Clint Eastwood knew what he wanted when he took on Jersey Boys: reality and great music, as he told Film Critic Tony Earnshaw.
It was the film nobody wanted to make, which is strange because the stage version of Jersey Boys had played all over America and, indeed, all over the world.
So when it was offered to Clint Eastwood – “I think they got desperate – they couldn’t get anybody else to do it” – he had to first see this phenomenon for himself. In the event he saw it three times – in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. And having seen the musical he knew he wanted to make the movie.
“I was pondering the idea of why nobody wanted to make this play, because it was terribly successful. A lot of times the ones that were hardest to get made were the ones that I enjoyed the most. Nobody wanted to do Mystic River. Nobody wanted to do Million Dollar Baby.
“Warner Bros had already passed on Jersey Boys when I came into the picture, and I brought them back into it. I said, ‘How can you not do this?’ That was my philosophy. I remembered the songs; I liked them a lot.”
The songs have become part of modern American music lore. The Four Seasons enjoyed their first hit in 1962 with Sherry. Thereafter the hits tumbled over each other: Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Ronnie.
The journey was not a smooth one. One member quit at the height of fame. Another sold his interest in the group. People came and went. Musical tastes changed.
There are those who have been scratching their heads at the notion of Clint Eastwood, macho film icon, king of the cowboys and a man whose characters shoot first and ask questions later, making a musical about a quartet of New Yorkers.But then Eastwood has always been drawn to music. He’s played a country singer in Honkytonk Man, immortalised his jazz favourite Charlie Parker on film in Bird and steered audiences through the blues in his documentary Piano Blues. Jersey Boys fits right in.
Eastwood agrees. “I’ve done movies on country music, jazz and pop music of the 50s and 60s. I like music of all kinds, so I just immerse myself in it. But, yeah, I love to do films that have music or are about musicians, or, in this case, singers. And, of course, this one was easy because of the guys.” The guys he refers to are the Four Seasons themselves: singer Frankie Valli, songwriter/pianist Bob Gaudio, bassist Nick Massi and guitarist Tommy DeVito.
In the film they are played by John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda and Vincent Piazza. All but one of them had appeared in various versions of the stage production. None of them were stars. It was a deliberate move by Eastwood, and particularly so in the choice of Young who, as Valli, had notched up 1,200 performances in the US and abroad. “When I started doing it [Warner Bros] said, ‘You could use a lot of young movie stars’ – Zac Efron and people like that,” recalls Eastwood. “That’s the way they thought. I didn’t tell them at the time that I wanted to use the people from the play. I just went ahead and did it that way.” But, he says, there were “a lot of oddities”. “I got a standing ovation for actually going to the men’s room when I was at the Broadway show. I thought, ‘That’s the first time and probably the last time that’ll ever happen.’ But I enjoyed the play so much.”
Eastwood rejects the notion that Jersey Boys has been a success simply because of the songs. He believes it goes deeper than that. “The most important guiding factor is that it’s a story about people who are on the edge of life. They could have gone in one direction and they went in another. Music helped them get there. I was never a fan of music of that particular era; I came along before all that. But I did like The Four Seasons a lot. All of their stuff was very energetic. I thought their music was far superior. You’re Too Good To Be True would have been a classic song at any time in history.”