John Lloyd Youngs professional career is all over the place. Hes acted in numerous off-Broadway productions, hes sung at the Caf Carlyle, he has a new R&B-flavored album called My Turn ..., his pop art sculptures are represented by the Hamilton-Selway Gallery in West Hollywood, and he was recently appointed by Barack Obama to the Presidents Committee on the Arts and Humanities. One other note: He originated and won a Tony Award for the role of the Four Seasons lead singer Frankie Valli in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys, has played the part about 1,400 times, and is now starring as Valli in Clint Eastwoods film version. Young, 38, a Brown University graduate, spoke about a little bit of everything by phone from Minneapolis last week.
Q. What were you doing just before you got the play and then just before you got the movie?
A. Just before I got the play I had great success with a stage adaptation of Chaim Potoks novel The Chosen. It was a very happy time for me as an actor because I played the Hassidic character Danny Saunders, a role thats very different from me. And I played opposite Theodore Bikel, who was theater royalty. I learned a lot from him. I did the first two years of Jersey Boys on Broadway, then went on to other things. But before the movie started ramping up, the Jersey Boys producers on Broadway asked me if I wanted to come back for a stint, and I said yes. So I was playing the role on Broadway again at precisely the time when Clint Eastwood got attached. He was going around the country looking at different productions, and he came to a matinee performance of it in New York. I met him after the show, he told me he totally enjoyed my performance, I told him I was glad he was there, and the next time I met him was on his set. That [talk] had functioned as my audition and I didnt even know it.
Q. When you do a play, you can tweak things every night. What were your thoughts about getting to do one film performance that would be captured for posterity?
A. It was actually a real relief. When you do a stage performance youre tied to one script and its the same direction and the same staging every time. You get to know your character very well, but theres a sort of pressure building up. You get new insights into your character but you still have the same script, and you have no place to express them. So when I got the chance to do the film I was just so relieved that I would have a place to put those extra insights. I was able to let that character psychologically emerge more than I could onstage.
Q. Was it a big difference working with a film director rather than a stage director?
A. Absolutely. When youre building something in theater you try things different ways during rehearsal; you do scenes over and over again until you and the director and the cast are satisfied, then you kind of set it in stone and take that to the stage, and it doesnt change much. With the film, we rehearsed for 40 days. You get the raw material and try things in different ways, and then the director and his editors choose the pieces that work for them and they end up telling your story, which to me was fascinating to see.
Q. Do you think of yourself as an actor who can sing or a singer who can act?
A. I can do both, but I prefer to do them separately. I prefer to either be in a concert, singing songs, or to act a role. The thing about Jersey Boys is that the Broadway experience afforded me the opportunity to do both in the same show. I was playing a singer. So when I was singing I was in concert or a recording studio. I didnt have to do that tricky thing where youre singing lyrics as though theyre a scene, like in an operatic way. I dont have any problem with that. I just dont enjoy doing it as much as I enjoy acting by itself and singing by itself.
Q. Theres a scene in the movie where Frankie plays directly to the red-headed girl in a club. When you were onstage, did you find yourself playing to audience members or feeding on the audiences energy during songs?
A. One of the reasons people love Jersey Boys so much is that the audience is a character in the story. When youre in concert the audience thats there that night is your stand-in for the concert audience that youre imagining in the play. So as the character Frankie, youre actually playing off the audience thats in front of you, and it deeply involves them.
Q. Are the film offers already lining up?
A. The doors to those sorts of things are definitely opening, and Im looking forward to see what the future holds.