Bravely stepping outside your comfort zone to explore a job and lifestyle you’re truly passionate about can be a terrifying experience at first. But once you truly commit to fulfilling your dream and succeeding in the area you truly wish to professionally pursue, the opportunities to show your talent can be endless. Actor Lou Volpe, who emigrated to Los Angeles as a young adult, courageously returned to acting after raising his family. After starting his career in theater in Italy, and enrolling at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in Los Angeles to further his skills, he landed roles in films and TV shows, and also directed the movies, ‘Divorced White Male’ and ‘Every Secret Thing.’ Volpe’s return to his passion in acting reflects the mentality of the main characters in his new film, the biographical musical drama, ‘Jersey Boys,’ which was directed by Clint Eastwood. In the movie, Volpe stars as the father of Frankie Valli, whose determination helped him lead one of the world’s most successful rock and pop bands in the mid-1960s and 1970s.
‘Jersey Boys’ follows the rise of the musical career Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), who gained fame for being the singer of the Four Seasons. Born Francesco Castelluccio, the musician often had run-ins with the law as he was growing up in working-class Belleville. His stern and hard-working father, Anthony, tried to keep him from getting into trouble, but Frankie instead became acquainted with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). The two continuously pulled pranks, which eventually led them to partake in a botched robbery in a neighborhood ruled by the kind godfather-type, Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).
But Frankie, Tommy and their friends were really interested in singing and music. However, the musical scene 1951 is limited to pop songs, which forced the group to perform in lounges and clubs. But Joe Pesci (Joey Russo), who would later become known for his Academy Award-winning role in ‘Goodfellas,’ introduced Frankie and his friends to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a clean-cut teen who garnered attention for writing the national hit, ‘Short Shorts,’ for his group, the Royal Teens. While Tommy initially resists to working with Bob, his songwriting skills, combined with the recording experience of producer and music co-writer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), convinced him to take a chance on The Four Seasons. With Frankie’s passion and earnestness, Tommy’s enthusiasm, Bob’s songwriting and the talent of bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), the group became poised for its massive success.
Volpe generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Jersey Boys’ over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how he had a great working experience with Eastwood on the set, as the director not only encourage the actors to improvise to help make their scenes and on-screen relationships more authentic, but he also joked with the cast and crew to help create natural environment; how he thinks Young is a talented actor and singer, and easily and powerfully translated his portrayal of Frankie Valli from his Tony-winning turn in the Broadway production to the film; and how the director led a relaxed rehearsal period on the set, which he filmed, that allowed the actors to bond before they officially began shooting the biographical musical drama.
ShockYa (SY): You play the role of Anthony Castelluccio, Frankie Valli’s father, in the upcoming musical biography, ‘Jersey Boys.’ What drew you to play the role of Anthony in the film?
Lou Volpe (LV): Well, I auditioned for the role because I wanted to work with Clint Eastwood. It was a great movie to be in. It was great working with him on the set, as he’s a great director and a very nice guy.
SY: Speaking of the audition process, what was the whole experience like for you? How did you come to audition for the role of Anthony?
LV: Well, my agent submitted me for it. There were several other actors who were also auditioning, but Clint wasn’t there. He doesn’t meet with the actors during auditions, so it was basically just the casting director (Geoffrey Miclat).
Some of the dialogue was supposed to be in Italian, and I speak Italian. I think Clint decided to cast me in the role because he liked the way I performed, and the fact that I speak Italian. I think he knows when someone from Italy is speaking the language, as opposed to an American trying to speak Italian; he’s been there many times, having filmed the Sergio Leone movies there. So he liked my audition and I got a call a few weeks later, and I got the role.
SY: Speaking of Clint, he both directed and produced ‘Jersey Boys.’ What was your experience of working with Clint as a helmer on the movie?
LV: It was a great experience. The first thing we filmed was a court room scene, and Clint came up to me right away and said, “Hello, Lou.” We talked a little bit after that. I told him he was the reason I became a cowboy, because I watched all the Sergio Leone movies he made in Italy, such as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ He laughed about that.
I wasn’t supposed to have any dialogue in the scene, but he told me to improvise. So I was basically yelling and was mad, as it was a courtroom scene. Frankie Valli was in court, because he had done something bad. I won’t say more about that scene, because I don’t want to spoil it.
We joked around, and he was relaxed as a director. He would often crack jokes, and wouldn’t always say action; sometimes he would just say, “Go ahead.” He was a very down-to-earth guy, even though he is Clint Eastwood.
SY: Speaking of the improvising, did you improv a lot on the set, or did you mainly stick to the script?
LV: Yes, there were several scenes where he let us improvise. Some of the stuff we did made it into the movie, but some of it wasn’t included. When they first edited the movie, it was about three hours long, so they had to edit it to two hours, and a lot of stuff was cut.
But Clint likes to improvise, and allow the actors to be the character. The family scenes usually featured Anthony, his wife and Frankie and some other characters, and Clint would let us go. So that was something he liked to do.
SY: John Lloyd Young plays Frankie Valli in the film. What was your working relationship with John while you were shooting the movie?
