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Clint Eastwood, John Lloyd Young and more talk 'Jersey Boys' music and memories

"Jersey Boys" director Clint Eastwood, Erich Bergen and John Lloyd Young on the set of "Jersey Boys"
"Jersey Boys" director Clint Eastwood, Erich Bergen and John Lloyd Young on the set of "Jersey Boys"
Warner Bros. Pictures

From Oscar-winning director/producer Clint Eastwood comes the big-screen version of the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys.” The movie 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. The story of their trials and triumphs are accompanied by the songs that influenced a generation, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Dawn,” “Rag Doll,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Who Loves You,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “"December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" and many more.

John Lloyd Young and Clint Eastwood on the set of "Jersey Boys"
John Lloyd Young and Clint Eastwood on the set of "Jersey Boys"
Warner Bros. Pictures

In the “Jersey Boys” movie, John Lloyd Young reprises his Tony Award-winning portrayal of Frankie Valli, the lead singer of the Four Seasons. Erich Bergen stars as Bob Gaudio, who wrote or co-wrote all of the group’s biggest hits. Michael Lomenda and Vincent Piazza star as, respectively, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito, two original members of The Four Seasons. Oscar winner Christopher Walken has a supporting role as mobster Gyp DeCarlo. Here is what Eastwood, Young, Piazza, Bergen and Michael Lomenda said at a “Jersey Boys” press conference in New York City.

Mr. Eastwood, why did you decide to make a “Jersey Boys” movie?

Eastwood: It seemed like something to do. It’s funny because I hadn’t seen the play but I’d heard a lot about it over the years. And somebody said, “Would you be interested n doing it?” And I said, “I certainly would be interested in looking at it.” And they sent me a script. It was by a very good writer. And then I found out later through a series of events that that wasn’t the script to the play.

So I asked, “Where can I find the script to the play?” And a friend of mine, an agent, said, “Well, I represent the guys who did that: Mr. [Rick] Elice and Mr. [Marshall] Brickman.” And so, I said, “Maybe I better look at that.” I figured that only in Hollywood would somebody give you a script on something else when they have a script that’s a hit. So I looked at that and liked it very much and saw three different versions of the play: in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. And I saw all these wonderful actors and thought, “What a nice project to be doing.” And so, I said yeah.

Were you a fan of the Four Seasons’ music? When did you first meet Frankie Valli?

Eastwood: I met him over the years. I did like the Four Seasons a lot. I thought their music was superior. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is one of the classic songs of that era, and would have been a classic song in the ‘40s and ‘50s or ‘30s or any time in history. All of their stuff was energetic music and great fun and a pleasant challenge to do. I worked with the actors who had actually formulated or had a great influence on the play on its run throughout the country. It was great to be using the original people.

John and Vincent, can you comment on the socioeconomic factors that affected the Jersey Boys and how they might have affected how you thought about the roles?

Piazza: In terms of Tommy DeVito, I felt that was something certainly to pay attention to in the work — certain stigmas at the time about Italian-Americans leaving or transcending the borough or pocket community which they’re from. It creates a fuel to fire within these guys to get out, to “make it.” At least it was alive in me. I hope it was apparent in some of the work, some of the scenes, about getting out of the neighborhood.

Young: There’s a famous line from the show that Tommy DeVito says in the film too: “There are three ways out of our neighborhood: You got mobbed up, you entered the Army or you became a superstar.” The movie adds a little twist to that: “For us, it was two out of three.” I think that there’s that sort of desperation to get up and out.

What I’ve learned about these characters on stage and on film, working with Vince, is that it’s a [Tommy DeVito] is like a big brother. They both have an ego. Frankie has ambition and talent but might not necessarily know how to get it out there.

But [Tommy DeVito] knows how to break walls down and get things out. And so, Frankie relies on the brawn and ingenuity and craftiness of [Tommy DeVito] to get the music out and really needs him. That’s the seed of that big brother/little brother relationship.

What challenges did you have to bring “Jersey Boys” from the stage to the big screen?

Eastwood: I didn’t think it was too much of a challenge. You can open up a stage play. It’s a wonderful play and had a lot of excitement. I can approach it more from a realistic angle. In other words, when you watch the play and you watch John Lloyd in a scene at a table, and then all of a sudden … and you see another actor come over and they start talking, the actor in the scene has to put the chair on top of the table and run it off the stage. There are a lot of things that you can do in a movie that you can’t do on stage, where you have to keep things moving and be very practical. I just tried to open it up and give it a certain realism.

Mr. Eastwood, where there things in the “Jersey Boys” story that you identified closely with that reminded you of when you were an up-and-coming entertainer? And can you comment on your cameo of sorts (a clip from “Rawhide”) in the “Jersey Boys” movie?

Eastwood: Are you talking about my Hitchcock moment? That was actually Erich’s suggestion. We were talking about doing the scene where he’s sitting and watching television and a woman walks in the room. He was sitting there watching “Rawhide.” That was about the era.

