Interview: Vincent Piazza on playing the roughest of the 'Jersey Boys'
"Boardwalk Empire" star Vincent Piazza talks about doing "Jersey Boys," never meeting Tommy DeVito, the man he plays, and the way it involves Joe Pesci.
Vincent Piazza is best known for playing Lucky Luciano, one of the leads on “Boardwalk Empire.” He might seem an odd fit for Clint Eastwood’s film of “Jersey Boys,” especially since he’s the only one of the main four who haven’t come from some production of the longtime musical favorite. Then again, he’s playing Tommy DeVito, the toughest and scariest of the Four Seasons, whose history is a lot sketchier than their clean-cut sound might suggest.
Did you talk to Tommy DeVito as research?
Never met the man. I only got to know him through the screenplay. That and anecdotes. The rest of the cast did the musical for years, and they would hear these stories from meeting the real guys. And then Mr. [Frank] Valli would be on the set. There was a treasure chest of great stories.
Some of which probably couldn’t be in the film.
And those. But you could give shades and colors of them. For instance, Michael Lomenda [who plays Nick Massi] and I watched this raw footage of Massi and Tommy DeVito doing a sound-check. They were such great friends that they had nicknames. So it was” Tamooch” and “Machoach.” So when [in the film] I was leaving prison and he was going in, he said, ‘Tamooch!” and I said, “Machoach!” It was the little details.
Have you met him since?
No. Which is kind of terrifying, because I’m playing him on screen. I hope he enjoys it.
The Four Seasons were certainly tougher than one might imagine.
I think that’s a surprise for the audience. There’s such a glamour associated with the ’50s and ’60s, because it was pre-TMZ and pre-Twitter and –Facebook. [The Four Seasons] may not have gotten off the ground if those kinds of media channels existed.
Of the group, you’re playing the rough one, comparatively.
I think Tommy’s strength in the beginning was his personality. When they got out of the neighborhood, that strong personality became one of his weaknesses. He felt he had to keep a foot in the neighborhood. That’s something I can identify with. Maybe those people, when they get scared they want to go home. The world outside of New Jersey can be a little intimidating.
You have to do a few scenes where you talk directly into the camera.
We were going to do these transitional shots of me going into jail and out of jail. I thought the narration would be done in the studio. And Mr. Eastwood comes up to me and says, “Vince, I think you should talk to the camera and do your narration.” And I’m thinking, do I even know these words? Funny enough, it turns out I did and I did it. It was strangely freeing because normally you have to hit marks. But when looking into the camera you don’t have to look for those. You just form a relationship with the camera.
Could you sing?
I was kind of thrust into the music. The “Jersey Boys” community was so helpful. They gave me a crack team for the choreography and the singing. And Mr. Eastwood put a live band behind us. What that did for me was give this surge of energy. It was humbling, though, because I wouldn’t disrespect the singers and say, “In 30 days I could sing four-part harmony with guys who’ve done it hundreds of times.”
One of the crazier parts of “Jersey Boys” is that Joe Pesci knew them when he was younger and is a character in the show and film. And then in “Goodfellas” he played a character named Tommy DeVito.
I actually explored that with the character. I’m playing the older guy with a younger Joe Pesci, so I’m wondering how much of [DeVito’s] personality informed him. I would actually act like him every now and then. Any chance I had to throw in a “pr—“ or something like that. I felt comfortable doing that because I was trying to establish that kind of relationship with Joey Russo, who plays Joe Pesci.
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