NEW YORK – It goes without saying that Broadway actors are rarely able to reprise their roles in the movie versions of stage musicals they've starred in. For every Anthony Rapp in “Rent,” Rita Moreno in “West Side Story” or Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in “The Producers” there are countless other films that didn't even consider actors who played the same role on the stage. Usually it's just too risky for Hollywood execs to fund a musical without some old fashioned movie starpower on board (it's still considered a risky proposition). Don't tell that to Clint Eastwood, however.
The Academy Award-winning director of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven” did the unthinkable with his movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning smash “Jersey Boys”: he cast actors who'd previously played their roles in the stage musical in the movie. Well, three out of the four leads, at least. “Jersey” features John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for originating Frankie Valli on Broadway, Las Vegas and national tour veteran Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda who went straight from playing Nick Massi in San Francisco to the movie. Eastwood's one exception is Vincent Piazza. The “Boardwalk Empire” star was the only one of the film's four leads that wasn't part of the “Jersey Boys” stage family. Piazza is hardly a household name, however. In this case, Eastwood was looking for the best actors to play and sing their roles no matter where they came from.
Bergen and Lomeda sat down with HitFix in New York earlier this month to talk about their first real Hollywood movie. As you'd expect, neither of them dreamed they'd even get an audition.
“I remember being at a party with Carol Channing and someone asked her about the 'Hello, Dolly' movie and, or course, she originated that role [but Barbra Streisand played her in the movie],” Bergen recalls. “And they asked her what she [thought] of it and she said 'Was there a movie? I didn't even know there was a movie.' So, I was fully prepared, 'Oh, 'Jersey Boys'? That will be fine. I'm sure who ever does it will be wonderful.' We never thought in a million years that this would be us and we're very thankful.'
Lomeda adds, “It was such a surprise to get the call. Even that they wanted to see me for an audition and than even a couple weeks later to get the call, 'You booked it.' It happened really quickly.”
Moreover, Eastwood kept a distance from the actors until production began.
“We had like one 90-second audition,” Bergen says. “Clint wasn't even there and a couple of months later we were on a lot in Burbank and the Hollywood magic began.”
Lomeda's experience, on the other hand, was slightly different that that of his co-stars. Eastwood saw him preform during a matinee performance of “Jersey” in San Fran and came backstage to meet the cast. He notes, “I shook his hand thinking it was wonderful to meet him.” Lomeda never dreamed Eastwood was actually scouting him for the movie and that he'd get a call to audition.
Both men weren't sure what to expect during rehearsals or on stage, but Eastwood made it very clear what he was looking for. The 84-year-old icon told all the returning leads to “Trust what you've already done. I hired you for a reason.”
For more on Bergen and Lomeda's experiences working with Eastwood check out the video embedded at the top of this post.
“Jersey Boys” opens nationwide on Friday.