Every actor wants to enter a project on a level playing field with his co-stars. But Vincent Piazza, the Maspeth native who plays Lucky Luciano on "Boardwalk Empire," found himself at a distinct disadvantage when he signed on for "Jersey Boys."
The other three actors playing members of the Four Seasons in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Broadway smash, which opens in theaters Friday, had all played their parts on the stage. John Lloyd Young originated the role of Frankie Valli. Erich Bergen played Bob Gaudio in Vegas and Michael Lomenda played Nick Massi in San Francisco.
Only Piazza, cast here as lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, was a newbie to this musical world. He says he initially thought they had made a mistake.
"I was definitely intimidated initially at the thought of this, especially when they said, 'Yeah, you're the guy,' and I hadn't done the musical and the other three had," Piazza says. "The first thing I said to my agent was, 'I think they got the wrong guy.' And I said, 'Can you call them and let them know that I don't sing, dance or play the guitar? At least I haven't been trained that way.'
"And I said, 'How much time do we have'? And she goes, '30-45 days when they start shooting.' I said, 'Please, call them.' So she called and she said, 'No, no, they said you're in very good hands, just do the work.' And I said, 'OK.'"
The actor then worked with the "Jersey Boys" team set up to train actors for the stage, ranging from the choreographers to the voice and guitar coaches, to prepare for Tommy. Piazza says his newbie status ultimately benefited his portrayal.
"The psychological warfare with myself was what may be perceived as weaknesses or disadvantages I had to accept as advantages for the character, because he was different than the other guys. He had a foot in the other door more so than the other guys," Piazza says, referring to DeVito's troubles with the mob and other personal issues.
"So I was trying to hold onto that and allow myself a certain amount of forgiveness if I did miss a step, if I couldn't hold a note, anything like that, that's ok because there's these other interests the character may have."
DeVito and the rest of the original Four Seasons stand out because they were ultimately just regular guys from the Garden State and stayed that way even amid enormous success, Piazza says.
"To see it, to tear back the curtain and see these four unlikely guys transcend Jersey and become a nationwide and worldwide sensation with their music, here we are 50 years later and we still know the music, it speaks to, for me at least, that this kind of story is so fantastic because it's true. And the timelessness of it is the age-old rags to riches thing and then it's coupled with the perils of fame, how out-of-their-depth they may have been once they did get out of the neighborhood."