Perhaps you can’t imagine Dirty Harry bobbing his head to “Walk Like a Man,” one of many heavily harmonic and almost aggravatingly catchy songs by the Four Seasons. But Clint Eastwood claims he was always a fan.
“I did like the Four Seasons a lot. I thought their music was far superior,” he says, though he leaves superior to what, exactly, to the imagination. “’Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ is one of the classic songs of the era. It would have been a classic song in the ’40s, ’50s or ’30s.”
That still doesn’t explain why Eastwood is directing a movie of “Jersey Boys,” the gaudy (if shockingly potty-mouthed) jukebox musical about the life of the ’60s crooners, which has long dominated stages. Indeed, his answer to what attracted him to the project is typical Clint, which is to say comically evasive: “It seemed like something to do.”
Then again, Eastwood has a long history of helming films that seem the opposite of his tough, laconic image. The third picture he directed was “Breezy,” a May-December romance between businessman William Holden and an oft-starkers hippie Kay Lenz. And let’s not forget “The Bridges of Madison County.” (On the other extreme is the atypically keyed-up “The Rookie,” the one where Eastwood partners with Charlie Sheen and is raped by Sonia Braga.)
Then again, the actor-filmmaker-musician himself seems far from his tough, laconic image. In person he’s a towering 6’4″ yet, especially in his 80s, he’s a self-effacing softie whose voice barely rises above a light gravel, delivered through a warm smile. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he’s modest, even cryptic, about his methods. He does point out himself that there’s a section of his CV “Jersey Boys” belongs to.
“I’ve done movies on country music, jazz and pop music,” Eastwood says. “I like music of all kinds. I love to do films about musicians, or in this case singers.” The Four Seasons may not seem as bold as his sickly western crooner in “Honkytonk Man” or Charlie Parker in “Bird.” (Or even his horny DJ in “Play Misty for Me.”) But they prove to be nearly as self-destructive, with ties to the mob that don’t get severed after a string of number one records.
Eastwood had never seen the musical before getting offered the job, and he immersed himself by seeing productions in New York City, San Francisco and Las Vegas. “I thought I could approach it from a more realistic angle,” he says. “There’s a lot of things you can do in a movie that you can’t do on stage.”
He even got a surprise from one performance he attended. “I got a standing ovation for going to the men’s room,” he recalls. “It was the first time and probably the last that will happen.”
Eastwood doesn’t take credit for what he calls his “Hitchcock moment”: the appearance of the director on-screen, or at least on a television tuned to “Rawhide,” the Western TV show that first made him big. “That was actually Rick’s suggestion,” referring to Rick Elice, who co-wrote the script with the show’s own book writer, Marshall Brickman. After all, the Four Seasons and Eastwood rose to prominence around the same time. “I had had my first break after doing years of bit parts and unappealing roles. And I was working with various directors before getting to Sergio [Leone] and [Don] Siegel.”
Three of the band members were culled from the shows, including John Lloyd Young, the longtime Frankie Valli. “If you have someone with 1200 performances under their belt — that’s experience you can’t buy,” Eastwood says.
The only one who isn’t a “Jersey Boys” alum is Vincent Piazza, as the roughest Season, Tommy DeVito. Eastwood admits he had never watched an episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” on which Piazza plays Lucky Luciano. “We were worried about Vince, because he was starting from scratch. But he just fit in right away. I was just lucky,” Eastwood recalls. “Casting a film is one of the most important things, next to writing. If you cast a film properly everything kind of finds its place very easily. But if you don’t, you’re fighting an uphill battle.”
In fact, he says a lot of his life is about luck. “I’ve always said I’d rather be lucky than good.”
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