LAFF: Clint Eastwood Defends Casting Musical's Actors in 'Jersey Boys' Film at Premiere

Jersey Boys Premiere LAFF - H 2014
AP Images

Jersey Boys Premiere LAFF - H 2014

"On Broadway, the audience is always eating out of your hand—but my character's not always likable," John Lloyd Young told THR alongside Vincent Piazza of the stage-to-screen changes.

"Don't worry—you work hard, and everything follows," assures Christopher Walken early on in Jersey Boys. It's a line that's repeated later in the film, and could also describe the entire movie-musical's mantra. The big-screen adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway production—like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons themselves—took years to finally lift off, with creatives rotating in and out of the project before being forged forward by director Clint Eastwood, who wore the group's maroon blazer and received a standing ovation when introducing the film at the closing night of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

PHOTOS Broadway Musicals That Have Sung Their Way to the Big Screen

"I even brought the wardrobe with me! Anything for a freebie," he joked to the premiere's guests on Thursday night inside the Regal Cinemas theater at L.A. Live. "A Fistful of Dollars closed Cannes, and Jersey Boys is gonna close this—I hope we're not starting a bad trend there and close theaters! But that's a fifty-year difference ... if you hang around long enough, good things happen."

He reflected on how the jukebox musical production initially opened for only a string of performances at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004, and is still on Broadway after nine years. While three of the Four Seasons actors in the film each have "1000-1200 performances under their belt," Eastwood joked that Vincent Piazza "doesn't need the theater," and also addressed his stage-to-screen casting choices. "People are asking why I didn't use some pseudo Hollywood name—if the picture doesn't work, nothing works, so it doesn't need a name ... but I've been proven wrong before!" He also warned, "For those who haven't seen the play, it'll be an interesting experience being from 'New Joisey.'"

John Lloyd Young, who originated the lead role on Broadway in 2005 and appears onscreen as a 38-year-old playing a 16-year-old, welcomed the changes made to bring his Valli to the big screen. "I very briefly thought, I have so much stage experience but not a lot of on-camera experience, is Clint Eastwood going to be patient enough to deal with the fact that I may not really know how to make something happen as effectively onscreen? But then I answered my own fear by thinking that if I were Clint Eastwood ... I would consider it a real privilege and pleasure to usher someone through my world, and that's exactly what happened," he told The Hollywood Reporter. And because of Eastwood, "I think I got much closer to the real Frankie Valli, the actually energy of the real Frankie Valli, in this movie than I could onstage, because you have to entertain an audience—a lot of whom are very far away from you—so the scale of your performance has to be bigger, faster and very electric. But the real Frankie Valli is a much more subtle, close-to-the-vest kind of guy, and Clint actually dared me to be unlikable in certain scenes—on Broadway, the audience is always eating out of your hand—but my character's not always likable. So it was a much more intimate, realistic I think, psychologically authentic depiction of who Frankie Valli actually is."

PHOTOS Clint Eastwood On Set

Piazza, known for playing Lucky Luciano on Boardwalk Empire plus stints on Rescue Me and The Sopranos, entered the project as the only Four Seasons actor who hadn't played his role of group leader Tommy DeVito onstage. "Initially, it was scary, as you'd expect, but it was kind of fun to come in that way," he said on the red carpet. "If you're working with the right people, being in great hands helps. I was inspired by a lot of actors who would dive into things they weren't necessarily familiar with. And you have to do your job and do the best you possibly can." Of all the other Hollywood names trying their hand at movie-musicals (especially with Annie and Into the Woods later this year), he sympathized, "I think they're constantly putting themselves out there and being vulnerable, and they should continue to do that."

Michael Lomenda, as bassist Nick Massi in multiple productions and now onscreen, described Eastwood's directing style as "always present, but hands-off. He's not a micro-manager in any way, shape or form … he lets you breathe, dive in and explore, and then guides you even more." Erica Piccininni, who originated the role of Valli's girlfriend Lorraine on Broadway, also noted that "I think Clint was just so brilliant in hiring the original people—not only, obviously, because it was great for me, but because we know the heart of the soul of the musical, we care about it, and it's not just a job for us," and Kathrine Narducci, who plays Valli's mother and happened to have attended the show's 2005 opening, added that Eastwood prefers long takes, never yelling "cut" or "action" and keeps the mood "very Zen" on set.

Erich Bergen, who plays hit-writing machine Bob Gaudio, took a moment to nab a selfie with Eastwood and his fellow Four Seasons while at the premiere, also attended by cast members Renee Marino, Donnie Kehr, Lou Volpe, Joseph Russo, Johnny Cannizzaro, Lacey Hannan and Freya Tingley, as well as executive producer Tim Moore, screenwriter Rick Elice and Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara. Jordin Sparks, Neil Sedaka, Steve Dorff and Cody Horn hit the premiere as well.

Since Eastwood had the cast sing live in the film, Young told THR that his most difficult song has always been "I'm in the Mood for Love"—"It's a very intricate, delicate operation, and if you're feeling vocal strain, it shows, so that's the one I always had to be really careful with onstage and on set,"—while Lomenda noted that its closing numbers, "Who Loves You" and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" are his big challenges because "I sing bass, and as the show goes on, I sing progressively higher and higher, so those are the the highest and most technically difficult for me, but super fun to sing nonetheless." Piazza felt the most strain on "Working My Way Back to You," especially when paired with the choreography, but his favorite of the musical is one of the highest: "Rag Doll."

STORY 'Jersey Boys': What the Critics Are Saying

And regarding the film's R-rating solely due to language, Mike Doyle, who plays producer Bob Crewe, noted that it was originally rated as PG-13, but "when Vinny Piazza showed up on set, the F-bombs just started dropping, and it's like, 'Forget it! F— this, f— that!' I blame Vinny!" Young simply laughed, "Bring your kids and just tell them not to repeat it."

After the screening, guests gathered on the event deck for the closing-night party, featuring classic cars surrounded by generous platters of grilled salmon, tri-tips, chicken, sweet potatoes and vine-ripened Jersey tomato salad, and tray-passed servings of New England lobster rolls and Italian subs. Vintage light-up signs emulating the Four Seasons' neighborhood were sprinkled among lounge chairs and bars serving Stella Artois, Coca-Cola (in the bottle, of course), cake pops and Italian ice cream. Eastwood ended the evening by greeting friends and colleagues in front the glowing "Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons" sign that appears in the film.

Twitter: @cashleelee