Jordan Fisher is a shock of colour against the gloomy New York City winter morning. His bold, bright ensemble of purples and reds is accented by his signature dangling cross earring and a pair of too-clean-for-this city white boots. “I like to play,” Fisher says of his wardrobe with a grin as he leisurely takes a seat beside me in the photo studio at Refinery29’s downtown Manhattan office. “That’s just me.”
The description also applies to his colourful and diverse career as an entertainer. The 25-year-old’s professional resume is a mile long thanks to his 15 years in Hollywood. His earliest professional successes include roles in television series like Nickelodeon’s iCarly and ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but what many identify as a big break is his starring role on Disney’s Liv and Maddie as the lovable Holden Dippledorf. It opened doors for Fisher, creating opportunities for him to simultaneously pursue a music career. He was able to release music on Radio Disney and even put out his own self-titled EP of pop-soul-R&B in 2016.
He acts, sings, dances, and plays video games, among other things — a real life Jack of all trades, well on his way to being a master of all. He does them with charm and non-threatening swagger, making Fisher the perfect person to play John Ambrose, romantic rival to Noah Centineo’s break-the-internet 21st century high school dreamboat Peter Kavinsky in Netflix’s To All the Boys 2: P.S. I Still Love You.
Fisher doesn’t mind being slept on — flying under the radar has helped him stay grounded. “I have an appreciation for how long it’s taken for people in general to care about what I’m doing and who I am,” he says. “I’ve seen people move to L.A. and New York and become successful immediately, and it either changes them for the better or for the worse...I’m very grateful that it’s taken a long time for me.”
His path to success, though admittedly a slower and steadier burn, has obviously been for the better. It began in the suburbs of Birmingham, AL, where Fisher was raised to pursue everything that he was interested in, which included gymnastics, theatre, and six different instruments (the French horn and the harmonica being the most surprising). It took some time before he zoned in on acting as his ticket to Hollywood, and when he decided to move to Los Angeles at the age of 17, Fisher’s family was fully committed to helping him become a star. That support meant the world to him then, and still keeps him going to this day. He even has tattoos dedicated to them — “family” on his shoulder and “ohana” on his chest, permanent reminders that his loved ones are always with him.
Fisher continued to hustle as the years passed, and his talents landed him coveted gigs in the television production of Grease: Live and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s celebrated Broadway show Hamilton, as well as a winning run on ABC’s dance competition Dancing with the Stars. But nothing could compare to the high of landing the part of his dreams: Mark Cohen in Rent: Live. More than a year later, Fisher still gets that warm, fuzzy feeling just thinking about it.
“Mark Cohen has always been my dream role,” Fisher says, getting emotional. “I’ve been talking about playing him in some version of Rent for forever — that has always been my number-one dream. Getting that call meant everything to me.”
The reimagining of the Broadway classic, which aired in January 2019 on Fox, featured a talented cast that included Fisher’s close friend and fellow Disney alum Vanessa Hudgens along with Mario, Tinashe, and Kiersey Clemmons. Fisher was the first Black actor to play Mark Cohen on a major stage, an honour that he doesn’t take lightly. Growing up, there weren’t many people on TV who looked like him. He tells me that Corbin Bleu’s appearance in High School Musical was the first time he saw someone like himself on screen, so he knows just how important that representation is.
Fisher isn’t by any means nervous to step into roles not necessarily written with him in mind, and in the highly-anticipated sequel to Netflix’s breakout high school romance To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, he will do it again. In the highly anticipated P.S. I Still Love You, out 12th February, Fisher plays John Ambrose McClaren, a boy who threatens Lara Jean Covey’s (Lana Condor) budding relationship with Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) when he shows up on her doorstep with a love letter in hand.
In Jenny Han’s novels, John Ambrose (always John Ambrose, never just John) is described as a young Robert Redford, tall and blonde with rosy pink cheeks. Fisher is a mix of African-American, Nigerian, Cameroonian, English, Tahitian, Italian, Greek, and Scandinavian heritage, and he stands at a confident 5’9. Not exactly what TATB purists had in mind. Initial reactions to his casting were a mix of frustration and curiosity at why Fisher had been cast, especially since Jordan Burchett — who very much matches the book description — had already appeared onscreen briefly as John Ambrose in the first film.
