From the Streets Of Italy To The Streets of Jersey:
An Interview with Lou Volpe
By Shirley Craig
For Italian-born Lou Volpe, becoming a successful actor has been a life-long dream. He took the first step towards fulfilling that dream at the young age of six when he landed his first role in a school production of Dinner With Friends. Now, Lou can be seen playing Frankie Vali's father in the much anticipated Clint Eastwood movie, Jersey Boys, the film adaptation of the highly successful Broadway musical, that chronicles the 1960's singing phenomenon, The Four Seasons. Jersey Boys opens next week at theaters everywhere. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to Lou, and found out that he is not just a successful actor but an independent filmmaker as well.
You must have been very excited to get cast in Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys, particularly since you are Italian. I understand you were born in Italy.
Yeah, I was born in Italy and then I came here as a kid. I actually moved to Massachusetts first for a few years and then moved here to LA.
How old were you when you first came to America?
I just turned 18.
Oh, you weren’t really a kid. I thought you meant like 7 or 8.
Yeah, in my mind, I was a kid, you know? Hadn’t matured yet. [Laughs]
So you really grew up in Italy—whereabouts in Italy?
In a small town called Caserta. It’s between Naples and Rome. It’s on the west coast of Italy.
Were you acting in Italy, or did you get the acting bug when you got here?
No, I always kind of wanted to and I did some plays when I was a kid in Italy. I belonged to a theatre touring company, and so I did some summer stuff with them. I was the classic class clown when I was a kid. So it was just always in me to act and then after I did some things in Italy, I got the bug, but I held off. I had a family. So I was only able to do little things here and there in Massachusetts and little bit of things in New York, but then I really started working harder at it when I moved here to California.
I read that you basically gave up your acting aspirations in order to support your family.
Yes. I got married at 19, I came here at 18, but on a trip back to Italy I fell in love, got married and we both came back here.
And you put your career on hold to raise a family?
Then after your kids were grown, you said, “Now it's my time.”
Exactly. I did things here and there wherever I could, nothing that would take me out of work for too long or away from my kids. So I had to just basically do whatever I could once in a while, a TV show here, a play there, that kind of stuff. Eventually, I got divorced and I was raising my kids on my own, so it was even harder to do any kind of acting work. I had to make sure I was home and I had a job constantly. So I couldn’t do anything until my kids basically grew up; then they left home, so now I’m totally back.
So you were, what, in your late 30s, early 40s before you really started concentrating on a career?
Right, exactly, yes.
Was it hard to get an agent and get your career going then?
I mean, it’s as hard as it is for any actor. Obviously as you get older and you haven’t done a whole lot of work from when you were a kid, then it is a little more difficult, but I take it as it comes. If I get a job, I get a job. If I don’t, I don’t. I really love acting and I write and I've made a couple of feature films of my own, so I mean, I love doing it but I don’t stress out when I don’t get a job. I audition and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
So tell me about Jersey Boys. How did you get that job? Did you audition for a casting director first?
Yes, I did. Actually, I only auditioned for the casting director, Geoffrey Miclat. There were several other actors auditioning for the same role and then a couple months later, I got a call from my agent telling me that I had the part.
And you didn’t have to do like 22 callbacks?
No, I did not. Usually with a movie, you do less callbacks than a TV show but generally you do at least two or three, but Clint claims he doesn’t do that. He lets the casting directors do their job and then he selects whomever he wants from the videotape recordings.
So your first day on the set is the first time you met Clint Eastwood?
And how was that?
Oh, are you kidding? He’s a legend. He’s an icon but at the same time, he’s such a nice, down-to-earth kind of guy. He basically saw me and said, “Hi Lou,” as if he already knew me and he was nice, just very nice. I felt like I knew him since I used to watch his movies and TV shows when I was kid. Basically that’s the first thing I told him: “You’re the reason I became a cowboy” because I love riding horses, so we kind of laughed and talked about that.
That’s great. Did he give you a lot of direction or is he the kind of director who just says, “Okay, you know your lines. Give me your best shot”?
No, he’s very relaxed. He basically knows your lines, so he kind of wants you to do your thing. Actually the first scene we shot was a courthouse and in that scene, I wasn’t supposed to have any lines. I asked him if he wanted me to do anything, to improvise or whatever and he said, “Yeah, yeah, improvise. Say whatever you want, whatever comes to you, maybe in Italian.” So I basically did some of that and when I saw the film, he'd kept that stuff in. Then for the other scenes he just let us improvise and ad lib. It was great. He was very relaxed. He just says, “Okay, go ahead.” He doesn’t even say “action” most of the times. Whenever I was on the set, he was kidding around and instead of saying “action,” he would say it in Italian “azione,” then he’d crack up and I’d crack up. He’s just a really nice, funny kind of guy, you know?
Did you have to do a lot of takes or was he a one take director?
He let us do a couple takes just for the fun of it, just different angles or he just wanted to have different things but nothing when he actually said, “No, I don’t like what you’re doing there, so let’s do another one differently.” He just told the cameramen to go and we would go.
In the movie you play Frankie’s dad. Were you involved in any of the big musical numbers?
No, I was mostly at home with Frankie, but we did do one big number. I don’t really want to spoil it, but it’s towards the end of the movie and pretty much everybody was involved and it’s dancing in the streets and stuff. It was great. That was really, really fun.
Did the singers just sing to the playback track?