Then I put it out of my mind. And then someone who works for me — a woman who handles all of our television stuff — just went ahead and did it. I was like, “OK, I’ll live with that.” But Hitchcock moments are distracting. He managed to disguise himself some of the time, which is why he became a television star later.

In 1960, it was my first break after doing years of doing bit parts in unappealing roles. It was a change to get a lot of experience and spend five or six years working with various directors before Sergio [Leone] and [Don] Siegel and all those guys.

To the cast members, can you describe the first time you met Clint Eastwood?

Lomenda: I had been touring with the first national tour of “Jersey Boys,” and we were coming to the end of the tour, which Erich opened. We bookended it, I guess. And it was about a year-and-a-half and toward the end of the run, about two weeks before the end of it, Mr. Eastwood showed up in the lobby one day, unannounced, and I didn’t believe it was true.

It wasn’t until I was in my second-act break when I was sitting in my dressing room in my underwear, when I got a text from our swing, who had taken a picture with Mr. Eastwood in the lobby. And that’s when it became true.

Frankly, I thought the movie had been cast. And as a Canadian with minimal film and TV experience, it was a little bit off my radar. So I gladly met him afterwards and didn’t expect to get a call.

About three weeks later, I got called to do an audition in New York. I flew down to New York that morning. It was pouring rain. I stood in Columbus Circle trying to catch a cab for about 45 minutes in the pouring rain. I was soaked from head to toe. I arrived to my audition after a $140 cab ride.

In that cab ride, I was sitting there soaked thinking, “Let’s just get out of this cab. This isn’t working out.” And something, thankfully — it’s giving me chills now — I don’t know what it was, but something stopped me and said, “No, you should really go.” And I went and I got there after being about a half-hour late.

And I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and said, “You know what? You got this. You’ve got 1,200 performances under your belt, and you can go in there and you should at least feel confident in that. And I did.”

I’m so grateful for it, because about a month later, I got a call that I booked the film. And I officially met Mr. Eastwood after about a six-hour costume fitting in L.A. And we sat around the room and talked about the show and all the different wonderful aspects of it. And also, incidentally, about the fact that he filmed part of “Unforgiven” on my uncle’s land … So really, it’s coming full circle in so many ways.

Eastwood: See, superstition has to do with everything.

Bergen: I hadn’t done the show in about three or four years, so it was one of those things I heard and thought, “Well, I hope they make a good movie, and I’ll buy tickets along with the rest of us.” And the first time the movie came around, it was set up with a different studio and a different director. And I auditioned for it. And about a week later, the casting director called my agent and said, “He’s not really right for the role,” [even though] I played it for three years.

I’m glad that version didn’t happen. It ended up in the proper hands and with the right writers and the right team for this. I went into that audition. It was one audition, no callback. About a month later, I was at the gym on 74th Street and got the phone call and thought, “OK, I’ve worked out enough today.”

I didn’t meet [Clint Eastwood] until we were in the rehearsal studio in L.A. We were working on I think it was “Walk Like a Man.” The four of us were looking at ourselves in the mirror, trying to match everything up with Sergio Trujillo, our choreographer. And all of a sudden, we see Clint in the mirror walking behind us.

And we think, “Should we stop? Should we say hello?” There was no formal meet-and-greet. It was work from the get-go, and it was very casual. And that was it. I don’t really remember much of this whole thing. It’s kind of a blur.

Young: I had been in the original cast of “Jersey Boys” in the first two years. I had been away from the show for several years and had been invited back to do the role again in 2012 or 2013 on Broadway. During that return to the stage, I caught wind that Mr. Eastwood had been attached to the movie and was watching the companies around the country.

And I also caught wind that he was going to be interviewed by Darren Aronofsky at the Tribeca Film Festival on a Saturday afternoon. I had that Saturday afternoon free. My manager and I went and watched that interview with Darren Aronofsky. And we had a hunch that maybe he might be at the matinee the next day when I was performing. In the wings, when I was about to start work, we heard that there was a standing ovation in the audience because they had seen Clint Eastwood walk into the audience. And so, I knew he was going to be there in the audience.

It was a joyful performance because I felt that no matter what happened with the movie, how great was it to have somebody with his dominion in his world in Hollywood seeing me in the one thing in my life I know I have dominion over, which is this role in this show in this production on stage? And afterward, I met him on stage. I said some hellos and said I enjoyed his interview with Darren Aronofsky. And the next time I saw [Clint Eastwood] was a month later on his set.

Piazza: For me, it was somewhat similar to Erich’s description of the dance studio. For a while, Mr. Eastwood was the man behind the curtain, because I was cast for the project without meeting him. And I remember 30, 40 days into choreography and all that other stud, we were in the room — basically eight men trying to teach me how to dance — and Mr. Eastwood walks, and I turn through the mirror and shake his hand. And two days later, we were shooting the film.

