Interview with Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda on behalf of the film Jersey Boys.
I met Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda, who play The Four Seasons’ members Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi on June 10, 2014 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Chicago. Both were great to meet, as they were full of enthusiasm and eager to talk about their upcoming film, Jersey Boys.
Sarah Knight Adamson: Erich, is it true that your part in the play actually inspired you to begin writing music?
Erich Bergen: Absolutely. I’d always been a wannabe songwriter, and when I say wannabe, I mean that I never actually wrote any songs, but I’ve really wanted to be. I love the craft of song writing, and I’ve been such a music nerd all my life. Bob Gaudio was a name that I always read on the back of album covers. Finally, when I was in Las Vegas, and completely bored other than doing the show at night, I had gone through a bad breakup, and I thought maybe this is the time to actually start song writing.
SKA: Oh, very cool. I like that, that’s wonderful. Michael, your character serves as a buffer at times, I believe, in the film. Can you talk to that?
ML: Yeah, I think. I may be a little bit biased; I would see Nick as the glue of the group, the heart of the group. He’s just always there. He’s always in the background, kind of like observing, and then finally, when he lets everyone know how he really feels, obviously, it’s crazy where it comes from, a really deep, sentimental place. I think, ultimately, a lack of respect from Tommy and the group in general. Yeah, he’s a lot of fun to play.
SKA: Sure. Working with Clint Eastwood, “The” Clint Eastwood, excuse me, also I’d say Mr. Clint Eastwood or the King of Hollywood, who’s known for his love of music and for his own composing of songs. What did you learn from him as a director?
EB: I don’t think that Clint does anything that he’s not obsessive about. I don’t think that he eats breakfast without it being his favorite meal ever. I get the vibe from him that this is not someone who casually does anything. He is obsessed with film making, and he’s obsessed with music. It’s no wonder that Jersey Boys has led to him. Music is sort of an integral part to every movie he does whether it’s about music or not. He often writes the score to his films. There is a pulse and an energy that goes through his films, and Jersey Boys, of course, only continues that by having full songs themselves. I think he was the perfect director and, dare I say, the only director for Jersey Boys.
SKA: Sure, and your take, Michael?
ML: Yeah, I think that what is so signature about his movies is this humanity in the script and this quality. If you meet Bob and Frankie, like the real “Four Seasons,” and then you meet Mr. Eastwood, you realize these guys are really cut from the same cloth. It makes total sense that they would be working together and that he would be telling their story. Even more surreal and cool was to see Frankie on set and talking about the ins and outs of the story.
SKA: Frankie Valli was on set? What were those days like?
ML: It’s incredible to be performing the Big Three – Big Girls Don’t Cry, and Walk Like Man and Sherry – and see Mr. Eastwood and Frankie Valli sitting in the audience.
ML: Also, we could go over and speak to Frankie between takes and say, “Frankie, tell us a little bit about how this would have unfolded and paint this a richer picture,” which as an actor is just an unbelievable gift.
EB: In fact, often times, Frankie would come up to us because a lot of the sets that were built for this movie brought back a lot of memories for him and he would come over to us in between takes and offer stories, not direction or notes or anything, but, I think, it was so emotional for him that he had to share this with someone. We were, of course, always eager to listen.
SKA: Oh. That’s so wonderful, that’s fantastic.
ML: Really interesting too, because he really wanted his childhood home to be in the film, and so we shot 99% in LA and he requested that his childhood home in Jersey be in the film. They lifted everything, flew everybody out to Jersey for a couple days of shooting in Jersey. You get to see his actual childhood house.
SKA: Oh my goodness. I will have to look for that again. I do want to see the movie again. By the way, I did love it.
ML: Oh good. Good to hear. You liked that.
SKA: Absolutely, I loved it. I also read that Clint wanted you all to record live on set, your songs. They weren’t lip synched at all.
EB: No, oh boy, we wish they were because it was hard when you do seventeen takes of Sherry. It’s hard, but it was capturing that real rock and roll energy when we watched it back, because Clint was so adamant that it feel like real rock and roll and sound live.
ML: Part of the other problem with lip-synching is you’re locked in to whatever you did in the studio, you have to mouth. If you’re feeling a different phrasing on something, and this is something that’s most important for John Lloyd playing Frankie, then you can’t, you don’t get to act; you have to recreate.
SKA: That’s fantastic. Could you tell me two or three words that would describe Clint Eastwood as far as his personality and/or his directing style?
ML: Generous, collaborative, patient, and hilarious …
SKA: Well, I love that last one. I like all of them, but hilarious is great.
EB: Oh my god, giddy. There were times, when he was just playing all giddy. Oh gosh! What’s the word, I don’t even know, I would … collaborative was the main one. .
SKA: I was wondering about something in the movie when all of sudden it said, “Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.” Do you know how that came about because I know that the Supremes weren’t too happy when Diana Ross was headlined? Do you know the story behind that?
EB: Yeah, it was something to do the fact that when The Four Seasons first came out, there were just four in a group. Then, on the back of the records, the producers would advertise them or describe them as The Four Seasons featuring the sound of Frankie Valli, and the word “sounds,” this was an invention, I believe by Bob Crewe because they really did create not just great songs, they sort of an invented sound doubling that of Frankie’s voice.
EB: Creating that sort of ghost effect and this really sort of hard-edged
EB: Frankie was also the front guy, but by the time Walk Like a Man, happened. Nick was already out of the group, which is something that changed for the film. Then there were tons of changes, so much, all the way up through the fact that Frankie is still on tour right now …
SKA: Oh! I know.
SKA: One last question. Your story definitely has a moral or a lesson. What would that be?
EB: Well, let me tell you something that from the time of my audition Jersey Boys for to the time that this movie will probably come out on DVD and Blu-Ray, it will have been my entire twenties. It’s for me, being a young actor and going through all the trials and tribulations that any young actor does, you never expect anything like this and, much like the story of The Four Seasons. We both, Michael and I, walked into Jersey Boys as happy to have a job, not expecting to be doing this with you today. I don’t know, I think for both me, my character, and the story of Jersey Boys, it is “anything is possible.”
SKA: Oh. That’s wonderful.
ML: This sounds like anything is possible and brotherhood and family trumps all. I think those are directly related. You stay grounded and you really stay stuck with who you are as a person and anything is possible.
SKA: I want to thank you both so much for speaking with me today.
EB: Thank you.
ML: Thank you.
Jersey Boys opens June 20, 2014 nationwide.
Sarah Knight Adamson© June 14, 2014