Eastwood couldn’t take his eyes off this Frankie Valli

19/06/2014 by Elysa Gardner for USA Today

NEW YORK —To land the lead role in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the stage musical Jersey Boys, John Lloyd Young had to go through “the most important audition of my life — and the easiest.”

Young had, after all, already played Frankie Valli on and off for more than seven years, starting in the original Broadway production of the musical, which traces the rise and fall of Valli’s legendary group, the Four Seasons.

John Lloyd Young for USA Today

(Photo: Todd Plitt, USA TODAY)

And it just so happened that the baby-faced 38-year-old actor — who won a Tony Award for his portrayal — was making a return engagement in the Main Stem production last year when he got word that Eastwood was in town on a scouting mission for the film (opening nationwide Friday).

The director had been checking out various companies of the musical and was scheduled to give an interview at the Tribeca Film Festival — which Young attended. “We had a hunch that he might see Jersey Boys on Broadway,” Young says. “And lo and behold, as we were getting ready to start that Sunday matinee, we heard that Clint Eastwood had entered the audience to a standing ovation.”

Eastwood greeted the actors after the performance. “I expressed my appreciation that he was there and told him I had seen his interview the day before,” Young recalls. “He said he enjoyed my performance. We made small talk, and not much of it. Then I gave him his space to speak with the rest of the cast.”

Young next saw Eastwood on the set of the Jersey Boys movie. “He saw me in the show, and that was enough for him.”

Eastwood says he was drawn to Young’s fluid singing — he does a dead-on impersonation of Valli’s distinctive falsetto — and his “great appeal onstage. He was the original Frankie Valli and my first choice. With all the stage performances under his belt already, it seemed effortless.”

John Lloyd Young and Clint Eastwood

(Photo: Keith Bernstein, Warner Bros. Pictures)

Young found his director “in some ways the stereotype of a low-key California guy. But he’s got that strain of intimidating stoicism we’ve all come to love, and he brings that to the set. He inspires deep loyalty in everyone who works for him. You don’t want to risk displeasing him, so you bring your A-game.”

On-screen, Eastwood used different locations to flesh out the band’s struggles and triumphs, though Young notes that original librettists Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s screenplay “reads very much like” their book for the stage.

“I think it’s a more psychologically visible depiction of Frankie Valli” on-screen, he allows, adding that one song in particular, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, is used in a different context, drawing more heavily on the story of Valli’s troubled daughter, Francine.

For all the attention he’s gotten for channeling Valli’s tenor, Young insists that it’s “like doing a dialect. It’s not my voice.” His first major influence as a singer was, in fact, an earlier pop icon from New Jersey: “One of my favorite childhood memories is of singing Frank Sinatra songs with my Italian grandfather on a karaoke machine he had in his basement in Queens.”

In choosing his next project, Young will be mindful of “something Meryl Streep said in an interview: that your responsibility as an actor is to immediately undermine your first big success.”

And what kind of role would that require?

“Someone very different from a working-class hero,” he says. “Maybe an evil genius or some master-of-the-universe type. That would be fun.”

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