Clint Eastwood, John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice – Down on the Corner with the Jersey Boys
by Ally Abramson
Clint Eastwood is the “Big Man In Town” now. Eastwood recently finished a new project that tells an old story, a story that has been told many times through music. The hit musical Jersey Boys has come to the big screen, and it’s better than ever!
Jersey Boys is about the early rock group The Four Seasons. It covers their history comprehensively, from the start of it all to their eventual break up. The original band consisted of four members: Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young), Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). In the group, Valli was the singer, Gaudio played keyboard, DeVito was lead guitar and Massi was on bass. The band is one of the best selling musical groups of all time, with songs like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Valli also had huge solo hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”
The Jersey Boys movie takes a plot driven look at the story of the band, differing from the musical in the vitality of the music. This rags to riches story has it all; fame, fortune, and scandal. It’s everything that you could ask for and more, as the music adds even more to this story. It’s being well received by Jersey Boys fans both old and new.
Eastwood, Young, Piazza and playwrights-turned-screenwriters Marshall Brickman (Annie Hall) and Rick Elice sat for a press conference recently in New York and answered many questions about the movie.
Mr. Eastwood, why did you decide to do Jersey Boys?
Clint Eastwood: It seemed like something to do. It’s funny because I had never seen the play, but I had heard a lot about it over the years. Somebody said, “Would you be interested in doing that?” I said I would certainly be interested in looking at it. They sent me a script. It was by a very good writer and it, as I found out later, wasn’t the script of the play. So I asked, what’s the script of the play? Where can I find that? A friend of mine, an agent, said “I represent the guys who did that, Mr. Elice and Mr. Brickman.” So I said, “Well maybe I’d better look at that,” because I figured only in Hollywood would someone give you a script on something else when they already have one that’s a hit. So I looked at that and I liked it very much. I went and saw three different versions of the play in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas and saw these wonderful actors and thought, “What a nice project to be doing!” So I said yeah.
We know you’re such a jazz fan, were you a fan of this music? And when was the first time you met Frankie Valli, did you ever meet him years ago?
Clint Eastwood: I’ve met him over the years. I did like the Four Seasons a lot. I thought their music was far superior. I think “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You“ is one of the real classic songs of that time. The forties, fifties, or thirties, or any time in history. All of their stuff is very energetic music and great fun. It was a very pleasant challenge to do. Then working with the actors that had actually formulated and had a great influence on the play on its run throughout the country was great.
I noticed that there were certain socioeconomic factors that were occurring in Belleville, New Jersey at the time, as far as kids from the street trying to make it in music. I see that still happens today, did you guys notice that dichotomy and did it affect the way that you thought about the roles?
Vincent Piazza: Yeah in terms of Tommy DeVito, I felt it was something to pay attention to in the work, certain stigmas at the time about Italian Americans transcending the borough or the pocket community from which they are from. It creates a fuel to fire within these guys to get out and to make it. So we tried, at least it was alive in me, apparent in some of the work and some of the scenes.
John Lloyd Young: You know there’s a line, now a famous line from the show that Tommy DeVito says. He says it in the movie, too, “There were three ways out of our neighborhood, you get mobbed up, you go to the army, or you became a superstar.” The movie adds a twist to that, saying 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 both from on stage and on the film working with Vince is that there’s like a big brother. They both have ego and Frankie has ambition and a talent but might not know how to get it out there. But this guy knows how to break walls down and get things out, so Frankie relies on Vince, on the brawn and ingenuity, almost craftiness of Vince to get their music out. He really needs him. That’s the seed of that big brother little brother challenge.
Were there any challenges bringing this to the screen from the stage?
Clint Eastwood: No, I didn’t think it was too much of a challenge. It’s a wonderful play and it had a lot of excitement in it, but we could push it more from a realistic angle. In other words, when you watch the play, and you watch John Lloyd and them having a scene at a table. Then all of a sudden you cut and you see another actor walking over. You see them talking about something else. You’ve got the actor in the one scene doing something else in the next. There’s a lot of things that you can do in a movie that you can’t really do on stage. We really could open it up with certain realism.
Marshall, what were some other challenges that you faced in switching medias to film?
Marshall Brickman: Well, like Clint said, we had some differences in what we could portray on screen than on the stage. A two-minute song during the show will hold people’s attention because there’s something mystifying about the live performers. On the screen that doesn’t really work. You’re reliant on a brilliant director to keep the thing moving along and keep the music in. But we tried to deepen it. The music and the story on the stage have about equal weight. What Clint did, which I thought was a brilliant solution (some of which provided by the screen writer of course) was to put the story a little more in front because it’s really everything in a movie. I’m going to throw this over to Rick…
Rick Elice: Music in the theatre functions as the close up. When a character sings in the there in a spotlight it causes you to look exactly where the director wants you to look. The character opens his soul but because you’re seeing far away, we do it through music. In film of course you can actually push into a close up. That’s why Clint was so clever to bring the story more to the front than the music. It’ll always be a story about music. It’s a story about four guys who made music that speaks to a lot of people. With the advantage of cinema and what that brings to story telling, we were able to shift the balance a bit.
Mr. Eastwood, being an aficionado of music, how do you approach movies that are about music like this and Bird as opposed to some of your other films?
Clint Eastwood: Yeah, I’ve done movies on country music, jazz, and pop music of the 50’s and 60’s. I like music of all kinds, so I just immerse myself in it. I love to do films that have music and are about musicians. In this case singers and what have you. This one of course was easy, but there were a lot of oddities as these guys will tell you. I actually got a standing ovation for going to the men’s room and when I was at the Broadway show I was like “Well that’s the first and last time that’ll ever happen…” I enjoyed the play so much and by that time I had seen and cast Michael from the San Francisco one. Eric I have to partly attribute to Bob Gaudio, because I asked whom he thought had best played himself. Vince, I had never seen Boardwalk Empire at that time, but he did come in and do an audition and he was just spectacular in the audition and I was thinking we had the guy. By that time I had seen three plays of it and all good actors. It just seemed like the group all came together so well. Michael was saying earlier 1,200 performances, that’s experience that you just can’t replicate. You get actors that who have done that many — and I was a little worried about Vince because he was starting from scratch. But he just fit right in right away and so I was just lucky. Casting a film I think is one of the most important things, next to writing, because if you cast it properly, everything falls into place easily. If you don’t, you’re fighting an uphill battle. You do spend a lot of time casting to try and make sure you get the right people.
Work is hard to get in this business. The movie represents the enduring quality of work done well. Having done this movie, does it inspire you to make better choices about the roles on the other side of it?
John Lloyd Young: I think it’s so great to have been able to play a guy who is still active today in music (Frankie Valli) and to have gotten to know him over the years. To answer your question, I think I’ll just quote the actual Frankie Valli. The first thing he ever told me, before we even opened the original production on Broadway, was in a studio after a rehearsal. He said to me “If you talk about the business they’ll tell you no, but they can never get at this.” Over the years since then, in any creative endeavor there are ups and downs, and during the downs I’ve always remembered what he said. There’s always tomorrow and there’s always a new audience and a new project. I’m so happy that his new project was the new movie of Jersey Boys.
Mr. Eastwood, let’s give you the last word here. Is there anything you want to say now that it’s all over?
Clint Eastwood: I’m very lucky. I play a little golf and I think you know I always say “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I’ve just been very lucky by knowing these actors and watching them perform individually at different productions and seeing them all together. I just, at times you think, “This is as good as it’s going to get for me,” and if you can get that on each production, if I can get a family together like this one then I am very lucky. I’m lucky too because of the writers. They take zero and make it something and I just interpret it, it’s really great.