No, they actually sang. In that scene, they sang in the streets basically. They sang as they recorded. They had one room set up for recording all the singing stuff. There’s a lot of stuff they did in the studios, the scenes where they sang in clubs or whatever, but this particular scene, they actually sang in the street as we all danced around them.
Was a lot of the film shot in a studio, or was an equal part done on location?
Yeah, we shot some of the stuff around L.A. and some of the stuff in the studio but even in the studio, part of it was outside. We shot on one of Warner Bros. lots. You know they have those streets all set up to look like the ‘60s and that’s where we shot that scene.
Did you speak Italian in the movie much?
Yes, I did. That was part of the thing, like the court scene, I basically scream and yell in Italian. And some of the other scenes, I spoke Italian and English, mixed it up a bit.
Frankie Valli was born in the States, right?
Yes, he was born in New Jersey.
But his parents were both Italian?
I believe that they were either both born in Italy or one of them, his Mother I think, was born in Italy. They spoke Italian.
So do you have scenes with Frankie Valli where you are speaking Italian with him?
I did, and he responded with a couple of words in Italian in some of the scenes and then some of the scenes he didn’t. He would just speak in English.
The guy that plays Frankie Valli, John Lloyd Young, he got a Tony award for his part in the actual musical. He is great. He’s incredible. I mean, there’s no way I know anybody else that can sing like that. He was really able to recreate Frankie Vali.
The film opens June 20, correct?
Yes, it does. It’s premiering here at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 19th, and then everywhere on June 20th.
Anything else you want to add about your experience in shooting Jersey Boys?
I just had a great time and everybody was really, really nice. All the actors I worked with were great, very nice guys. And the crew, Clint uses the same people or pretty much the same people as part of his crew on all of his films. They’re all really well-organized and very professional at the same time. And very relaxed, kind of like Clint. They make sure you do your job and it all comes out well, and you have a good time at the same time.
Right. So tell me about Every Secret Thing, your independent film.
Every Secret Thing, was initially a play that I wrote many years ago called Tall and Powerful and over the years, people kept asking me, “When are you going to make a movie out of it?” I thought about it, but I couldn’t find a way to make it into a movie. Finally one day it kind of hit me, and I wrote the script and then went from there. It’s a story about a young guy, who’s a paraplegic, and the reason he became a paraplegic was because of a car accident but he doesn't know why. His parents, his mother, had lied about it and didn’t tell him the truth until his father, who had disappeared after the accident, comes back and he finds out the truth and so on. I played Victor, who is the lead’s best buddy.
And Victor was partially deaf, correct?
Yes he was. I talked to a lot of people to make sure that I had a bit of a speech impediment like a partially deaf person. I did my homework before I started writing the script.
You wrote and directed it?
Yep, I wrote, directed and produced it, the whole thing.
And you raised the money yourself?
Oh yeah. [Laugh] Yes, I did.
Can I ask you what the budget was?
The budget, let’s say, was less than $30,000. I did all the work myself basically and only hired what I couldn’t do.
And you shot it in 14 days. Did you shoot it all digitally?
Yes, on a digital camera. I hired a DP who had her own equipment because obviously besides wanting a good DP, I wanted somebody who had their own equipment, so I didn’t have to rent it. So yeah, it was all digital and then I edited it after we were done It took me a few months to edit it because I couldn’t concentrate on doing it all the time but at the same time, I wanted it to come out as good as possible.
Did you enter it into the festival circuit or is it available on video? How can our readers get to see Every Secret Thing?
Well, it went film festivals but I actually never got theatrical distribution. There were a couple of deals that people wanted to do with me, but it was just, they weren’t right. So I just chose not to do it. I didn’t want to give it away. I actually ended up putting it up on YouTube.
Did you always want to write and direct, as well as act?
I started writing many, many years ago. I wrote mostly stage plays at the beginning. Right now, acting is what I really want, but sometimes making a film yourself, it’s probably the best way to get the kind of roles that you want. I don’t get the kind of roles that Robert De Niro or Al Pacino would get because obviously I don’t have the same kind of clout that they have. So for me to do the kind of role that I would want to do; sometimes you have to write it yourself. So that’s why I wanted to make films as well, but I love the process. I had a great time making the films and I would definitely do it again if I could afford it, particularly if somebody else puts up the money for it!
Where did you shoot it?
Around L.A., Hawthorne, Malibu, different places, but all around here in Southern California.
Was this your only film, or have you done others?
I did another film, yeah. Before Every Secret Thing, I did DWM: Divorced White Male. That was sort of semi-autobiographical. After I got divorced I decided to turn my experiences and story into a movie. It was just something that I felt I had to do and, at the time, there weren’t a whole lot of places like Match.com. It was all done in newspapers, where you put your personal ads and my experiences with that were kind of funny, so I thought it would make a good romantic comedy.
What’s up for you next?
Well, right now there is one possible project. It’s a movie, but I can’t really say anything about it because it’s not final. But I like the role that I went for, so we’re trying to work things out.
Good luck. I hope you get it. So outside of writing, acting and directing, what are your other passions, Lou?
Riding horses. I love doing that.
You own horses; you have a ranch, right?
Yes, I do, but it’s a very small ranch. I wouldn’t even call it a ranch. If you call it a ranch, you expect to see the Ponderosa. [Laughs] Mine is just one acre and a couple of barns and a couple of horses. That’s all. It’s just enough for me and my wife, and that’s it.
It sounds like a really nice life.
Thanks for taking the time to talk, it was a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to seeing you in The Jersey Boys.
Thanks so much.
Photo credit: Lou with his horse, Ripply, courtesy of Marnie Volpe