Clint Eastwood, whose craggy features are by now as familiar as those etched on Mount Rushmore, got a lot of flak for his presenting duties at the Tony Awards. He had problems finding the Teleprompter and mispronounced the last name of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” director Darko Tresnjak. (Anyway, who knows how to pronounce Tresnjak?)
The snarky comments on social media directed at the superstar-director’s age and mental state were by cranky people who didn’t realize that the “Million Dollar Baby” actor-director had spent that entire day in a grueling round of interviews and press events for his new film “Jersey Boys.” His schedule would have taxed anyone twenty years younger.
Earlier in the day Eastwood participated in a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria that included Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (screenwriters who also wrote the musical book) and the four stars of the film – John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito) and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi).
Throughout the 40-minute press conference, the young actors addressed the famed director as “Mr. Eastwood.” Almost all the press questions were for Eastwood, whose drawl is a little slower but who is just as sharp and dryly humorous as ever.
As to the question from the moderator, “Why in the world” he decided to do “Jersey Boys”?
“It seemed like something to do,” Eastwood replied.
As for his cameo in the film, drawn from a clip of his famous TV show of the early 1960s: “’Rawhide is more than just a bar in the West Village,” Eastwood joked.
He credited Erich Bergen – his character is the brainchild of all of the Four Seasons hits – for what he called his “Hitchcock moment.” In the scene the guys sit around and watch television and Bergen suggested that a scene from “Rawhide” be playing.
“I started thinking, yeah, it could be because after all that was about the same era, and so I thought, maybe,” Eastwood added. Then when someone he worked with went ahead and put it into the film, “Ok, I’ll live with that,” was his reaction.
Something else resonated about that time for the director that reminded him of what the Four Seasons were going through. “It was that period, 1959-60, that was my first break after doing years of doing bit parts and unappealing roles, so it was a chance to gain a lot of experience in five-six years working with various directors,” especially Sergio Leone.”
Asked about how he related to the Jersey group’s story, Eastwood replied, “I try to relate to the whole thing. I grew up in a neighborhood that was about half Italian-American. It was quite an interesting era in Oakland, Callifornia, so I thought I understand something about that community.”
About those before-PC times, he joked, “When Dinah Washington came out with ‘What a difference a day makes,’ we were going around saying what a difference a dago makes, so these kids were all very friendly and it was a fun era to be in.”
He came to understand how tight the Italian-American community was, something he touched on in the film. “You don’t forgive a lot of things. Maybe clichés, maybe not, but the Italian-American community where you get on the bad side and you’re on the bad side forever but I don’t know if that’s true nowadays but there is sort of a historical feeling about that that I related to.”
To cast “Jersey Boys” Eastwood saw three companies perform the musical in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
John Lloyd Young, an original cast member of “Jersey Boys,” won the Tony in 2006, and was asked to reprise the role from 2012 to 2013. He heard Eastwood was attached to the movie and going around the country watching various companies. When Darren Aronofsky interviewed Eastwood during the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013, Lloyd Young had a hunch the director would take in his matinee next day.
“I was in the wings before I was about to start work and we heard that there was a standing ovation in the audience because they had seen Clint Eastwood walk into the audience,” Lloyd Young said. “It was a joyful performance because I felt that no matter what would happen with the movie I felt that how great was it to have somebody who has dominion in his world in Hollywood seeing me in the one thing in my life so far that I know I have dominion over, which is this role.”
As for the applause at the theater, Eastwood cracked, “I got a standing ovation for actually going to the men’s room. That’s the first time and probably the last time that will happen.”
The director cast Michael Lomenda after he caught him in the San Francisco company.
But he credited Bob Gaudio for choosing the actor who portrayed him. “Of all the people who have played you, who do you think was the best?” Eastwood asked him. “And he said William Holden,” Bergen cracked.
“I love William Holden,” Eastwood mused. “I was the second choice,” Bergen countered.
“But he was deceased at that time. We couldn’t get him,” Eastwood added.