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Jeremy Jordan is getting ready for the release of one of the biggest projects of his career, and he has one very important question: What happened to his merkin?
The unconventional hair piece plays a vital part in Spinning Gold, the new movie in which Jordan plays Neil Bogart, a record executive who founded Casablanca Records in the 1970s and who was responsible for the breakout careers of Kiss, Donna Summer, the Village People, George Clinton’s Parliament, and Joan Jett. In many ways, the role marks a transformation for Jordan—a scruffier character than the clean-faced romantic lead has played before.
The Broadway and screen star has the kind of jawline that Hallmark romances were made for—he starred in his first one last year—and a Disney-minted earnestness that has defined much of his career. His biggest breakout was playing the lead, Jack Kelly, in the 2012 Broadway mounting of Newsies, which took on an even bigger life when Disney released a film of the stage production on Disney+. That wholesome appeal translated to his longest-running TV roles, on the musical series Smash and the CW series Supergirl. Heck, even his first movie role was in 2012’s Joyful Noise, a film about a gospel choir that starred, of all people, Dolly Parton.
Neil Bogart, on the other hand, was a record man very much of his time—which is to say, more… uncouth than the typical Jordan role. “Everybody was on something,” Jordan says with a laugh, in a Zoom interview with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “I don’t think anybody could be successful in the record industry back then and be clean. It was all dirty business. It was all paying under the table. It was all borrowing money from the mafia. It was all stealing other artists from the other labels. It was just so much underhandedness.”
Comparing Bogart to his previous roles, Jordan grins again. “Probably the closest that I ever came was playing Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway. And he actually killed people.” Still, Spinning Gold marks a departure—including when it comes to his appearance in the film. It’s time to bring it back to, as all things should be brought back to, the merkin.
If you are familiar at all with Jordan’s other work, you’d know that he’s not a particularly hairy man—neither on his head nor in other areas. His look in Spinning Gold is something of a shock by comparison. “My hair would get like that if I let it, but maybe not that beautifully curled,” Jordan says of his Spinning Gold wig, which boasts an impressive, period-appropriate pouf. “It would definitely fuzz up that big and I’d have to tame it.” When he showed up on set wearing it, no one in production recognized him.
Then there’s the very noticeable chest hair. Is that his? “No, not even a little bit of it,” he says, chuckling again. It turned out that wearing his shirts with so many buttons undone—as Neil would wear his—left things aesthetically unpleasing, “given my kind of puny chest hair.” At first, the makeup team glued tiny fibers one-by-one onto his chest, but it left his skin red and irritated; it turned out that he was allergic to the glue. Midway through production, the team switched to a chest merkin in the shape of a heart. The glue still bothered him, but this was certainly more manageable.
“I really wanted to keep the patch, that merkin, and frame it,” Jordan says.
It may have, implausibly, been a fitting memento not just for the film, but for the time in his life and career. When we speak, Jordan explains how the film came to him under unusual circumstances and at a transitional time in his career and his life. It was almost as if he were in a new phase of maturing—growing his chest hair, so to speak. (Forgive me.)
He’d been the Broadway It Boy, as a young, belting-and-dancing leading man. His IMDb page is dotted with a series of projects that could be considered Hollywood “big breaks” for a New York-based musical theater performer. He’s even flirted with coveted “Internet Boyfriend” status several times, as videos of him singing the absolute hell out of female-driven power ballads like Céline Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress have repeatedly gone viral and caused mass online swooning.
Now, Jordan’s playing a more mature role in Spinning Gold, as the film’s leading man. He became a father for the first time, to 3-year-old Clara, who was just born when he shot the movie. And, he says, he’s living out his “rockstar dreams” with his new band, Age of Madness.
“I’m definitely past the age where I can play the young characters,” he says. “I’m not old enough to be the old characters. I’m in that weird middle ground. It’s always been tricky and difficult, not knowing what’s next. But it’s also been what’s really exciting about this business.”
The Unlikely Offer of a Lifetime
Like many movies about music history, Spinning Gold has great fun casting famous modern-day singers as the film’s legendary characters. Wiz Khalifa, for one, plays George Clinton. Jason Derulo plays Ron Isley, while R&B great Ledisi is Gladys Knight.
There was originally going to be another music star on the cast list. At one point in the early 2010s, Justin Timberlake had been attached to play Bogart. By the time Timothy Bogart, Neil’s son and Spinning Gold’s writer, director, and producer, was ready to start shooting in 2018, there was another unnamed (but “name”) actor in talks to play his father. But two months before the shoot, Timothy told Variety, he panicked that they were about to cast the wrong guy.
