Joseph Russo talks about playing Joe Pesci in Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys”

I’m sure it sounded easy for Joseph Russo. Cast in his first major feature film role, the actor portrays a name familiar to movie fans all over the world: Joe Pesci. That’s right, long before he was asking how funny we thought he was (and winning an Oscar to boot), Joe Pesci was a New Jersey boy who dreamed of being a singer (he actually released an album in 1968, “Little Joe Sure Can Sing,” billed as “Joe Ritchie.”

Joey Russo has worked a lot since his debut in 2010, appearing in such television shows as “Bones,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Parks and Recreation.” He even has a little “Jersey” on his resume’, starring in 2012’s television film “Jersey Shore Shark Attack.” This week he opens in “Jersey Boys,” director Clint Eastwood’s film version of the Tony-award winning Broadway hit. While promoting the film Russo sat down with me and talked about…..

Mike Smith: How did you get involved in “Jersey Boys?”
Joseph Russo: I got a phone call from my manager saying they were looking for an actor to play a young Joe Pesci. I went in and read for the casting director. Then I started to hear that I was on Clint’s short list…then I was on top of his short list….then I was his choice….and I found out a few weeks later that the part was actually mine.

MS: Did you know before you went in to read for the part that Joe Pesci had a musical background?
JR: Once I got the audition I did some research because I had no clue how he was attached to this story. Once I got word that I was seriously being considered for the role I really took the opportunity to piece together a time-line of his life from then until now to really understand how he was a part of that group.

MS: Playing a real-life person, especially someone as well known as Joe Pesci….did you have to reign in your performance at all so that you weren’t doing a caricature? I did notice in one scene you ask “Funny how?” about something and then in another you do a “ok, ok, ok” riff.
JR: I’m so glad you picked up on that. My main thing was that I didn’t want to make him a caricature. That was my goal when I went in to audition. Should I change my voice or not? I didn’t see the Broadway musical because I wanted to create something that was totally my own. I wanted to make him a real guy and at the same time earn the right to play a character like Joe Pesci. What I wanted to do was sprinkle a little Pesci-isms in each of my scenes. Show a little “Casino.” Show a little “Goodfellas.” Show a little Leo Getz (the “Lethal Weapon” series). I wanted to find a way to portray Joe Pesci from age 16 to 26. Because really, the first time the public saw him in “Raging Bull” he was close to 40. So I came up with the idea that everything Joe Pesci has done as an actor in his later life was drawn from something that was inside him when he was younger. Maybe at one time he did say “ok, ok, ok.” Maybe he did ask “I’m funny how.” I wanted to pay homage to a real guy. That was my main focus…paying homage.

MS: Once you got the role were you able to seek Joe Pesci out and maybe get some insight into his life and experiences back then?
JR: Once I got the role I immediately tried to get in touch with him. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to. My next avenue was to call up Tommy Devito. (NOTE: Devito was one of the founding members of the Four Seasons and, according to “Jersey Boys,” now works for Joe Pesci. Ironically, Tommy Devito is also the name of the character that Pesci plays in “Goodfellas”). I talked to Tommy and he gave me a lot of insight into how Joe was back then. He was a clown, always joking around and making everybody laugh. I also worked hand in hand with my acting coach and mentor, Jocelyn Jones, and she really, really helped walk my way through finding out who this guy was in this time period….what was going on in society during this time period…and coming up with my own guy based on that. It was really great. Jocelyn was phenomenal in helping to walk me through that.

MS: Did Clint give you a lot of lee-way with your performance?
JR: Yes, that was the great thing about it. I really didn’t know what to expect. I felt that I had won the right to do this role. I had done all of the prep work. The hours and hours of research, prep work and rehearsal. I knew I had won this right but then again, when I showed up on set, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know if he would let me play it as I wanted to play it. And he did. More so, really. He really let me take the role and make it my own. Even the day when I said “Funny, how?” I just threw that in there. We were rehearsing the scene and I thought how great it would be if Clint started laughing because we came up with that. We were shooting the master shot for the scene and I said “Funny how?” and the script supervisor said “I don’t see where that is in the script.” The camera operator told him “you’re not gonna find it in the script.” We all look at Clint and he smiles and says, “that’s genius!” He let us know we could run with our performances. If he felt something wasn’t right he would tell us. It was a great collaboration on set. It was nice to have that freedom.

