with Renn and the story. I loved the writing. I didn’t think I was going to be doing any film or TV projects at the end of last year, and then I met with Robert. He told me the timeline was fairly quick. It was perfect timing.
What appealed to you about playing Renn?
Jonas: I felt like I understood the voice of the character. When we find him, he is going through one of life’s most challenging moments, the loss of a loved one. I’ve experienced that in my life, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through. Robert and I really trusted in one another and built an environment on set where we understood what’s on the page, but had freedom to put it in your own voice. It was empowering. And we got to shoot in my home state of New Jersey.
So did anyone actually go to Cleveland for the movie?
Jonas: It’s a great town. We kind of give it a bad rap in this movie, but Robert did go to film some exteriors. I skipped that part.
You both mentioned drawing on personal experiences. What’s the most unexpected part of grief?
Schwartzman: The unexpected part is that I don’t know if it ever stops. It’s so subjective. Loss is a mystery to me. Doing this movie is a way to understand it.
Jonas: It’s different for everybody. One thing I learned with grief is to allow yourself to feel all of it. It certainly is hard, but there is healing in saying things out loud, expressing your emotions. It took me a long time to figure that out. A lot of soul searching.
Nick, this is your first starring film role. Were you looking to return to acting?
Jonas: In the last few years, it’s been harder because music has been the more dominant of my two gigs. But throughout COVID, I doubled down on my production company and building out my development slate in film and TV. A lot of those projects are things I intend to star in as well. So then it’s just about working backwards with my team to find the windows that make the most sense. The long-winded way of answering your question is, yes I certainly want to see more acting projects on my schedule. But looking at this year, starting in August, it’s going to be all touring. It’s busy.
Is it true you auditioned for “Wicked”?
Jonas: Yes, it’s true. Joe and I both went out, and we didn’t get it. But that’s the life of an actor.
What was the role, and how did you feel the audition went?
Jonas: The role was Fiyero. I think it went really well. I was very happy coming out of the room. I’m a huge fan of the show, and that’s a role I always thought it would be fun to play. But I think Jonathan [Bailey] is going to do a great job, and I’m sure the movie is going to be great.
Robert, you have many relatives in the film business. Is there anything you learned from them about directing?
Schwartzman: I definitely feel grateful to have grown up around filmmakers. My uncle Francis [Ford Coppola] is a very successful director, and he’s all about being brave and taking chances. There’s a lot to take away from him, but his biggest thing is trusting his actors. He really wants to know what his actors feel about a scene or a role, and he always feels an actor’s instincts are correct.
Nick, your wife recently shared that perfume helps her get into a new character. Is there anything you like to do to get into a role?
Jonas: I did a film called “Goat” a couple years ago and I played a fraternity brother, kind of a wild man. So I went to a college town bar and had a big, old night with a bunch of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters. It was a good way to put myself in that frame of mind. With this movie, it was real conversations with friends and people I trust about their experience with loss and grief. I’m definitely not a method actor by any means, but I try to stay in the general emotional space of the character. I find it helpful.
This film is premiering at Tribeca at a time when indie cinema is challenged. Robert, as the co-founder of Utopia, what is the biggest issue today facing film distribution?
Schwartzman: It’s an important question. There are always going to be limitations at whatever level you’re working. But what’s challenging in the independent space — and this is where it gets kind of business-y — is a trickle-down problem. One of the biggest ways for independent distributors to stay active is licensing films to streamers. When streamers start cutting back on what they license, you have a domino effect of fewer people buying movies because you can’t sell them to streamers. Streamers cut back on licensing to invest in original content because they want to own it outright. I don’t think independent films are going to stop getting made. I think they’re going to find clever ways of being made at smarter budgets. But it’s important that the higher-ups continue to keep a pipeline available for ready-made films as opposed to just investing in original content.
Nick, your band played a short residency on Broadway earlier this year. Would you return for a musical or play?
Jonas: Broadway is a first love of mine. Our Broadway residency was an incredibly unique and fulfilling experience, and we saw our catalog really lends itself to building a show around. I don’t think that’s something that I would star in, but that would be something I’d love to put together. I’m also working on musical theater ideas right now that are a long ways away from being ready to be on stage. But I’m definitely going to do something on the stage again. Even a straight play is an area of interest for me.
Would the Jonas Brothers-themed musical be autobiographical?
Jonas: We’ve been playing around with it since there are no rules. We could do something autobiographical or we could simply use the music and create a new story a la “Across the Universe” or “& Juliet.” We’re open to whatever.
You’re promoting this movie as you and your brothers are about to embark on a stadium tour. The fans want to know, why don’t you sing the line “red dress” anymore in “Burning Up”?
Jonas: It’s every artists goal to get to a point in your career with a song where it’s so familiar that there are certain lines you don’t have to sing because they sing it louder than you could possibly sing it. So that’s kind of the reason. Also, it’s just fun to see. That song, and specifically the delivery of that line, has taken on a life of its own. I like to sit back, enjoy it and receive that love.