Young walks like a man (and sings like a girl) as Frankie Valli in Clint Eastwood’s film of the stage mega-hit
On the last day of shooting Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood and his cast and crew were on location in Belleville, New Jersey, the neighbourhood where pop icon Frankie Valli grew up in the 1940s and ’50s. Valli himself dropped by, and spent some time with the actor playing him in the movie, John Lloyd Young. “We sat on the stoop where Frankie used to sit when he was little and he regaled me with stories of his neighbourhood,” Young recalls. “He was seeing his whole life come full circle. He came from very humble beginnings, and had to scrape his way to the top. He’s a fighter, he always has been, and still is.”
The musical Jersey Boys, which has been seen by some 17 million theatregoers worldwide, tells the story of Valli and his close-harmony group the Four Seasons, punctuated by such toe-tapping hits as ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.’ No mere hagiography, the show portrays the band members’ prison stays, dealings with mobsters, and more – it’s a jukebox musical with all the grit and swagger of a Martin Scorsese movie.
But it was Eastwood, not Scorsese, who signed on to direct the film version – which seems an unlikely fit until you stop to consider that Eastwood is an accomplished, Academy Award-nominated musician in his own right. “One day we were shooting some scenes set in Valli’s Fifth Avenue apartment and there was a big grand piano on set,” says Lloyd. “In between set-ups I started to hear a familiar theme on the piano. I peeked onto the set and there was Clint Eastwood sitting alone playing his own theme from Mystic River. He understands musicianship innately and was a perfect director for the film.”
Young, 38, had played Valli for two years in the original 2005 Broadway run of Jersey Boys, winning every major theatre award including the Tony for his performance. By chance, he was invited to reprise the role back on Broadway in 2013, which is when Eastwood became attached to the film. “He was able to see me on stage, and that was my audition for the movie.”
The actors sing all their own parts in the film, which has only one marquee name – Christopher Walken, playing loan shark Gyp DeCarlo. “When Chris Walken walked on set, people went nuts. He’ a like a rockstar, people love him. For me to be in my first big Hollywood movie alongside this guy, delivering lines in his idiosyncratic way, was just an out-of-body experience.”
Time Out spoke to California-born Young on the phone to London, where he was playing the role on stage again and following a health schedule that he likens to an athlete’s. “In order to sing falsetto every day you have to keep a boring lifestyle. Singing muscles are muscles and it takes a lot of stamina. I joke that Frankie had his whole career to sing his whole career, but the guys who play him on stage have to do it in two and a half hours.”
Jersey Boys opens Thu Jul 3.