My John Ambrose brings the swagger that matches Lara Jean’s energy. And over time, it makes you think, Man, maybe they really are supposed to be together.
Fisher is more than aware of the scepticism towards both John Ambrose and his ability to compete with the internet’s boyfriend for Lara Jean’s affection, but he isn’t too worried. When asked what exactly his character is working with that could make us jump the #Covinsky (see also: #PeterJean) ship, Fisher didn’t hesitate to answer: “Sophistication.”
“My John Ambrose brings the swagger that matches Lara Jean’s energy,” he explains. “And over time, it makes you think, Man, maybe they really are supposed to be together.”
He makes good points. Peter and Lara Jean, though adorable and precious as a couple, don’t have much in common. Peter is effusive and goofy, known throughout their high school as one of the popular jocks; she’s reserved with a personal preference for kicking back with a good book over pouring up at parties. John Ambrose, on the other hand, is a perfect match for Lara Jean. They met while participating in Model UN, share a love of reading, and they even both have two first names. Plus, he was her first love, and to a hopeless romantic like Lara Jean, that means everything.
“John Ambrose is the guy you marry,” Fisher puts it plainly. “There’s an understanding and a passion between him and Lara Jean. He’s the sweetest, nicest, most caring person...the perfectly written character.”
“You’ll understand when you see the movie,” says Fisher, fully grinning. “He just has it.” I hadn’t seen the film at the time of our conversation, but I was hanging on to his every word. He made a believer out of me.
That passion is Fisher’s superpower. The ‘it’ factor shines on- and off-screen, a testament to his natural talents and the years of hard work that are finally paying off. He’s booked and busy, putting him in a position to be pickier about projects. “When you’re on the grind and hustling, you tend to say yes to everything just for the sake of things, just to fill up the IMDb page,” he tells me. “But artistic stimulation and fulfilment is a goal of mine. I like to prioritize that.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever said this in public, but my goal this year is to only say yes to things that I genuinely, one million percent need to do,” Fisher continues. ”Things I just have to do or will be devastated if I don’t.”
Among those must-do projects is Dear Evan Hansen, which marks Fisher’s return to Broadway four years after replacing original cast member Anthony Ramos as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton in Hamilton. In Evan Hansen, Fisher takes on the titular role: a high schooler with severe social anxiety struggling to find his place in the world. Ben Platt, who originated the role both on and off Broadway, won a Tony for his performance. Fisher doesn’t at all feel the need to follow the template that Platt established for the part; he wants to make it his own. And nothing could have prepared Fisher for the heavy role more than his own mental health journey.
“My own personal experience with anxiety and depression is what’s equipped me with enough in my toolbelt to be able to handle playing this role,” he says candidly.
Whereas a character like John Ambrose is light and fun to play, Evan Hansen is a much darker character, forcing Fisher to tap into something deeper and more vulnerable to bring the story to life every night in front of thousands. Fisher excels onstage, and he delivers such a devastatingly earnest performance as the show’s lead character that it’s impossible to walk away from the show without a broken heart. That kind of strenuous, Tony-worthy performance night after night could take a toll on him, but Fisher is prepared with an extensive self-care routine that helps him separate his work life from his real life.
“I’m already noticing certain habits and ticks that I’ve developed just from learning this show,” Fisher confesses. “I know I’ll have to unlearn Evan to re-learn myself, and that’s the difficulty of art, trying to figure out the best way to take care of yourself.”
When he’s not reducing you to tears with his rendition of “Waving Through a Window,” Fisher is at home doing the things that make him the happiest: loving on his fiancée and childhood sweetheart Ellie Woods (he’s a future wife guy and damn proud of it), playing and streaming video games on Twitch, or just settling in for a good nap. Work-life balance is of the essence for him — while he wants to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, Fisher understands that there is far more to life than just work. Ultimately, he tells me that he really just wants to be a great father and husband, to build a life and a family of his own.
Are you swooning yet?