LV: He’s a really nice and talented kid. It’s incredible to hear him sing. All four actors who played the Four Seasons members are incredible. John is very talented and is great to work with, and you can really see our chemistry on-screen.
SY: John won the Tony Award in 2006 for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his role as Frankie Valli in the Broadway production of ‘Jersey Boys.’ Were you familiar with John’s portrayal of Frankie in the play at all, and do you feel his experience in the role helped give his performance an authenticity?
LV: Yes, I know his performance in the play was one of the reasons why he was cast in the film. Clint went to all the productions in London, Las Vegas and New York, and cast the roles from the plays. John did get a Tony Award for the show, and is probably responsible for making the show what it is now. He deserves it, and is great in the role.
SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with John before you began filming to build the father-son relationship between Anthony and Frankie? Were you also able to rehearse with the other actors before you began filming?
LV: We did some rehearsals, but most of the time, we just just recorded the rehearsals. It was very relaxed, and Clint let us do scenes over and over. There wasn’t much rehearsal, and most of the time we did spend together was during lunch, and when we were waiting to shoot our scenes. I mainly hung out with Vincent Piazza and Renée Marino. Tommy played Tommy DeVito, and Renée portrayed Mary, Frankie’s wife. I also spent time with Kathrine Narducci, who played Anthony’s wife.
SY: How does playing a real person compare and contrast to playing a fictional character? Do you take a different approach to the two?
LV: There is a difference between playing a real person and a fictional character. I did research on Frankie’s father, and his relationship with Frankie. He was basically the kind of father who was concerned about going to work and providing for his family.
Playing a real person is different than playing a fictional character, because with those roles, you just go by the script alone. You also make up the character as you see fit, and consider whatever suggestions the directors may have. But when you’re portraying a real character, you also have to do additional research.
SY: Were you able to speak with Frankie before you began shooting to develop a better understanding of his relationship with his father?
LV: No, speaking to the people the story’s based on doesn’t bother me. I am a method actor, but I can leave the character pretty easily while filming. I didn’t become Anthony Castelluccio 24 hours a day. (laughs)
We did talk to the group before we began filming, but it was causal. But we didn’t talk about the characters. We did what Clint said, and if he wanted something different, we would tell us.
SY: Speaking of directing, you have your own helming experience, having directed and written the films ‘Every Secret Thing’ and ‘Divorced White Male.’ Is directing and writing something you’d be interested in doing again?
LV: Yes, I would like to direct again. To be honest, I made my own films out of my own pocket with my own credit cards, which is really hard to do. But I would like to do it again.
I love directing, and it’s a completely different experience. When you’re directing, and acting in, a movie, you wear many hats. When you have very little money, you have more hats.
SY: How does acting in and directing smaller independent films compare and contrast to making bigger studio movies? Do you have a preference of doing one over the other?
LV: Not really-I would do a small movie again, because you connect better with everyone. There may not be as big of a cast, or not as much money, so you’re not going all over the place. the characters are more prominent than if you’re doing a smaller role in a big movie. But making a bigger movie with someone like Clint Eastwood, you get more closure. It is a different experience, but I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other.
SY: Besides films, you have also guest starred and had recurring roles on several television shows, including ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and ‘Community.’ How does appearing on television compare and contrast to starring in movies? Are you interested in appearing on television again in the future?
LV: I love making movies, but to actually to get a starring role on a TV series would be great. But to be honest, TV is a lot more work, and I don’t know if I would want to play the same character for 10 years. I’ve never had that experience, and after awhile it may get boring. But I definitely would love to try it. (laughs) I wouldn’t say no to it.
SY: Since you have acted in films and on TV, and have also directed, and the fact that ‘Jersey Boys’ is based on the Broadway play, is doing theater something you’d be interested in doing again in the future?
LV: Oh yes, I’ve done a lot of theater. I started my career as an actor in theater. I did some theater when I was 16 and living in Italy. I love doing theater, and it’s a completely different experience from film and TV, and it’s really good training. I love acting in theater, but I don’t do it every year. But I do do it whenever I can and have the time, and I find a good role and play.
SY: Also speaking of theater, when you first moved to Los Angeles, you enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. How did your time at the Institute influence your acting?
LV: It was a great experience. I loved being in the Lee Strasberg Institute. I had a few really great teachers who really taught me a lot while I was there. At one point, I actually left the theater and followed one of the teachers I admired the most. She’s a great teacher and actress.
The whole experience really helped, and makes its students better actors. It builds the skills people already have. It teaches its students how to build their characters from their own lives.
SY: Having worked with Clint on ‘Jersey Boys,’ are there any other directors you’d be interested in working with in the future?
LV: Oh yes, there are many! (laughs) I’d love to work with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, if I had the chance.
SY: Are there any actors you’d like to co-star with, or direct if you helm again, in your upcoming films?
LV: Oh yes, I’d love to work with all the great actors, like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, like any actor would. There are a lot of actors I would love to work with in the future.
SY: Besides ‘Jersey Boys,’ do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
LV: I did a couple shows that have come out since I filmed ‘Jersey Boys.’ There is a movie I’m working on, but nothing’s final yet. But I really love the role, so I would like to do it.
Written by: Karen Benardello