‘Jersey Boys’ star John Lloyd Young talks about his role playing Frankie Valli, auditioning for Eastwood, and his special side project with President Obama.
In its ninth season, Jersey Boys continues to be the king of Broadway’s “jukebox musicals,” where the greatest hits of singing stars are performed, while their highs and lows off the charts are recollected. Motown the Musical and Beautiful continue the tradition, with Jessie Mueller recently winning a Tony Award for her performance as Carole King in the latter show.
Mueller follows in the dance steps of John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, which in 2006 also claimed Broadway’s top honor for Best Musical. Fourteen hundred performances later, Young recreates the role of the talented, tormented singer in the film version of the show, which opens this Friday. The 38-year-old actor plays the arc of Valli’s life from age 16 to the group’s induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Valli was 56.
We talked to the talented actor about working his way from the stage to the screen, under the direction of Clint Eastwood.
Not many stage actors, including Tony-winning ones, get to recreate their performances on film. How did you come to be cast?
At the time Clint was attached to the movie, I coincidentally was back in the Broadway production for a limited run. Clint caught me onstage during a Sunday matinee, I shared some hellos with him backstage afterward, and the next time I saw him was on the set of his movie. I had no idea that performance was also my audition.
Did you continue to tour in the show as the film was being prepped, or did you walk away from it so you could be fresh for the cameras?
I was finishing up my limited run return to Broadway until a month before shooting. It was the perfect refresher on my character before jumping into Clint’s production.
How did you modulate your performance for the screen?
If you think about it, a stage performance is a two-and-a-half-hour take. The actor keeps the momentum going and is responsible for making sure the audience follows the story. On camera I drew off what I knew so well of my onstage performance to try to give Clint authentic raw material in each little take and each separate scene — looking forward to seeing how he’d put it all together in the end to tell the story his way.
Clint Eastwood was a surprising choice to direct the film. How did you work with him?
Beautifully. He was an actor first so he understands how we think. He was also the perfect director to bring more to the forefront the darkness in the working-class, from-the-streets backgrounds of these characters.
Did you spend much time with the other “Boys” during the shoot to strengthen the ensemble feel of the movie?
We jumped right in. And for most of us, but particularly the four core band members, this was our first major feature film. We were instantly bonded by the enthusiasm of being there, period, and to be under the direction of a director every actor dreams of working with.
What responsibility do you feel playing a living person whose sometimes painful personal history is on view on stage and now on screen?
I felt it was my responsibility as an actor to make Frankie’s circumstances and psychology riveting to an audience, and I hope I achieved that.
You have an inside knowledge of Frankie Valli having played him. For you, what are the most interesting aspects of his life and career?
Although he’s hit some almost unbearable bumps in the road, no matter what he just keeps going.
Did Frankie Valli have any advice for you regarding the movie?
No. By the time the movie rolled around we were so used to each other that when Frankie was on set we just both sat back together as two friends in wonder as we watched none other than Clint Eastwood set the stage for this big movie about Frankie’s life.
After such a lengthy odyssey regarding Jersey Boys, what’s next?
I’m freshly appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities where I’ll be working on arts advocacy in early education, and I’ve recorded a solo album (in my own voice) of huge ’60s R&B hits called My Turn… on iTunes and Amazon.