John Lloyd Young
John Lloyd Young plays Frankie Valli in "Jersey Boys." Warner Bros.

Actor John Lloyd Young originated the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway in 2005 for “Jersey Boys” and was cast by Clint Eastwood to play the role in the Warner Bros. film adaptation set to hit theaters Friday. By the time the movie came around, Young had performed over 1300 performances as Frankie Valli and had known the man himself for nearly a decade. The musical legend from the projects of New Jersey no doubt had a tremendous affect on Young’s career as an actor and singer. From the moment Young met Valli, he felt the impact.

“The first thing that he ever told me, before we ever even opened the original production on Broadway, was in a rehearsal studio: I talked to him after a rehearsal. He said to me, talking about the business, ‘They’ll tell you “no,” but they can never get at this.’ ... In every creative career there are ups and downs, and during the downs, I always remembered what Frankie Valli said.”

From there Young’s spirit and drive lead him to win a Tony Award, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards in 2006 for his portrayal of Valli on stage. The movie adaptation is Young’s film debut. Latin Times had a chance to sit down with Young to discuss his Broadway success, “Jersey Boys” the movie, Clint Eastwood and Frankie Valli. Check out that interview.

Latin Times: I read that you were inspired as a kid to become an actor after watching “Tootsie” and “Amadeus.” How did that inspiration lead you to where you are now?

John Lloyd Young: Yes, I was probably about 8 years old, and those movies were big. I was riveted by them. I remember watching them over and over again on our Beta Macs. Then and now I was really drawn to the huge talent of the character of Mozart and the character of Tootsie, who Dustan Hoffman played, but also really taken by their irreverence, rebelliousness and mistrust of authority. So, you can imagine that’s caused me some problems in my life! But, that creative spirit and that fight to constantly get your creative point-of-view out there has been exhilarating also.

John Lloyd Young and Clint Eastwood
John Lloyd Young, left, plays Frankie Valli in the film adaptation of "Jersey Boys" directed by Clint Eastwood, right. Warner Bros.

LT: I Imagine that’s probably also something you could have brought to the character of Frankie Valli, too.

JLY: Oh, absolutely. You’re right. I hadn’t realized that, but he is a very similar character in terms of tenacity and never giving up. Thanks for making that connection for me.

LT: Your run with “Jersey Boys” on Broadway was hugely successful. Did it ever become overwhelming?

JLY: I wouldn’t say overwhelming so much that I would say that when it was becoming the hit that it became in the beginning, everything was coming so fast there was no time. The analogy I’ve used is that you’ve always wanted to see the country, and you’re on a high-speed train. And you just see the skyline of Chicago, you don’t actually stop and visit it, but you saw it.

There was a day, for example, when the Tony nominations came out we had a two-show day. The Tony nominations came out a Wednesday morning. Then we were shuttled out of “Jersey Boys” during Act 2. The writers of the show got on stage to keep the audience company while we went over to Carnegie Hall to perform for some people, and then a police escort brought us back to finish the show. And that was also the day that Bill Clinton came to see the show. So, all three of those things happened in one day. The day of Tonys, we won our awards. Those of us who won, and I won a Tony. And an hour later I didn’t even get to go to a Tony party, I was on a tour bus to the White House, and we performed for all the spouses of the senate. And then we got on a bus right from D.C. to go back to New York to do the show again on stage.

All of these happened so fast. They happened, but I didn’t have much time to really process them. It wasn’t until I was away from the show and not even in it anymore, that I really realized the impact of those great things.

LT: What was it like working with Clint Eastwood? Did you have any reservations going into it?

JLY: I didn’t have any reservations, but I had some trepidation. It was more about: Was I going to be able to bring what Clint needs? And will I be able to work at his pace? And all of those sort of things. Then I deduced that if I were Clint Eastwood, after decades of experience in the business as an actor and a director, and I had cast a guy on stage that I saw and I thought he was good and I know that he doesn’t have a lot of film experience, I would consider it sort of a pleasure and sort of fun to usher him into my world. And once I realized that was the only logical expectation to have from my director who had just cast me, then I found that was exactly what the experience was.

He is a mentor. He’s clearly older than I am, but he feels like an older brother. He feels like a friend. He’s an actor. You know he’s one of you and so any doubt that you’d ever have, he’s had that doubt somewhere in his career. He’s also worked with a lot of directors that weren’t so great. He compensates for those things by being really what the actors need, because he’s suffered through things that didn’t work for him. He was a really wonderful guy to work with. We worked really beautifully together, all of us.

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
"Jersey Boys" is a musical based on the iconic 1960s rock group Frankie Vallie & the Four Season's rise to fame. Warner Bros.

LT: What was it like having Frankie Valli on set during some of the filming in New Jersey?

JLY: He was on set probably about a week altogether. By this time, you know, since the beginning of the Broadway show, we had a very easy relationship. It was like having a friend on set. I didn’t feel pressured to do it the way he might want me to do it because I had that rebelliousness. I’m gonna do it the way I think the actor needs to be because the actor’s instincts are very important. If you are tasked with having the role, you cannot doubt yourself and do it the way someone else might want you to do it. Your job is to this role for your audience and your director. So, I never even had the thought: What if he doesn’t like what I do? By this time, I had totally gotten over that.

That day on se [the last day on set], it actually turned out to be very pointed because, between setups, we sat on his actual childhood stoop outside his actual project where his mother lived for decades and his children used to go visit their grandma and where he grew up. And he sat there and told me stories about the neighborhood. He remembered the names of neighbors who lived across the street, said his girlfriend lived there and in the summer on hot days they used to open the fire hydrant and play, have street parties.

In all the years that I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him get so moved as he was to see his life coming full circle and solidified forever in this film by Clint Eastwood. So it was a great day.

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