Actor Lou Volpe. Photo Credit: Marnie Volpe.

Actor Lou Volpe. Photo Credit: Marnie Volpe.

Some people are born entertainers. They take the stuff of life — an often random, inchoate mess of experience and emotion — and turn it into something beautiful: a song, a poem, a dance routine, or a dramatic play. Never feeling fully themselves unless they are making a friend laugh, an audience cry, or even striking an old man dumb with a falsetto that reminds him of all the good things he’s known in a life dominated by hardship and loss, natural performers use their struggles to make sense of things for the rest of us; things that often leave us caught in life’s tangled mess like a fly in a spider’s web. Such beacons of meaning shine forth serendipitously in the gray and confusing world in which we live.

And such is the predicament of wunderkind Frankie Valli and his three talented friends from New Jersey, who comprise the 1960s band The Four Seasons depicted in director Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the award-winning Broadway hit Jersey Boys. Now in his fifth decade of directing, the two-time Oscar-winner (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) has taken his trademark atmospherics and singular style of characterization to the streets of Newark, NJ, where four Italian-American teenagers look to escape their life of burglarizing dishwashers out the back of restaurants by finding their way in the entertainment industry. Though seemingly born to sing and churn out hit after hit, the members of The Four Seasons eventually discover that pursuing one’s dreams is hardly a seamless transition. The road to the top is a rocky one, and the basic duties of family as well as old neighborhood loyalties throw variables into the mix that add additional layers to the process of self-actualization.

Fortunately, there is more than one way to the top. A good illustration of this maxim is the career of Lou Volpe, the Italian-American actor, writer and director, who stars in a supporting role next to John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli) in Jersey Boys. Volpe plays Anthony Castelluccio, the father of Frankie and the bearer of his original namesake, before he changed his last name to “Valli” — thought by friends to be a smoother, catchier moniker for a performer to go by. And much like the hardworking, dedicated father whom he portrays in the film, Volpe put off pursuing a full-time acting career for three decades while he worked as an engineer to support his wife and five kids. But once his children were fully grown, he decided it was finally time to do what he loved.

Having only had the opportunity to act every now and then during his stint as a technician, Volpe entered the entertainment industry as a relative newcomer. Since then, he has appeared in big-screen productions like Fatal Beauty and Midnight Warrior as well as television series such as Community, Dexter, Alias and Boston Legal. Not one to pass up on a challenge, he has also written several stage plays and written and directed two movies of his own (romantic-comedy Divorced White Male and heart-render Every Secret Thing). Suffice it to say that this youthful soul’s resume is an impressive one, especially for someone who switched careers so late in the game, and one can only imagine what the future might hold for a exultant man full of passion and drive in making his lifelong dream come true.

The multi-talented Volpe — who at a quick glance bears a resemblance to Robert De Niro (perhaps, it’s the smile) — recently sat down with GALO to discuss working with the man (Eastwood) who got him into horseback riding, being a newly emigrated Italian teenager in the era of The Four Seasons, and finding one’s true calling after years of selflessly postponing it. Read on to find out what he had to say.

GALO: How did you get involved in Jersey Boys?

Lou Volpe: Basically, my agent submitted me, and I went to Warner Brothers. I auditioned when they called, and a month or so later, my agent called me and said I got the part.

GALO: I hear youre a fan of Clint Eastwood, and that his Westerns are the reason you got into horseback riding.

LV: [Laughs] I used to watch his movies when I was a kid, and I was a fan of cowboys, so, obviously, I became a fan of Clint Eastwood. I kind of always wanted to be a cowboy and ride horses, which is why 11 years ago I started riding before I was too old to get up on a horse [laughs]. I thought I should give it a try. And I told him as soon as we met, “Clint, you’re the reason I became a cowboy,” and he laughed, and we ended up just talking about writing and things like that.

GALO: Is he as stern and intimidating on set as some of the characters hes played? Does he act like the man with no name?”

LV: No, not at all! Those are really just characters he’s played. He’s a really, really nice guy — very personable, very approachable, very friendly. The first time I got on the set, without having met him before, he came up to me and said, “Lou!” — like he already knew me. He really makes you feel like you’re at home and among friends.

GALO: Sort of like a little dream come true, maybe?

LV: Yes, like a big dream come true; a great experience!

GALO: In many ways, Jersey Boys depicts the prototypical experience of Italian-Americans in the 50s and 60s. Frankie trains his voice during the day, while at night he does a burglary for the mob with lead guitarist Tommy DeVito — not to mention the fact that the band is helped along the way by a mobster played in the film by Christopher Walken. You emigrated to the U.S. from Italy in the 1970s, so Im guessing you grew up in the U.S. as an Italian-American teenager shortly after the time period shown in the movie?

LV: Yeah, that’s right. Although, it was more similar to Frankie Valli’s father, because he was the one who actually came from Italy and was working hard trying to succeed in a new place and provide for a family. Frankie Valli himself grew up in New Jersey, whereas I grew up partially in Italy. So it’s similar, but at the same time, I also wasn’t a singer like Frankie. I mean, the guy just had a great voice. And John Lloyd Young, who plays Frankie Valli in the movie, also has an absolutely amazing voice. He got a Tony award playing the same role in the Broadway production. So Frankie and I grew up in similar ways, but not in any way the same, since I wasn’t really interested in being a professional singer.

GALO: Even though you weren’t a singer, can you relate at all as an actor to Frankie’s struggle to get out of his traditional Italian home in New Jersey and make it big in the entertainment industry?

LV: In some ways, I would say I can. To be an actor in the industry has always been a passion for me, but it wasn’t like I wanted to get out of being Italian, because I love being Italian, and I can’t really be anything else [laughs]. I think for Frankie Valli it was important to get out of the neighborhood, but not necessarily get out of being Italian. He was a kid who started early, whereas I had to initially put acting off — and for a while, it was just something I loved to do, but [it wasn’t] a career. I had to have a steady, permanent job to support five kids and a family. It wasn’t like I could just start acting full-time and let my kids go.

GALO: It’s interesting that you made that decision, since a major problem the characters in the film encounter once The Four Seasons gets off the ground is the difficulty of raising a family while being constantly on the road and trying to maintain a successful music career. I heard that before formally beginning your acting career, you spent 20 or so years working as an engineer to help raise a family.

LV: Yeah, 30 years, actually. I had a family and five kids. Although, I did act sometimes while I was working that job, but only when I could, and I only took jobs that wouldn’t have taken away from my family and my permanent job as an engineer. I made it a point to do it that way.

GALO: That seems like a huge sacrifice. Are you glad you did it that way?

LV: Yeah, no, I wouldn’t change anything. I was very grateful to have a job and a family. I’m just not the starving actor type who would let his kids starve too, but neither was Frankie, really. He did the only thing he knew how to do well, and he made the decision to pursue it to the best of his ability — I’m sure with his family in mind, too. Of course, I’m sure he had some regrets about not being able to spend as much time with his family, but, in some ways, it was really a similar situation with me and my job. I worked really hard. I think all parents have regrets in these situations, where you spend a lot of time working to provide for the family. There are points when you wish you had worked a little less to spend a little more time with your family. I think that’s the case with every parent who works, no matter what the job.