Film Review “Jersey Boys”

Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza and Christopher Walken
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 14 mins
Warner Brothers

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ah, the 1950s. If you were Italian and lived in New Jersey you had two photos framed and hung on your wall: Pope Pius XII and Frank Sinatra. No telling who had more power…the Pontiff or the Chairman of the Board. We are introduced to a little band called the Variety Trio. Fronted by Tommy Devito (Piazza), his brother Nick and their friend, Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), the boys do all right but are searching for just the right sound. Enter their friend Frankie Castelluccio, whose amazing voice fits the sound Tommy is looking for. When a friend of Frankie’s by the name of Joe Pesci (yes, THAT one, played well by Joseph Russo) introduces the group to his songwriting friend Bob Gaudio (Eric Berghen) things begin to take off. Now a foursome, the group adopt the name the Four Seasons and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll!

Directed by Clint Eastwood, “Jersey Boys” is a behind-the-scenes story of epic proportions. Even long-time fans of the group will be surprised to learn the obstacles that needed to be overcome for these four young men to reach the top of the charts. Eastwood has wisely kept the basic premise of the stage show, allowing each member of the group to act as their own “Greek chorus,” breaking the fourth wall and narrating the story as it progresses.

Young, who won a Tony award for his portrayal of Valli in the original Broadway production, hits all the right notes here, both dramatically and musically. He is strongly backed up by Lomenda and Berghen, who both appeared in touring productions of the show, and Piazza, whose bad boy Tommy has a good heart…and a bad problem with money. Walken has fun as Gyp Decarlo, the local mobster whose encouragement and support of Frankie and the boys extends to the underworld.

Though Eastwood keeps the story flowing, the film does have an occasional slow spot. I remember checking my watch 2 hours in and commenting to my wife “wow…he’s got at least four hits they haven’t mentioned yet.” However, as if Clint sensed my fidgeting, the film wrapped up nicely 15 minutes later.


Related Content

Lou Volpe talks about working with Clint Eastwood on “Jersey Boys”

Photo Credit: Marnie Volpe

Born in Italy, Lou Volpe moved to America with his family when he was still a young boy. He made his feature film debut in 1987 and has worked frequently in both film and television since then. An accomplished filmmaker in his own right, Volpe has written and directed two feature films: “Divorced White Male” and “Every Secret Thing.” This week he will be seen as Anthony Castelluccio, the father of singer Frankie Valli, in Clint Eastwood’s film version of the Tony-award winning Broadway hit “Jersey Boys.” While promoting the film Mr. Volpe took the time to talk with me about his role in the film, his work and sharing a joke with his director.

Mike Smith: How did you come to be cast in “Jersey Boys.”
Lou Volpe: I auditioned (laughs). Me and several other guys. A few weeks later my agent called me and told me I had the part.

MS: Wow! That’s an easy story!
LV: (laughs) It’s not usually like that. But when I go to audition I try to do the best that I can do and this time I did all right.

MS: Were you able to speak at all with Frankie Valli about his father? Maybe try to pick up some little quirks or qualities of his?
LV: No. Unfortunately Frankie wasn’t on set during the time I did my scenes. I did do my own research…I looked into some of Frankie’s biographies and found out the kind of man his father was…what he did for a living (he was a barber)…that kind of stuff.

MS: You’re also a filmmaker. How does Clint run his set in comparison to yourself or other directors you’ve worked for?
LV: Clint was great. He’s really a very nice guy and really easy to work with….work for. He pretty much lets you do your own thing. He may give you a few suggestions but mostly he lets you do your own thing. He’s very easy to work with. Most of the time he doesn’t even call “action.” He just says, “OK, go ahead.” We had fun. When I was on the set, because he knew I spoke Italian and he had, of course, done many films with Sergio Leone’, instead of calling “action” he would call “Actione’” in Italian. Of course then he’d crack up…then I’d crack up. He’s really a nice, funny guy.

MS: As I mentioned earlier, you’re also a filmmaker…you’ve written and directed a couple of feature films yourself. Do you have anything coming up?
LV: I’ve just written a pilot that is getting some interest. And I’ve just auditioned for a film…it’s the lead role…that I hope will come through

Theatre Review “Jersey Boys” Bob Carr Performing Arts Center – Orlando, FL

“Jersey Boys”
Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Orlando, FL
April 15 – 27, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

“Jersey Boys” premiered on Broadway back in 2005 and won a Tony for Best Musical the following year. I have seen many Broadway shows growing up and living in New York but I never did see “Jersey Boys”. Luckily living in Orlando, FL now I am still able to see Broadway quality shows at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. “Jersey Boys” is the latest show making its limited engagement during its national tour at this theatre.

