MIPCOM: Nick Jonas' 'Kingdom' Was a Journey of Self Discovery

Nick Jonas Headshot - P 2013

The family drama had parallels to his own life after band breakup

After an especially tough year and very public breakup of the Jonas Brothers band, Nick Jonas is starring in Kingdom, DirecTV’s one-hour scripted series that focuses on a fractured family in the world of MMA fighting.

“It’s been a time of growth more than anything. The band had kind of reached its time, you know. For about a month and a half I was trying to figure out what my next steps should be,” the youngest Jonas told The Hollywood Reporter in Cannes. 

Jonas stars opposite Captain America: Winter Soldier’s Frank Grillo as his father, a former champion-turned-trainer who runs an L.A. gym.

Watch more DirecTV's 'Kingdom' Trailer: Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas Star in MMA Drama

He was determined to get the role of the young fighter, though the perception of him as Disney actor and boy band star made it a difficult sell. “I had to fight really hard for the role, but I put my head down and went to work.”

“He had to fight really hard – twice as hard because he’s ‘Nick Jonas,’” added Grillo. Jonas said he put on about 15 lbs. of muscle for the physical scenes. “This past year and a half has been really challenging for me in a lot of ways, and one of the first things I said when I talked to [Grillo] was that this time has really brought out the fighter in me."

It was also a time of intense self reflection for the actor, with the show serving as a healing experience, Jonas said. The cast shot over four months at an abandoned boys’ penitentiary in Whittier, and the long drives home were also a time of reflection.

“The biggest discovery for me in the past year and a half has been how family can change. At the core hopefully there’s always love, but families go through ups and downs. My family and I have been through some good moments and some bad moments, and being in a show that touches on how family’s complicated helped me feel ok as a person,” he said. “I know now that when those ups and downs come it’s ok, because everybody faces their own version of that.”

Sets were constructed in different areas of the former prison, which gave the shoot an extra eerie feeling. “It’s an energy — you’d have to be dead not to feel it. You feel that bad things might happen on this property. And it somehow really helped the flow for us, and miserable though it was, it set the tone for the show,” said Grillo. He compared the constant fighting and physicality amongst the men to a “pack of wolves.”

Read more Nick Jonas on Truly Going Solo With 'Chains,' Dropping F-Bombs After DirecTV's 'Kingdom'

The 10-episode drama premiered Oct. 8 to strong reviews. Although punches (and tire irons) fly in the first episode, Grillo says it’s a family-driven show set in the world of MMA but not focused solely on fighting. “I think it will be primarily a male driven show, but I’m hoping women give it a chance,” said Grillo.

It remains to be seen if Jonas' 9 million Twitter fans, many of whom are used to his sqeaky-clean image, will follow him to the show. "I'm trying to lay it all out and see who catches on and who goes on the journey. I’m totally fine that not everyone will," he said.

Kingdom already has one fan in older brother Kevin Jonas. “He wrote me the minute he watched it on broadcast and said he’s hooked. He wants me to send him the other episodes but no,” said Jonas, adding that he’ll have to watch like everyone else.