The day is bright and balmy, and the bustling crowd at Sweet Butter Kitchen, Café and Market, a country-style bistro in Sherman Oaks, Calif., is dressed for the heat: guys in shorts and flip-flops, girls in tanks and topknots. And then there’s Nick Jonas, in a charcoal wool Rag & Bone hat, a long-sleeve Ann Demeulemeester shirt, and Nudie Jeans. “Last night was kind of chilly,” he explains of his weather-defying look with a small laugh. “I woke up today thinking it would be the same temperature, but it’s clearly not.” How much overnight change can one guy take? Seemingly, one minute Jonas is a cherub-faced boy-bander with a head of soft curls, and the next he’s this man, a full-fledged sex symbol with a buzz cut. As an actor, he’s drawn to more mature roles. In this fall’s frat-hazing drama, Goat, he plays a morally conflicted fraternity brother. And his new album, Last Year Was Complicated, mines a transformative breakup. Still, he exudes an essential sweetness, and it’s this duality—the interplay of light and dark, pop and pathos—that makes him so exciting to watch.
You’re touring with your new album. Just how much does your onstage look match your personal look?
I go for things that pop a little bit more on-stage—you gotta bring your showmanship. But I still like for everything to be within the bounds of what I wear on the street. I think it has a lot to do with splitting my time between music and acting. Being in character 12 hours a day makes you want to be yourself the rest of the time.
What’s your favorite part of being on the road?
The food. I love trying barbecue from all around the country: Houston, St. Louis … There’s an amazing frozen-custard place in St. Louis called Ted Drewes that I always try to stop at. Also, I toured so long not being 21, so these past two and a half years, it’s been fun to go to bars.
Wait—are you saying you didn’t drink until you were 21?
[Laughs] No. But I was smart. I didn’t go out. I wasn’t delusional about the fact that people could pull out their phone and see how old I was.
How does touring with Demi Lovato compare with touring with your brothers?
Working with Demi is truly unique. She’s a strong woman. A lot of people are concerned about speaking their mind, but she’s fearless. She and I have been through a lot together over the past eight years, and seeing how far she’s come, in her recovery and as a person, has been amazing.
On the subject of recovery, you recently participated in a Reddit AMA in which you described yourself as a recovering teen star.
For a long time I chose not to accept it—the complications that come with [fame]. The experiences we had, the kind of crazy ride we were on, were going to have some effect. But I think I turned out OK, with a reasonable amount of sanity.
No swinging from the chandeliers.
I enjoy my cigar and beverage, and that’s about it. Really good Cuban cigars—Cohíba Behike 52s. I’m kind of an old man.
Have you always felt older than your years?
Yeah, I was forced to get my act together at an early age. Having a real job at 8 [Jonas played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol on Broadway] sounds funny, but, you know, they really do treat you like an adult. They expect professionalism onstage and off.
You’re getting a lot of attention for your role in Goat. How is Nick Jonas the actor different from Nick Jonas the pop star?
I become someone else while I’m acting, but music stuff has got to be completely authentic. They complement each other. I don’t think I would have been able to be as fearless in the “Close” video, where I had to do things that are by nature uncomfortable, without acting experience. I’m drawn to stuff that puts me on the edge a little bit.
Who is the first person who struck you as cool?
My dad’s friend Roger Hodges. He was this bald, guitar-playing badass. I mean, he was in the worship band at our church. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I told my parents I wanted to look like him. They couldn’t understand it. But he was a badass with his bald head.
Have your tastes evolved since then?
As I got older, Elvis Costello became a big fashion icon for me. I did one photo shoot where I wore vanity glasses. But it felt stupid—I felt like a fraud—so I just let it go.
When you look back on your style, is there anything else that makes you cringe?
I went through an Ed Hardy phase. That burned really hot really fast. But then, besides that? I’ve had a few moments, things that were on-trend years ago that now are just insane. And I’m a firm believer that men should not tuck their pants into their shoes. The relationship between clothing and a man is really interesting. You have to be confident first before whatever you’re wearing has any effect. I’ve seen people pull off some pretty bold s— because they were confident about it.
Photo Credits: Grooming by Marissa Machado/Baxter of Califorina/Art Department; Styling by James Valeri; Production by Kelsey Stevens Production.