I have always been a huge Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons fan and have seen them many times live over the years. I thought it was time to catch this show to see what all the fuss was about, especially being a huge fan of the music already. Well I didn’t just enjoy the play I absolutely loved it. I found myself moving my feet along with music and singing under my breath (sometimes louder)…and I wasn’t the only one.

Now obviously, I can’t compare the performances to the Broadway cast since I have never saw it but if I could I am sure that this National tour cast would really give them a very strong run. I was extremely impressed with Hayden Milanes in the role of Frankie Valli, that with an “I” not a “Y” because everyone knows “Y” is a bullshit letter. The guy has a voice of angel (sound familiar?) and really nailed this role. Nicholas Dromard was perfect as Tommy DeVito and really had the audience by the balls like woman type number 1 (or was it number 2?)

Quinn Vanantwerp was funny, charming and very charismatic. I really enjoyed his performance of Bob Gaudio. I am sure Bob himself would be impressed. Last but definitely not least Adam Zelakso playing Nick Massi was the quite one but delivered a surprising end performance and I am glad he didn’t start his own band. Adam will also be appearing in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of this play, though in a different role, which comes in this June in theaters (and I will be first in line for this movie). I also never knew that THE Joe Pecsi was involved with crew, you learn something new everyday.

Let’s get back to the music now. Oh the music…so many amazing tracks sung during this show. If you are a Frank Valli and the Four Seasons fan how can you not be screaming along from your seat to hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like A Man”, “Sherry”, “Earth Angel”, “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “My Eyes Adored You”, “Rag Doll” and “Bye Bye Baby”, which like always hits me very hard. Such beautiful music. Such wonderful talent. This is a show that is not to be missed.

“Jersey Boys” will continue at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre through April 27th, 2014 (click here for tickets) and see below for future dates from the National tour.

Orlando, FL
April 15 – 27, 2014

Knoxville, TN
April 29 – May 4, 2014

Cleveland, OH
May 6 – 18, 2014

Sioux Falls, SD
May 21 – 25, 2014

El Paso, TX
May 28 – June 1, 2014

Fort Worth, TX
June 3 – 15, 2014

Tucson, AZ
June 17 – 22, 2014

Costa Mesa, CA
June 24 – July 13, 2014

San Jose, CA
July 15 – 20, 2014

Tempe, AZ
July 22 – August 3, 2014

Los Angeles, CA
October 1 – 19, 2014

San Diego, CA
October 21 – 26, 2014

Sacramento, CA
November 5 – 22, 2014

Reno, NV
November 25 – 30, 2014

The Oak Ridge Boys’ Richard Sterban talks about new live album “Boys Night Out”

Photo Credit: Jarrett Gaza

Richard Sterban is best known as the bass singer for the country and gospel quartet The Oak Ridge Boys since 1972. He started off his career singing with the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Going 40+ years strong, the band is currently touring around 150 days a year and shows no signs of slowing down. On tax day, April 15th, the band is releasing their first live album “Boys Night Out”. So if you have any money left over, I would highly recommend checking it out. Media Mikes had the privilege to chat with Richard about the live album, singing with Elvis and non-stop touring.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about the new album “Boys Night Out” and why a live album now?
Richard Sterban: This is something that our fans have wanted for a long time. Our fans always tell us that they love our studio albums but that live and in person we are so much more exciting. So we decided that it was time to capture that excitement on a CD. It seemed like every time we were going to try and record a live album, we would get an opportunity to do a new studio album whether it would be a new country album, Christmas album or Gospel album. So we always put the live album on the backburner, so to speak. Last year, we just decided we were going to record some of our shows live. We ended up recording eleven live shows and between all of those we chose out what we thought were the best cuts that would describe a live Oak Ridge Boys show. I think it turned out really well.

MG: How much planning when into picking the playlist for this album?
RS: There were certain songs that we felt had to be included, “Elvira” for sure and “Thank God for Kids” was another. Then we listened to the input of Cleopatra Records, who we just recently signed with. It was a combination of their input and what we wanted. We just put our heads together and came up with fourteen songs. I feel that it is really a great example of a boys night out with The Oak Ridge Boys.

MG: What was it like starting your career singing with Elvis? How do you top something like that?
RS: I have had a pretty excited life and career. For two years prior to joining The Oak Ridge Boys, I sang with JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet and I had a chance to sing with the King of Rock and Roll, which was really exciting. I got a call one day that the bass singer from The Oak Ridge Boys” was leaving and they wanted me to take the job. So I had to make a very important decision. I loved singing with the King of Rock and Roll…lip-singing with Elvis but I joined the Oak Ridge Boys and I have gone on to bigger and better things with them.

MG: I know that you also have a book out that also covers your early years with Elvis and through your amazing career with The Oak Ridge Boys.
RS: Yes, I do have a book out called “From Elvis to Elvira”. It is my life story and is filled with tons of great stories. It is available on my personal site, or catch up with us at a show and I will have them with me to sell and sign if like.

MG: Over 40 years with The Oak Ridge Boys, what continues to drive you?
RS: I think it is several things but the most important is that even after 41 years we still enjoy doing what we do. We look forward every night to getting up on that stage and taking our music live to our audiences. We are still having fun doing this and I think that is the most important. We also love the creative process of going into the studio and creating new music. So that is what keeps us going.

MG: Why do you think that generations of fans are still following you guys today?
RS: We pride ourselves on that. There is no question that we have gotten older and our core audience has aged along with us. But we are really considered family entertainment. There is something for every family at our shows whether you are a grandpa/grandma or a young kid. We encourage parents to bring their kids to their show as well. Our shows are definitely fun for the whole family.

MG: Which of your songs really gets you going the most when you are on stage?
RS: Naturally, I would have a tendency to levitate to “Elvira”. That is our biggest song and everyone has to hear “Elvira” at our shows. We have tons of other really great songs. I think one of the most meaningful songs that we ever recorded is “Thank God for Kids”. We do that song every night and we look out in the audience and see parents hugging their kids and people holding hands. It is pretty emotional. Now at our age, when William Lee Golden sings this song at the end he says “Thank God for Grandkids too!” [laughs] We are all grandparents now and I hate to admit this but last week I became a great grandfather as well, so that is definitely something amazing.

MG: Can you reflect on music today in the age of Facebook, Twitter and other social media?
RS: We try to pay attention to that. Duane Allen is on Facebook all day and keeps the fans posted there. Joe Bonsall, our drummer, is on Twitter all day. There is an advantage to being in a group since you can spread the responsibility out. I am not a big social media guy. I am on Twitter though. I spend my time doing the old fashion thing, like we are doing right now. I talk to

Photo Credit: David Bean

newspapers and radio stations all the time. So that is the function that I serve. In this day and age, we have a lot of ways to get the news out and we are really embracing it.

MG: You guys never seem to rest; tell us about your non-stop touring this year?
RS: We average about 150 days a year on the road. You can tell by looking at our schedule this year going to be no exception, in fact probably more. But it is what we love doing. We look forward to each night and sharing our music with our fans and that is why we are still going strong. Touring is a big thing for us and we love getting out there and doing it. Health is probably the key to our future. I think as long as the four of us continue to enjoy good health then we are going to keep getting out there and touring.

Interview with Los Lonely Boys’ Jojo Garza

Jojo Garza is one of the three Garza brothers that makes up the band Los Lonely Boys. Jojo role in the band is the bassist. The band is currently touring the world for their latest album “Rockpango”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Jojo about the bands music and also the new album.

Mike Gencarelli:  What’s the most challenging part of working with your brothers?
Jojo Garza: The fact that they are my brothers. I know it sounds funny but that’s the truth. The way we grew up was that family sticks together and that no one can help you better than family.

MG: Can you give us some back ground on your most recent album, “Rockpango”?
JG: A lot of inspiration comes from what we experience in everyday life. We try to write so that the music has an angle everyone can relate to. A lot of the new songs have that idea behind them however they also have some new musical inspiration as well. We tried to thrown in some funk grooves and also pay tribute to some our idols like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Musically we challenged ourselves on this album. The string quartet was something completely new as well. We really wanted people to hear some new sounds. The album is a whole new vibe.

MG: What do you like most about performing live?
JG: Being able to talk with people and letting them know we are still here. We are getting ready to go to Japan in a few days. We are going to keep spreading the word for as long as we can.

MG: Do you have a favorite song that you like to perform live?
JG: I just love jamming and playing any song really. I don’t think I could pick just one.

MG: Have you ever played the “Guitar Hero: World Tour” version of your song “Heaven”?
JG: Yes I did and I sucked at it. (Laughs) We actually did alright. It’s crazy that song did what it did. That song allowed us to show people we could play music. Playing that song on the game was not like playing it live on stage that’s for sure!

MG: Tell us what else you got planned for 2012?
JG: We are ready to play wherever. We want to bring the people some good times. We are working on new material as we speak and we can’t wait for people to hear it. We have a handful of songs that I think are very creative. We sing our hearts out in every song no matter what it is.