Exclusive: John Lloyd Young Talks ‘Jersey Boys’Posted by Wilson Morales
June 17, 2014
Coming out this week is the musical film ‘Jersey Boys,’ which is based on the Tony Award-winning musical and starring John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, and Christopher Walken.
Clint Eastwood‘s big screen version of the Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of the four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic ’60s rock group The Four Seasons. Their trials and triumphs are accompanied by the hit songs that influenced a generation, and are now being embraced by a new generation of fans through the stage musical.
For John Lloyd Young, he gets to reprise the role of Frankie Valli, which netted him the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. To date, he is still the only American actor to date to have received a Lead Actor in a Musical Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Award for a Broadway debut.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com Young talks about what the role has meant to him, working with the cast and knowing the legend himself, Frankie Valli.
John Lloyd Young: Playing any role in an exciting show on Broadway..there’s nothing to compare. The live audience and the immediate feedback is just amazing and fantastic and I was so happy to do it. ‘Jersey Boys’ is like an actor’s playground. You get to age. You get to play a colorful character from New Jersey and audience love those mafia-laced working class guys from Jersey. They are great characters to play. There’s drama and comedy and you become a rock star in front of an audience. Then the career falls down and you have to fight your way back up. There’s a big 11 O’clock number, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ which is the comeback number. You get to talk directly to the audience so that they are your friend. You have them eating out of your hand. It’s a wonderful experience to play this role live on stage. But after more than a 1000 times, there’s certain insights and also getting to know the real Frankie Valli over the years and there were certain things about the character and I didn’t have a place to show those things. I was constrained by the script of a hit show. It stays the same, especially when it’s a hit. You never change it.
When the movie came about, I was hoping that I would get the opportunity to bring my performance to the screen because I knew this guy very well. There were things that I could show in a movie, the psychological insights that I wanted the world to see that I wouldn’t be able to show on stage. Once the movie is out, most people would want to see what ‘Jersey Boys’ is and they are able to access a movie much earlier than they can with a stage production. They can see it in a movie theater and eventually in a DVD player.
Did you have any jitters playing the role on the big screen?
JLY: The biggest challenge was actually a fun one. In linear time, I would age my character from 16 to 60, but that was in the course of one performance, and I get older as the performance went along. As an acting challenge, it was satisfying to find a way to do that. Movies shoot out of sequence and there were some days where I was in age makeup in the beginning of the day and playing 16 at the end of the day. That was really a fun challenge to have to remember, having done it on stage, where am I in my body language, in my voice, and all that stuff. I have to access that memory and bring it to this scene today. In terms of worrying about translating my performance to the screen, I have to say that I was very lucky that Clint (Eastwood) was the director because I knew that if I gave him my best raw material in every take possible, that he and the editors, Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, would put together a performance that was good. I was giving them gold ore everyday and they would turn it into some beautiful thing.
JLY: The great thing about what made ‘Jersey Boys’ the hit show that it became with the original cast is that it was such great chemistry and such a great structure and such a fantastic script and good direction and it moved so well that all the subsequent companies across the world had the same exact internal structure and the exact philosophy in terms of approaching these characters from a real place and yet having this exciting music element to it and dance and all that, so that these guys, although they were in different companies and we never worked together. Because we worked in that machine, we worked really well together when we got to the set and Vince was the wild card. How convenient because his character is the bull in the China shop. His character is unpredictable. His character is always a problem for them. They are never sure what he’s going to do. In real life, Vince didn’t have a preconceived notion when he came to the set. It was good that one of the four hadn’t done the show before we could carry him through with a dance or two. There were some days when we were about to shoot and he would say, “What’s that step again?” and the three would come together and help him and get him up to speed. We were his resource in that regard and he for us, in terms of resource, shook things up for us. He was unpredictable. In theater, playwright is king. If you change a line, you get fined by the actor’s union. He hadn’t had the experience of doing this 1000 times. In film, playwright is a guideline and Vince was all over the place and brought our characters to life, and force us to improv and bring new life into our group. It was one of those lucky things were a group of guys who have never worked together but worked so well together immediately the first day on set; and we needed to bring our A game because we wanted our director to be pleased with what we are doing.
JLY: I had two other people because Donnie Kehr, who plays the loanshark, was also in the original cast of ‘Jersey Boys.’ That was nice to be able to do a scene on camera in slightly different ways with someone I was comfortable with, Erica, because we had done about 800 performances together on stage and it had been several years since we had seen each other. But also, the woman who plays my wife, Renee Marino, she wasn’t in the original cast but she was playing my wife on stage on Broadway when I returned to the cast years later and Clint Eastwood saw the show. Of everyone that was in the movie, she and I had the relationship that was the most fresh because we were just doing it on Broadway.
JLY: Frankie is a man who’s had a lot of success in his life but also a lot of tragedy. One of our earliest interviews was when, years ago, we did an interview together on television and he was asked about success and the other side of success and fame and he said, “Success bears pain.” I think that’s true and that’s what audience will learn. You can’t get something from nothing and the price you pay for fame is sometimes pain. In his particular story, you learn that as you see the movie. What I have taken personally from knowing Frankie and from playing him is a greater wisdom at a younger age, having knowing this man, who is 80 years old and is a mentor to me. With every positive thing that happens, the shoe can drop. That’s natural in life, for there are peaks and valleys and to get through the valleys, the easiest ways is to remember that there will be another peak.
JLY: My favorites are informed by the story and being an actor in the story. I have felt the impact of them within the context of the story. For me, the Four Seasons as a group, “Sherry.” It was their first big success. You never have a feeling like your first big success and you’ll always remember it. As a solo, who’s not going to love the 11 o’clock number, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” In the movie, it has an emotional comeback moment. That second wind of success is deeply exhilarating. Personally, before I did the musical, it was one of my all-time favorites and I’m so happy I get to sing it.