Vincent Piazza: beyond the boardwalk

Already shinning in TV’s Boardwalk Empire, the Italian-American actor moves to the big screen in Clint Eastwood’s Four Seasons musical, Jersey Boys. ‘I’ve never felt more at home’

Vincent Piazza (2nd from right): 'I grew up with many really marginalised personalities. You went to school with Italians, Puerto Ricans, Irish. The people I grew up with have been an inspiration'

Vincent Piazza (2nd from right): 'I grew up with many really marginalised personalities. You went to school with Italians, Puerto Ricans, Irish. The people I grew up with have been an inspiration'

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 00:00

You know how it is for actors. If your agent phones you up with news of an audition for a highwayman drama then, even if you’ve never sat on a horse in your life, you’ll say you can ride like Bob Champion. Of course, you can do an Armenian accent. Sail a yacht? No problem.

So, when Vincent Piazza, hitherto best known as Lucky Luciano in the TV series Boardwalk Empire, was cast as Tommy DeVito, one of the Four Seasons, in Clint Eastwood’s film of the hit musical Jersey Boys, he could have been forgiven for nodding along compliantly. It seems that Vincent has a bit more integrity.

“I had never sang or danced before for money,” he laughs. “I hadn’t really done that outside a Karaoke bar.”

His nervousness was increased when he learnt that the other principals had all appeared in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys. He began to feel that some sort of dreadful mistake had been made.

“I phoned up my agent,” he remembers. “I asked her to let them know I wasn’t really a singer or a dancer. Word came back that I would be in good hands. I felt that was reassuring. I then decided to work on those skills in the 45 or so days I had and make sure they were camera-ready.”

Piazza demonstrated a quite impressive amount of honesty on that occasion. More than a few actors would have taken a deep breath and ploughed forwards without revealing their concerns.

“Ha ha! Well, if it hadn’t involved a relationship with a great director and a film that Warner Brothers were investing millions in then I might have,” he says. “If it was some small thing I’d have said: ‘Oh who’s going to see this, anyway?’”

He needn’t have worried. His turn is the strongest in the film. As Jersey Boys tells it, Tommy DeVito was the rough diamond in the group headed by the immortal Frankie Valli. He consorted with hoodlums. He got the band in debt. He fought constantly with his colleagues. You couldn’t quite say that Piazza makes a lovable rogue of Mr DeVito – the character is too frightful for that – but he does manage to flesh him out in believable fashion. Of course, Piazza has some experience of DeVito’s milieu. As the film’s title suggests, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, all blue-collar Italian-Americans, grew up on the streets of New Jersey. Piazza was raised in a similar community on the other side of Manhattan.

“Across the river in Queens,” he says in a voice still flavoured with the boroughs. “The sweet smell of the subway emanating from the ground. Ha ha! I do recognise that world. I grew up with many really marginalised personalities. You went to school with Italians, Puerto Ricans, Irish. The people I grew up with have been an inspiration to me in the work that I have done.”