Mr. Eastwood, since you’re an aficionado of music, how do you approach your films about music, such as “Jersey Boy” and “Bird,” compared to your other films?

Eastwood: I’ve done movies on country music and jazz and pop music of the ‘50s and ‘60s. I like music of all kinds, so I just immerse myself in it. I love music. I love doing films that are about musicians, or in this case, singers. This film [“Jersey Boys”] was easy because of the guys, but there were a lot of oddities. I got a standing ovation for going to the men’s room at the Broadway show.

And I thought, “That’s the first and last time that’ll ever happen.” Anyway, I enjoyed the play so much. And by that time, I had cast Michael from the San Francisco [production of “Jersey Boys”]. Erich, I have to partly attribute to Bob Gaudio, because I asked him, “Out of all the people who played you, who do you think was the best?”

Bergen: He said, “William Holden.” I was the second choice.

Eastwood: [William Holden] was deceased at the time, so we couldn’t get him. With Vince, I’d never seen him in “Boardwalk Empire” at that particular time, but he did come in and do an audition, and he was spectacular. And I said, “OK, I think we’ve got the guys here.”

By that time, I had seen plays of [“Jersey Boys”], and there were a lot of great actors in all of them. It seemed like the group just all came together so well. Like Michael was saying, after 1,200 performance, that’s experience you just cannot buy. So you get actors who did 1,200 performances.

I was kind of worried about Vince because he was starting from scratch, but he fit right in, right away. I’m just lucky. To me, casting a film is one of the most important things, next to the writing, because if you cast it properly, everything takes place very easily. But if you cast it improperly, you’re fighting an uphill battle. We do spend a lot of time on casting to make sure you get the right people.

To the actors, “Jersey Boys” is about rewarding good work that’s done well. Did making this movie inspire you to make better choices in your roles?

Piazza: Speaking for myself, anytime you get a chance to play a great role, I consider the qualities that I may or may not have attributed to that character and how I fit into the story. The decisions I make after a make after this or several projects prior to this I try and be thoughtful of what it says in the bigger picture. I feel like the gift of working on a project like this affords me an opportunity to be picky. I’ll hopefully keep that in mind in the coming months.

Young: I just think it’s so great to be able to play a guy who’s still out there, still performing at 80 years old — Frankie Valli — and to have gotten to know him over the years. And to answer your question about the themes of the movie, I think I’ll just quote the real Frankie Valli.

The first thing he ever told me, before we ever opened the original production on Broadway. We were in a rehearsal studio. I talked to him after a rehearsal. He was talking about the business. He said to me, “They’ll tell you no, but they can never get at this [he points to his heart].”

Over the years since then, any creative endeavor, any creative career, there are ups and downs. And during the downs, I always remembered what Frankie Valli said. There’s always tomorrow, and there’s always a new audience and there’s always a new project. I’m so happy the new project was the movie of “Jersey Boys.”

Bergen: I think as an actor in the theater, you’re always prepared to work at Starbucks tomorrow. I mean that. I know it sounds funny. I can guarantee you that half the people in Broadway shows right now who are up for Tony Awards just want to make sure that their show stays open next weekend. And then their paycheck stops.

And I think as an actor who works primarily in the theater, that’s where we live. It’s comfortable being scared of your next job or not your next job. To get a call like this was sort of overwhelming. I just had to get to work. I couldn’t really take it in.

But what I learned from this whole experience, especially in working with Mr. Eastwood, is to cut the crap out with the rest of it. All the other stuff that comes along with show business and potential fame … You walk into a Clint Eastwood set. There’s no ego. The respect for everyone, from the actors to the catering truck — especially the catering truck.

Eastwood: He’s getting down to the important things.

Bergen: It’s true. The ego-free nature of that set for everyone involved teaches me a lot about if you have the talent, then everything else is sort of BS. I take that moving forward.

Lomenda: Yeah, I totally agree. I honestly think I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to chase that experience I had on that set. It was just the most ideal environment to just dive in and play and have fun.

And I think that speaks to Mr. Eastwood’s respect and the fact that he’s an actor first, and he creates that environment. I think he’d probably want to be in that same environment working on films. I’m ultimately so grateful to have been part of it all. It was a real gift. It’s set a standard that I look forward to trying to duplicate in the future.

Any last words, Mr. Eastwood?

Eastwood: I play a little golf. You know that saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I’m lucky in knowing these actors and watching them perform individually and in different productions.

And seeing them all together doing so great, at the time, you just go, “OK, this is good as it’s going to get for me.” And if I can get that in every production — I’ve had it in some, but not in others — if I can get the family together, like this one has been, I’m very, very lucky.

I pay tribute to the writing, as always. The writer is a creative artist, and the director is an interpretive artist, and actors are interpretive. So when you take zero and make it into something, it’s always amazing to me. I’ve never done it myself. I can just critique it and go from there. I’m lucky to have the material.

For more info: "Jersey Boys" website