NEW YORK—In Clint Eastwood’s new movie, “Jersey Boys,” we learn there were only three ways for young Italian-American men to escape Jersey in 1951. Join the Army, join the mob, or get famous.
“Jersey Boys” is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, four juvenile semi-delinquents who made it out of Belleville, N.J., on the third option.
When asked at a June 9 press conference in Manhattan how he related so well to this seemingly foreign material, Eastwood revealed a little known fact: Growing up in Oakland, Calif., his high school and neighborhood were largely Italian-American.
Much like comedian Jay Mohr, who grew up similarly and said it took him years to stop saying “Marone!” “Dirty Harry” let on that, unbeknown to most, he possesses an in-depth familiarity with all things Italian-American. Who knew?
The first thing you notice about Clint Eastwood, in person, is that he’s not Dirty Harry. Nor is he Republican Clint, chiding Obama-in-a-chair (who was not there). He’s also not that movie-star legend, two-fisting Oscars in a tuxedo. And he’s definitely not the gruff guy from “Gran Torino.” He’s all of the above, of course.
But in person, Clint’s quite different. His voice is higher. He’s very actor-y in the sense that he’s chatty, enjoys the spotlight, and is (not surprisingly) very funny. Clint’s a chameleon. All those film and TV Clint Eastwoods you think you know? Plus a lot of the public Clint Eastwoods? All characters. So who is Clint, really? Clint’s an actor’s actor.
In “Jersey Boys,” thick-as-ragù accents pervade. Then you meet the cast in person. Not a hint of mob-inflected Jersey-ese among them. All highly articulate.
So why not hire some “Jersey Shore” types for “Jersey Boys”? Why not Pauly D in the role of Nick Massi instead of Canadian Michael Lomenda?
Because an actor’s actor who also directs—directs actor’s actors. Eastwood hired musical theater vets who, in the words of cast member Erich Bergen, “Live in fear they might be working at Starbucks next week.” Clint hands down the ladder.
Pauly D also cannot be cast due to the performers needing to have serious singing chops. It is, after all, a movie based on the hugely popular Broadway jukebox musical of the same name. This is the jukebox-movie version.
We all know the Four Seasons’ music. We know it well. Even if you’re 10, you’ve already heard Frankie’s falsetto on “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Rag Doll” numerous times. Valli’s one of those musical acts that moved straight into the American musical pantheon like a rock ‘n’ roll Sinatra.
Stage Song vs. Movie Close-up
So what about the differences between a stage and a film version of the same story? Co-scriptwriter Rick Elice mentioned some of the challenges of moving a musical to the big screen.
As he tells it, a perfect example lies herein: In musical theater, the magic of live music provides the vehicle of the close-up. The act of breaking into song allows us to focus on the inner life of the actor.
On film, however, music loses its magic. The camera close-up becomes the storytelling device that reveals a character’s inner world.
The use of the camera close-up then allows more of the story itself to be brought into focus. And it takes a director of Eastwood’s caliber to manipulate the medium to enhance that storytelling to riveting effect.
Regarding Clint’s on-set milieu, Bergen (who plays Bob Gaudio, predominant Four Seasons writing talent) said:
“When you walk onto a Clint Eastwood set, there’s no ego there. There’s respect for everyone, from the actors to the catering truck.” (Clint injects in a stage whisper, “Especially the catering truck!”) “The ego-free nature of that set teaches me that if you have the talent, everything else is unimportant.”
It’s heartening to know that in a world of rampant egos, talented filmmakers like Clint Eastwood consider craft and cooperation everything, ego nothing.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Christopher Walken, John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Erich Bergen
Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Release Date: June 20