Personality Complex is a new regular feature of Complex's Pop Culture channel, where you'll be introduced to rising stars of film and television. Check back in June for the next installment.
Written by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Jacob Artist is not boring. As Glee’s Jake Puckerman, Artist, 20, is this generation’s quintessential bad boy, following the likes of Beverly Hills, 90210’s Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) and The O.C.’s Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie). Status like that assures him a place inside the locker of every other high school girl, and every one of them wants in on his juiciest biographical details.
“I want to sound more interesting! I'm trying to think of a cool hobby people wouldn’t expect. I would have said dance, but that's over with now,” Artist says. “So, yeah. I guess I'm just boring and don't do anything.”
Jacob Artist is not boring. Jacob Artist is just preset to be good at everything he wants to do.
It's bizarre. In middle school, I thought girls were running away from me, so when they ask for a picture now, I'm like, 'Really, what?!'
At 5-years-old, his parents ask him if he’d like to enroll at David DeMarie Dance Studios in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, just to channel his restless energy into something productive. He’s all for it.
Fast forward 12 years: He’s still dancing—jazz, tap, ballet, acro, hip hop routines, you name it—but this time as part of his audition for Juilliard. He gets in. Future, set. Right?
Actually, no. That’s not what he wants. The feeling he got at 15, when he flew to Utah to try out for a principal dancer spot in High School Music 3—literally the only acting experience he’d ever had—lingers still, this itch he hasn't scratched yet..
“I feel like if I had gone to Juilliard for four years not knowing what that experience in L.A. would have been like, I would’ve constantly wondered, ‘What could've happened?’” he explains.
At 17, he and his dad pack their bags and give the Hollywood thing a whirl. Within a year, he earns his first role as a guest star on Nickelodeon’s Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures. Which he follows up with gig after gig, first on Melissa and Joey and then in the TV movie Blue Lagoon: The Awakening. Like ticking boxes on a checklist.
Then comes Glee. He gets an audition, but he has to sing, something that, at this point, Artist only does in the shower. The producers ask him if he’s ever sung before. His answer: “Well, this was it, I hope you enjoyed my first performance.”
As it turns out, he’s just a few notches away from Michael Bublé, and he gets the leading role. His winning song? The Fray’s “Never Say Never.” Naturally.
Nowadays, he’s getting paid to act like a screw-up on Glee. To play Jake, Artist transforms into a short-tempered, unromantic, and rebellious Lothario. In a misguided effort to prove he’s a good boyfriend, Jake coaxes his friend into planning out his Valentine’s Day date with his pretty, innocent girlfriend Marley (Melissa Benoist).
But even being an endearing jerk is an art he’s perfected. Just search “Jarley”—the shipper name for Jake and Marley—on Tumblr and you’re guaranteed to be bombarded with memes and GIFs obsessing over the couple.
“It's bizarre. In middle school, I thought girls were running away from me, so when they ask for a picture now, I'm thinking, 'Really, what?!'" Artist says, shaking his head in disbelief. “I could show you a picture right now where I look like something from The Hills Have Eyes. Talk about an awkward stage. Puberty was not good at all.”
It’s hard to believe, considering he looks like he stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, but he’s sincere. He knows how lucky he is to have had a nearly flawless career so far and repeatedly emphasizes that whenever questions about his success arise. He knows how an actor struggling to get commercial work after 15 years in L.A. can see his rapid rise to fame as unfair. He’s just a nice guy who doesn't want to rub it in.
But come on, the honest truth is, he is that guy. The mysterious, dreamy, and racially ambiguous (he’s African American and Polish) jack-of-all-trades every casting director is looking for and every photographer wants to shoot.
Once lensed by the camera inside Complex’s small in-house studio, Artist’s entire body relaxes. He’s got the choreography down, and moves like he’s memorized the look and definition of every muscle in his body. He peers into the lens the same way he looks at his on-screen girlfriend, brooding and longing.
He’s so perfect that you almost want to piss him off just to see what happens. But again, you don’t really want to do that, because there’s nothing about him that calls for such cruelty. And what could you do? Tweet his location to the masses and see if the fans stampede to him?
It’s tempting, but given how he’s built a career by betting on optimistic outcomes, he’d probably handle it like a pro—laugh it off, sign a few autographs. Remember, he’s already got this.