Interview: John Lloyd Young on taking his ‘Jersey Boys’ role to the screen
John Lloyd Young is more than a little familiar with playing Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys,” having won a Tony for the role on Broadway and performed it more than a thousand times. So it makes sense that Clint Eastwood would tap him to play the role in the film version of the hit musical.
On film as opposed to stage, it has to be kind of daunting to be asked to play such a big age range.
You know, I loved doing that, I’ve got to tell you the truth. As a stage actor, one of my pet peeves — well, I don’t think it’s a pet peeve. For me that challenge of shooting out of sequence and yet aging my character, knowing where I was in that timeline of age was a really kind of gentle and subtle challenge that I loved to do. You know, one day we were in age makeup at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day I was 16. That to me is acting.
It’s got to be a nice ego boost to be told that you can play 16 onscreen.
Well … [Laughs] All I could take care of was the body language and the mentality, and for the rest of it, thank goodness for the makeup and hair people. They did a good job with that.
What were some of the biggest differences in taking this character from stage to screen?
It was a very welcome difference for me because I’ve done this show so many times onstage — more than 1,000 times — so I had insights about the character and very strong convictions about who he was. But I was constrained by the same script every single time I did that same show. Once I found out that the movie was going to happen I started to chomp at the bit at the chance to allow some of the psychological insights I had into the character to reveal themselves on camera just by simply being the character and not having to project in the way that you have to do onstage — to allow the camera to see inside my psychology and invite the audience inside the mind of Frankie Valli. Those tiny little moments that two characters have with each other that’s simply just a look, those work onscreen in a way onstage would probably be missed by someone in the back of the balcony, and I love that living moment to moment as an actor.
You probably know the character of Frankie Valli better than anyone at this point. Where exactly did his falsetto come from?
I can just give you some factual, actual history that I’ve heard from the horse’s mouth: Frankie Valli himself. It’s an accident if you can sing falsetto, and not everyone can do it. Frankie, when he was young, thought everyone had a falsetto. He didn’t realize it was something special until he started going out and singing in clubs and people reacted in such an obvious way to his special talent. The way he first started doing it was by imitating Little Jimmy Scott and a female singer, Rose Murphy, in clubs. And his imitation, his sort of parlor trick, was something that a young Bob Gaudio heard and decided to begin writing for, and that was really the genesis of Frankie’s falsetto singing for the Four Seasons. He found the right writer, and the writer found his muse, and it was one of those magical rock and roll partnerships that opened the door for the likes of the Bee-Gees and Chicago and Queen.
It’s hilarious to think that the record label’s initial reaction to “Can’t Take My Eyes” off of you was that they couldn’t do anything with it.
It’s like that with so many of those songs. I released an album recently of R&B songs from that era called “My Turn,” and one of the songs on that album is “Hey There Lonely Girl,” the Eddie Holman song. I was singing it at the Cafe Carlyle last year, and the writer of the song, who’s now 93 years old, showed up and my manager and I met him. He told us initially that song was written for a woman, and they didn’t get that song out there and make it into a hit until they gave it to Eddie Holman and a man sang it. Sometimes the record labels are not very forward-looking and you’ve got to just by sheer force of will find some way to get that song out there.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick