Tony-nominated actor Jeremy Jordan stopped by Robsham Theater on Friday afternoon, sharing his experience breaking into show business after graduating from Ithaca College in 2007. Hosted by the Dramatics Society, the lecture explored Jordan’s experience with moving to New York City, open call auditions, starring in NBC’s Smash, and getting nominated for a Tony for his work as Jack Kelly in Newsies. The 29-year-old Texasnative is now starring as lead J.M. Barrie in a musical adaption of Finding Neverland—the production is showing in Cambridge through the end of the month. He will also appear in a film version of the musical The Last Five Years, set for wide release in February following a successful premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this month. Here’s what Jordan had to say about making it in the entertainment industry.
Your career will be defined by risk.
“I had learned a lot in college not to take the safe route, because I tend to always think outside the box—sometimes I think too far outside the box and would have to be reeled in. But I think it’s always more interesting to take the different route, if there’s a choice you feel like you can make. In any aspect of theater, always make it or try it, because it’s better to fall down swinging than peter out by doing what is on the page.”
What you do in college doesn’t matter so much as what you do on stage.
“The real training comes when you’re doing shows, and you’re out there in the real world experiencing the lows—and then the highs come eventually.”
Moving to New York is important for making a name—even if you plan to make a career elsewhere.
“I was lucky we had a showcase in New York with our graduating class, and I got an agent from that—I sang a song from Urinetown. Yeah, that was helpful. They got me into appointments, but I actually didn’t really get many things off the bat. I had a few tiny little things that were taking me to crazy, weird places that I didn’t want to go to. What I wanted to do was go and live in New York and be there for at least six months, establish roots, and then I could go somewhere else.”
Working as a cater-waiter is convenient for aspiring actors, but might just crush your soul.
“After the first couple months, it was a little tough. I started doing cater-waiting. It was awful. It’s a great job if you want to be flexible and you want to still be able to audition, but then it sucks your soul—because it’s one of two things. Either you like serving people in massive dining halls or they’re so rich they don’t care who you are or you are walking around carrying plates of food to a bunch of drunk people who don’t care if they run into you and you spill your food over, so that sucked.”
All performance jobs are not created equal.
“After I quit cater-waiting, I played music for little kids. I did this program in New York called Little Maestros, where it’s like this rock band that does classes for rich family kids, and it costs a ludicrous amount of money, and we didn’t get paid to much of it, so I had to learn like 14 songs and play guitar and sing to this kids who couldn’t understand a single word I was saying. I ended up getting fired from that because I accidentally said something that I did not mean to say. All that considered, it was only a year and a half.”
Open calls are a good place for young actors to try their luck.
“Even though I had an agent, I went to an open call for Rock of Ages. I used to go to a lot of open calls for Broadway stuff because sometimes it’s the only way to get in the door, and I went in an open call for this show that I had no business being in—there was no part for me. And they called me back a couple months later for swing because I was just not right enough for four different roles, so I could actually fit into all of them, and I got it.”
Callbacks are not a time for subtlety.
“I went to Telsey for the Rock of Ages callback, which, if you go to New York as an actor, is the mecca of auctions, and I sang “Open Arms” or something. Then a few month later, they called me back and I had to learn sides for different characters and I was in a particularly positive, good mode that day and I just decided to go balls to the wall and I was head banging and knee sliding and breaking things in the audition room—I’m pretty sure I broke a coat rack. I don’t know why there was one in there. I just remember finishing this crazy rock song panting and sweating. At the table, they were just like, ‘Woah, what just happened?’ I was like, ‘Hey! That’s me.’”
Stand up for your character as a young actor.
“With Smash, it was a big learning experience. I did a movie once, but I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and did everything everyone told. Then throughout the course of Smash I learned to stick up for myself. As an actor on a TV series, it’s a day-to-day thing, and it’s so fast that you have to really look out for yourself. They change directors every episode, the writers are around, but they don’t have a whole lot of say, and sometimes there are so many cooks in the kitchen that your character gets jostled around. You have to keep it on a trajectory so your character has a through line, is understandable, and people don’t hate you.”
Featured Image by Dave Griffin / Heights Photo