He called co-producer Larry Mark, who had also worked on the movie musicals Dreamgirls and The Greatest Showman. Jordan had performed the original demo for the latter, singing in place of Hugh Jackman, who was recovering from surgery during the producer presentation. Mark’s advice was to find a “showman” from Broadway, who Timothy felt could capture the gregariousness of his father. Mark sent him YouTube videos of Jordan. Timothy was immediately smitten, hopped a red-eye to meet Jordan, did a secret read-through of the film, and, at the eleventh hour, offered him the part.
“He just straight-up wooed me. I was like, I wish every film project was like this,” Jordan says, cracking that smile again, “because I originally had to say no, multiple times.”
Spinning Gold was now set to shoot in Montreal in early 2019, over the exact period Jordan’s daughter was going to be born, which was not the ideal time for a person to spend several months in Canada. In the end, the production timeline was moved three months until after Clara arrived, and it was safe for the family to travel.
It’s a wild bookend to Jordan’s career thus far. In his first movie role, he was starring alongside none other than Dolly Parton, and this potentially career-changing one in Spinning Gold was one producers were begging him to take. Neither milestone represents how things normally work for actors. “I feel very lucky,” he says. “[Those two projects] did happen 10-plus years apart, though. It’s like, could we get them a little more consistent now?”
If YouTube clips of his performances helped get him this job, one has to wonder if those “It’s All Coming Back…” and “She Used to Be Mine” videos were among the ones Timothy saw.
The Céline Dion performance was from a New York cabaret show in 2015 called “Broadway Loves Céline Dion.” Jordan didn’t know that anyone was filming, capturing his escalating key changes as the audience squealed in delight. The 2018 clip of him singing “She Used to Be Mine” is from MCC Theater’s annual “Broadway Backwards” fundraiser, in which theater stars sing their favorite songs from roles they would never be cast as—such as Jordan performing as Jenna, the titular Waitress.
Both videos were quickly picked up by pop-culture sites and spread through social media, with fans in awe over Jordan’s impressive vocal gymnastics, not to mention the emotional song choices on their own. (Count Melanie Lynskey as an early endorser of the Dion clip.)
“I think if you anticipate the viralness of something, it’s never going to work out,” Jordan says, attempting to assess the phenomenon of those performances’ regular resurgence. “A few weeks ago, Pink posted about my Waitress video on her Instagram. I was like, ‘What’s up Pink?’ Like, this thing is still resurfacing.”
He imagines that it was footage from one of his solo cabaret concerts that actually caught the Spinning Gold producers’ attention, especially the moments between songs when he tells stories about his life. “I turn a little bit of that dial up,” he says. “When I stand on stage, I can’t just be my normal masochistic-actor, self-deprecating self. You have to be the person that everyone expects you to be.”
Jordan is known for his candor in these concerts. In his 2020 one-man show Carry On, for example, he discussed his feelings about becoming a father. It’s also where he told the story about how crushed he was about his Greatest Showman experience. Not only was his spotlight eclipsed during the producer presentation, when Jackman went against orders and performed the finale—to deafening applause—but that’s always where he found out that Zac Efron was in talks for the role in the movie that Jordan was pursuing himself.
This particular conversation also had auspicious timing, when it comes to another complicated moment in Jordan’s career. Last week, news broke that the TV series Smash, after years of teasing such a project, will finally be mounted on Broadway in 2024—an end-game dream of one of the most peculiar pop-culture fan bases in recent history.
Jordan joined Smash in its second season, after the NBC show had become somewhat of a phenomenon. He and the cast filmed 13 full episodes before Season 2 began airing in 2013. Then it premiered, and everything changed.
“We were just living in our little bubble, and it was lovely,” he says. “And then the first episode of Season 2 aired, and there was a shift in energy, because people had started hate-watching it. And it was a really dark vibe-change as we finished the season out. It was hard.
“There was a long time that I was holding onto the pain of that,” he says, “because it was something that was really amazing for me in my career, but it died as soon as it was born, it felt like.”
Of course, that was 10 years ago. His feelings about his professional prospects are not that dark anymore. Instead, they’re accompanied by a bit of acceptance, pragmatism, and enlightenment.
“I’m definitely in a transition-y place,” he says of his career now. “It’s been strange. I became a father, which has been incredible. But it’s limited me, because I'm like, ‘Well, I don’t want to go to Mexico for six years to shoot a series [away from my family].’ That’s not even remotely appealing to me.”
While pursuing new projects that make sense for him, Jordan’s been filling the gaps with concerts, and working with his new band. There are also opportunities, like a stint playing Seymour in the off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors or a role in a Hallmark movie (titled, gloriously, Hanukkah on Rye), that have come when he wasn’t expecting them.
“I started to create pathways for myself, which I’m learning is really the only way to go when you’re not lucky enough to be wooed by the director of a big film, which has only happened, as we’ve said, once every 10 or so years,” he says. “So if I’m not going to have to wait until 2030 for that to happen again. I’m gonna have to do something in the middle.”