Sunday, January 9, 2005
Yes, modeling is all about the body beautiful, but nevertheless Jon Jonsson was having trouble baring it all for the last photo shoot of "Manhunt, '' the Bravo television reality show that gave "America's Next Top Model'' a run for its money. The 22-year-old surfer dude from Carmel is no prude, but let's just say that the prospect of having his privates captured by a still photographer's camera and on video (albeit pixeled out) was not something he was looking forward to.
As Paris Hilton can attest, in this day and age, you never know where copies of videos are going to turn up -- or what they'll be used for. But the search for America's most gorgeous male model had come down to the Tarzan- like Jonsson and the city-chic law student Rob Williams (a native of Arlington, Texas), and our boy had some thinking to do.
Should he or shouldn't he bare all in the show's final episode? At stake was $100,000 and a four-year contract with IMG, one of the world's premier modeling agencies.
Jonsson had just about decided to quit and forfeit to Williams, and was mulling whether to jump in a cab and head for the airport when fate intervened. "A casting producer came into my room at 7:30 in the morning and said, 'Put on a robe and nothing else,' " he recalled. "I said, 'Just f -- yourself; I don't like you guys anymore,' '' said Jonsson, who still seemed bitter -- despite the lucrative rewards -- as he sat curled up on a couch at his parents' house on a rainy day before New Year's Eve. "I put on my clothes; the camera was on, and I was making (them) know I was unhappy about this.''
Over at the studio, Williams was getting fired up about the shoot, adding to the pressure.
"It's pretty sad how much (nudity) matters so much to people like me; it shouldn't matter, but we're conditioned our whole lives to cover ourselves,'' Jonsson said.
He realized the producers wanted good TV, but the IMG officials who'd scouted him for the show had said he didn't have to do anything he didn't want to, in the tradition of countless starlets, models and actresses who've been assured they wouldn't have to be nude in order to get a contract or a part. After much cajoling, and afraid of what Bravo might do if he up and quit (he'd signed a "gnarly contract" to be on the show) Jonsson dropped his drawers and was photographed looking out a window in the buff. (The black-and-white shots are on Bravo's Web site, www.bravotv
.com/manhunt, but don't expose all.)
The decision paid off: He won.
But Jonsson said he learned later that he had been secretly selected as the winner two episodes earlier.
" 'Manhunt'," he said in retrospect, "was just a show to exploit all these guys. I'm not afraid to say it -- I'm not under Bravo's contract anymore. Secret battles were going on between IMG and Bravo people over who was going to be eliminated, based on who would make good TV.''
If he sounds a bit defiant, surely it's all in the character of a surfer dude; they're not generally known for kissing bootie, you know.
For the most part, though, Jonsson seems laid-back, almost indifferent. He allowed that he could almost care less that he won, which might be one of the reasons he did.
His aloof attitude translates into a certain visual sizzle. Legions of women (and some men) will look at him and think to themselves, "He looks like he doesn't care, and maybe a little angry, but maybe I could be the one to make him like me." Therein is the allure.
There are his exotic looks, too -- dark skin, almond-shaped eyes, flat cheekbones and a chiseled jawline -- from a Thai mother and a father from Iceland. "Proud? Oh yeah, sure I am,'' said his father, Haflidi Jonsson, an atmospheric research scientist who teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. "After all,'' he laughed, "I am the stud factory.''
His mother, Nanna Jonsson, who teaches Thai at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, is also "quite proud of this whole thing,'' Haflidi Jonsson said.
With such brainiac parents, it seems curious that Jonsson ended up as a model. It was really almost a fluke, the way he tells it.
Jonsson, born in Iceland, is the middle son in a family of three boys. His elder brother, Helgi Thor, is an artist, and younger brother Bin is a biology and political science student at UC Davis. His parents moved the family to New York and Colorado before landing in California in 1994.
Jonsson had been approached a few years earlier at Paramount's Great America theme park in Santa Clara by a scout for an Internet modeling Web site, and reluctantly paid to have his photos posted there, thinking it might lead to something.
In the meantime, he spent a few years at Monterey Peninsula College, unsure of what he wanted to do when he grew up.
"It was awesome,'' he said. "The school was easy. I didn't learn much, but I got to surf and snowboard a lot in Tahoe."
He also saw that his schoolmates weren't going anywhere with their lives, waiting tables and working in retail, and wanted more for himself.
That's when he enrolled at UC Santa Cruz. He is fond of astronomy, and took up astrophysics. "It's just the unknown,'' he said. "You look up in the sky and see stars. They say 85 percent of everything you see is dark matter and they can't even explain it. It tripped me out; I wanted to learn more about it.''
Then Sal Marquez Jr. at City Model Management agency in San Francisco saw Jonsson's photos and asked him to sign up.
