Inside 'Jersey Boys': Behind the Scenes with the 'Faux' Seasons

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They call him “Mr. Eastwood.” They’ve never been in a major motion picture before. And they don’t wear matching jackets.

Those were a few of the takeaways from a 20-minute session with three of the actors who portray the Four Seasons in director Clint Eastwood’s film of the Broadway smash, Jersey Boys.

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The guys — John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi) — sat at a round table in a meeting room at the – yep – Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco, while media types took quarter-hour turns posing questions. (The fourth Season, Vincent Piazza, who plays founder and troublemaker Tommy DeVito, was on the set of Boardwalk Empire, where is “Lucky” Luciano.)

All three are seasoned stage performers; Young won a Tony for his work on Broadway, beginning in 2005, while the other two were in the first national tour company.

Bergen, who I met when that tour hit San Francisco seven years ago, introduced me as that character in Almost Famous, instantly drawing a parallel to what he, Lomenda, Young and Piazza had done: portraying a real person in a movie.

Bergen never thought he’d wind up in a film directed by Eastwood.

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"I was ready to be in a Jerry Lewis movie,” he said. “I knew him to make westerns and those gritty, dark, masculine films. When I got the call, I didn’t know what to think. I walked in there just scared to death.”

But Eastwood, an avowed fan of the musical, made the rookies comfortable.

“He populates his set with this incredible family of people who’ve worked on his films; in some cases for decades,” said Lomenda. “And he’s always in the mix. He’s a constant presence and a source of support.”

So there were never any arguments on the set? After a trio of “no’s,” Bergen spoke up. “In the back of your head, there’s always, ‘You gotta bring your A game, on the off chance he whips out the Dirty Harry.’”

It helped, said Young, that he, Bergen and Lomenda had performed Jersey Boys thousands of times. “Clint Eastwood likes to do everything in one or two takes,” he said, “and we were prepared to do just that.”

Besides Eastwood, the actors got to work with another icon, Christopher Walken, who portrays the mob boss, Gyp DeCarlo.

Did they wind up mimicking Walken, as most of civilization does?

“It’s impossible to work with that man and not try to do his voice,” said Lomenda. He and Young agreed that Bergen did the best job.

As the PR clock headed toward the original 15-minute mark, I brought out a couple of my quibbles with the film.  I began with the hair and makeup that aged the guys — rather grotesquely — at movie’s end.  The real Seasons looked much better when they reunited for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990.

The actors wouldn’t criticize their transformations. Said Young: “You sell 172 million records and see how you age!”  Wigs, makeup and prosthetics — “That’s Hollywood movie making,” he said, “and that was the most fun we had on the set.”

I also thought the horns on Valli’s solo breakout hit, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” were too brassy, too jazzy — a reflection, I figured, of Eastwood’s love of that music.

Well, said Bergen, the director “paid tribute to the place where that song came from; it was almost a ‘40s sound.”

Lomenda chimed in. “I remember Mr. Eastwood saying he wanted to get that right, to give that gift to Frankie Valli. In the play, he asked Bob Gaudio, ‘Do you think I can have a saxophone?’ He wanted to give him a sax…and much more.”

Fans of the musical, I noted, missed the intimacy of the theater experience, of watching, up close and personal, if they had good seats, as these boys from Jersey went from petty crimes to Bandstand and Ed Sullivan, fighting and belting out great songs along the way.

“This isn’t the theater,” said Bergen. “Those fans and us — we can’t see the film as what new people are seeing.”

In short, the songs are there, but they’re in the context of a deeper analysis of where these Jersey Boys came from, and where they went.  As Young put it, “Clint’s goal was to bring the story more to the forefront. The music’s more the star on stage. The story’s more the star in the movie. Now, audiences have both.”

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