The Clint Eastwood film tells the story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons. Actor John Lloyd Young originated the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway and he returns to the role in the film and of course nails it in his motion picture debut.
Speak about bringing this character from stage to screen.
I did the show on stage more than thirteen hundred times, so I knew my character very very well, but on stage you’re constrained by the script especially when it’s become such a famous show like “Jersey Boys” and it works very well, you’re not allowed to change anything, and yet all those performances there were insights I had about this character and from getting to know Frankie Valli better over these years that I didn’t have a place to share in that script, or in those circumstances on stage, so the movie for me was an opportunity to let those psychological insights out and all that knowledge that I had inside that I had no place to put I could let spill out on to the screen.
Is there anything more specific that you rediscovered about the character as you brought him to life on screen after having played Frankie on stage for all of those years?
It just varies, one of the most obvious is the side of Frankie that was a parent. On stage he mentions his daughter you barely meet her and the audience has to understand his relationship to his kids, but on screen you actually see him as a parent you actually get to behold that relationship and there are three separate actresses who plays one of his daughter as she grows up. You see her at 4, 7, and 11. There’s something that humanizes Frankie Valli much more on screen because of that capability to do that then you get a chance to see on stage.
So this is your major film debut – obviously you’re a very accomplished actor, but what were some of the challenges of diving into film?
You know I anticipated certain challenges at first, I had some nervousness about would I know how to translate this to film, but then I looked at my own resume and I realized that after all of these years as a New York theater actor, I was studying film acting, always watching films, I mean I know all the best actors, academy awards, best picture movies and everything I know good film acting and I’ve been absorbing good film performances my whole life, so I’ve kind of had some ideas of how I might want to bring things to the screen but I was nervous that I might not know just out of lack of having much experience.
I talk myself out of my own nervousness this way, I said if I were Clint Eastwood and had decades of experience I front of the camera and behind the camera as a director and I had an illustrious career and I had just seen this guy on stage that I thought was great and wanted him in my movie knowing he doesn’t have a lot of film experience, I would consider it a great privilege and joy to usher this guy through my world and once I realized that was the only possible scenario that I should expect, within the first day or two. I saw that, that was exactly what was gonna be and then I was just so enthusiastic to be there and to give Clint and my fellow actors my best work possible knowing that in the end he and Joel Cox and Gary Roach, the editors will put together a compelling performance from all the raw material I was giving them everyday
Absolutely, and speaking of Mr.Eastwood tell me about collaborating with this legend.
You have the feeling that you’re on a pretty long leash, yet he’s definitely the boss and all of his crew members many of them who have been with him for decades call him boss, so it’s definitely his set, but he gives you free reign within the framework of what he set up for you to kind of go with what you feel and then he’s definitely a mentor, he feels also like a friend, he’s an actor and you feel that, so he’s one of you but he’s got the director hat on, so you might need an adjustment or something he’ll come over and direct you by anecdote – I realize this after, he’ll have a conversation about you about acting in general or whatever and you’ll realize instinctively that he’s trying to tell you something that you should be doing in the scene and usually he gets you there.
Speak about bringing the music to life. You performed all of the songs live.
Well it wasn’t very foreign process for me having done it live on stage so many times so really it was just like putting a camera in front of something I was already used to doing but I understand that for movies that’s very rare to not have you pre-record a track that you’re lip syncing to … first of all Clint thought it was very important to have the immediacy of live performance and the energy of live performance. I was also very glad that, that was his philosophy because I feel as a singer when I see a movie where it’s clear that it’s been pre-recorded and someone’s signing to, it takes me out of it and it doesn’t seen authentic and I’m a little disappointed when I see that cause it’s not as exciting as something that’s really happening right in front of you so this movie is like any other movie where most of the dialogue makes it on to the screen as it was when it was being filmed and then you fix little things that didn’t work in looping afterwords. We approach the music in exactly the same way it was a live band on set, live singing every take and then if something needed to be fixed in post we went and we looped some signing stuff the same way we looped some speaking stuff.
Tell me what working with Vincent Piazza cause he’s sort of the new face to the family all the other actors have been in some form of the production.
I have worked with Vince one or two days in my life like before this. We did a screen play reading for Chazz Palminteri’s movie that he was trying to put together and so we played best friends so I met him once and haven’t seen him for several years until we got to this set, when I heard he got the part I was very excited cause I know how great an actor he is and that he’s perfect for this kind of bull in a china shop kind of character and I just really respect him as an actor and I feel like our chemistry was really good. We’re the same age in real life and in the world of the movie, he’s a few years older than me so he’s like an older brother, and I have an ego and he has an ego like as our characters but he’s a little older than me so I’m under his thumb, and I don’t like it and we play that dynamic really well, that friction really well and I’m just really proud and I’m happy that it’s him that got to do this part.
Frankie Valli is the Executive Producer and you’ve met with him before when you were doing the show on Broadway, can you speak about your relationship with him and what his advice was for you bringing this to screen?
By the time we did this movie I’d known Frankie for about seven or eight years and we’ve had an ease with each other so that when we were on set even as Executive Producer of this movie, he didn’t tell me how to do anything, he just came and set as a visitor and we enjoyed other, we talked between set ups, we enjoyed watching Clint Eastwood, you know this legendary director getting set up to shoot scenes from Frankie Valli’s life and it really was just having fun, he was on headset sometimes watching me work, but at that at this point after all these years of knowing him, I felt I’m going to do what I need to do to have my best performance and not try to think about what he might want or anticipate what he might want.
I just want to say this cause I feel it’s a sentimentally interesting, is the best thing that Frankie ever told me was the first time I ever met him was in the rehearsal studio … before we even got to Broadway he had seen us do a run through and he was talking to me about the business and the entertainment business and he said, “they’ll tell you no but they could never get to this” and he pointed to his heart and that advice has really served me well in my life all these years and also serves me well for this character as you know now seeing the movie – never gives up.
What was your favorite scene in the film?
It got cut … We spent a day in the desert in the stage show there’s a time where the band is trying to get things together and they go to a bad gig in Nevada and it goes disastrous that got cut from this movie there’s other great stuff in this movie but the day of shooting that was only the third day that we were on set Vince and Michael and I were in the desert with Clint and his crew, we shot scenes of our cars breaking down there was a point where there was a bar brawl so Vince got to break a chair over a table and then we spent all day in the desert and then one of the cars breaks down and were stranded in Nevada and we have to hitch a ride with a farmer … we catch a ride in the back of his truck with all his pigs, real pigs, so we shot that scene together and I mean nothing will bond a cast of actors more than having to sit there and watch pigs go to the bathroom all over the bed of the truck.
Now that you’ve done a film, do you aspire to do more films in the future?
I loved the process of film making on a Clint Eastwood set, I think I would love the process of film making on someone else’s set but I might have been spoiled a little bit I’m telling you there’s something addictive about working with Clint Eastwood he’s given me a bug.