"He's got a great face, great features, great bone structure,'' Marquez said in a telephone interview. "What makes him what he is, is his persona. He's one of those guys who stands there, quiet in what he does. You look at him and go, 'What a great guy.' Eighty percent of these guys are overambitious and you've got to tell them to put a cap on it. It's good to be enthusiastic, but you don't have to be overly enthusiastic.''
So for eight or nine months, Jonsson drove to San Francisco a few times a week for casting calls, landing a catalog photo shoot or a runway gig every now and then. He was the first model on the runway and the last off at a show at the St. Francis hotel for clothier H&M, soon to open in San Francisco, and was hoping to appear in the Macy's Passport runway show in fall.
All of this was helping him earn money for school and for his pick-up truck. He also started taking flying lessons in a single engine Cessna, thinking he might like to become a military fighter pilot or even an astronaut.
Then Marquez intervened again, suggesting Jonsson try out for the Bravo show casting call.
"I said, 'I know you're in school and focusing, but you have had a great chance on this because you have a great face -- you don't look young, you don't look old, and you look hunky,' '' Marquez recalled. "He has one of those looks that comes off as approachable. Likable."
Jonsson went to an IMG office on Bryant Street and had an interview, which consisted of talking into a camcorder about himself. With his shirt off, of course.
What followed was a series of calls from the producers over a period of several days saying he might be on the show. The definite word came later, when he was buying a pastrami with jack cheese sandwich on ciabatta at Whole Foods, and his cell phone rang with good news.
"Cool,'' he said. "When do I leave?"
A week later, he was in Santa Monica with 30 other prospective contestants. The reality of reality TV shows hit home quickly when, on the first day of filming -- a photo shoot in jeans with Carmen Electra -- they narrowed the field to 20.
In one episode, they had to skydive from a plane in their underwear (tethered to an experienced skydiver).
They were encouraged to party hard by the producers, who in one episode woke contestants at 3 a.m. and forced them to do a shoot with supermodel Marisa Miller (a surfer from Santa Cruz discovered by Mario Testino) just to see who had discipline enough to hold it together while drunk, or crack from the pressure.
Jonsson, who likes the thrill of surfing, loved skydiving -- the roar of the engines as he jumped out of the plane, and the quiet 45 seconds as he plummeted to earth before the parachute opened. He also enjoyed the calendar shoot in Puerto Rico -- not because of his photograph, where he leaned against a palm tree and ran his fingers through his hair (also on the TV Web site) but because of the weather.
"I'm a weather nut,'' he said. "I like this stormy weather, but I like the humidity, the heat and the sun. I'm meant for Hawaii.''
The show concluded filming in August, and Jonsson had to keep mum about the results until the last episode aired Nov. 30. He spent two weeks in New York City meeting with IMG executives and this week was scheduled to head off into the unknown -- a fashion fighter pilot of sorts -- to the Dominican Republic for an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot with renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber.
Whether Jonsson makes it or not is yet to be seen. He's only 5 feet 11 --
short for a model -- and has a large scar on his stomach from kidney surgery in the second grade. But IMG knows what it's doing. The agency represents the likes of supermodels Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks (host of the competing "America's Next Top Model'' on UPN). So far, Jonsson's physical flaws haven't seemed to matter, nor has his lack of a fitness regimen. He shuns the weight room, instead surfing, running and hiking to stay in shape. He also eats whatever he wants, even if it's five or six ice cream sandwiches for dessert and yet still has muscular arms and rippling stomach muscles.
The one thing he doesn't have is a lot of personal style -- yet. On the day we talked he was wearing a brown zip-up sweatshirt, a black T-shirt, jeans and two necklaces.
He credits his former girlfriend, Jillian Kunysz, a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, with moving him into nicer clothes, for job interviews anyway. "Ben Sherman striped shirts, jeans that aren't baggy and nice shoes,'' he says.
Alan Bradley, a running buddy from their days on the Carmel High School track team said that few in Jonsson's circle knew he was doing runway modeling until one of his brothers put portfolio photos on the family fridge to razz him.
"Everyone's going to call him 'Zoolander' once in a while,'' said Bradley, "but what does he care? He's got the last laugh, and we all know it's in good fun ... He's the same old guy, pretty much, except he's living the dream.''
True to form, Jonsson said it really doesn't matter what happens. He hopes to make enough money under his contract to be able to surf for the rest of his life in Indonesia with his 6-foot-4 board by Kalu Coletta and his Rip Curl wetsuit (endorsements, anyone?).
If not, he'll be just as happy going back to school.
"It's not like I want to make this a career for the rest of my life,'' he says. "It's not like it's fun for me. But I try to have fun with it.''
One other thing. He's vowed never to do anything uncomfortable -- like those nude photos -- ever again