Clint Eastwood's 'Jersey Boys': Stage Stars Talk Big-Screen Differences
UPDATED: At a New York screening of the Warner Bros. film, the director and actors also speculated about the audience for the R-rated title based on the hit Broadway musical, and co-writer Marshall Brickman revealed what the Oscar-winning director brought to the project.
The cast of the movie version of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys may not be filled with household names, but many of the actors starring in Clint Eastwood’s tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are certainly familiar with the material.
All but one of the members of the big-screen version of the Four Seasons previously starred in stage productions of the musical, with at least two actors even auditioning for roles in the long-gestating film when Jon Favreau was attached as the director.
John Lloyd Young reprises his role as Valli in the movie after originating the part on Broadway.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Monday night’s New York screening of the Warner Bros. movie, Young said he was excited to have the chance to play Valli in a more permanent medium.
“I grew up watching Hollywood movies and some of my favorite movies of all time were Hollywood musicals, and my grandparents were big Broadway fans and talked about seeing legendary performances on Broadway like Yul Brynner in The King and I or Robert Preston in The Music Man or Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Of course, those were before my time, so I never got to see those performances, except on film,” Young said. “And so I knew when I had the opportunity to maybe do this, how historically significant it is in Hollywood musicals for someone to originate the role in the Broadway show and to be able to reprise their role on screen.”
Erich Bergen, who plays fellow band member Bob Gaudio, launched Jersey Boys’ first national tour before spending two years in the Vegas production. Like fellow cast member Mike Doyle, Bergen auditioned for the project when Favreau was set to direct, but the film’s former team didn’t see what Eastwood’s team did.
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“After my audition, the casting director called my agent and said, ‘He’s not right for the role,’ and my agent asked, ‘You mean the role he’s played for three years?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ So we dropped it, we let it go and then this happened,” Bergen told The Hollywood Reporter at a pre-screening dinner at the Angelo Galasso House at the Plaza Hotel.
Both Bergen and Doyle later experienced Eastwood’s quick casting process, in which they taped a couple scenes for Eastwood’s casting director, Eastwood watched them and then the actors found out if they got the part, next seeing Eastwood on set.
“Clint is very confident in his choices, confident in what he does and if he recognizes something in you, he goes with that,” Doyle, who plays record producer Bob Crewe said. “So you feel really trusted and free to do your thing.”
Indeed, working with Eastwood both Bergen and Young felt they could trust their instincts as actors, knowing the film was in the hands of the Oscar-winning director.
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“I think what he really taught me was to have confidence as an actor, because especially as a theater actor, you’re micromanaged a lot because there’s set pieces coming in and there’s lights and sound and you have to make sure you do the exact same thing in the performance every single night. And when it came time to do the film, he was much more open and wanted me to trust my best instincts,” Bergen said of working with Eastwood. “He got me to do that, and I’m forever grateful to him because of that.”
Young added that unlike on Broadway where they actor’s responsible for telling the story, on film, the director’s responsible for telling the story.
“So for me it was a much more pure acting experience because I knew what I was doing for Clint was giving him the best raw material I could in every single set-up and every single take, and then it would be his decision and his editors’…to put together the story later and choose from what I gave them, the pieces that worked,” Young told THR.
Although Eastwood’s a well-regarded director, his name might not be the first that many people associate with helping the film version of a Broadway musical.
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But co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman, who also co-wrote the book for the Broadway show with Rick Elice, said that Eastwood brought a useful musical background to the project.
“There’s something about having a sense of rhythm and a sense of timing and patterns that help you as a director and that’s all through the movie,” Brickman said. “He gets to set and he knows the rhythm of the speeches, he certainly knows what the tempo of the whole piece is like. It’s all of a piece I think because of his musical sensibility.”
Speaking of music, Eastwood also worked with the writers, Brickman said, on rejiggering the music for the movie.
“You know, a two-minute number in a live performance environment like a theater, a legitimate theater can hold because somehow there’s some magical thing that happens when the audience is in the same room as the live performance,” Brickman explained. “It doesn’t quite hold on screen. So you’ve got to figure out ways of keeping the thing visually interesting while the music is playing and continuing on the track. So that’s a combination of what we did, Rick and I, in the screenplay, and what Clint did in combining the music as a score and an underscore and then moving around a little.”
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Eastwood was also committed to filling the cast with actors from Jersey Boys’ stage productions, Brickman said. One of the few outsiders is Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza, who plays Tommy DeVito and told THR he was interested in making the movie both because of Eastwood and the multiple layers and challenges that came with playing his character.
In particular, Piazza sings, dances and plays guitar for the first time on screen in Jersey Boys.
“It was daunting, and I really had to take care of myself day to day to keep up my confidence, and be humble in the work and…get to a place in the work where I’m in great hands and they told me not to worry about it, just keep working hard," Piazza said. "I did and hopefully people will appreciate it within the context of these incredible singers and dancers and actors.”
Both Piazza and Brickman think that the musical’s core audience of fans will be the first to check out the movie, but Piazza believes the R-rated title will eventually cross over to younger adults.
Eastwood concurred, telling THR, “Hopefully young audiences will be interested in the music and they’ll enjoy it too and enjoy it for the story.”