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Weekly Q&A: ‘Jersey Boys’ star Erich Bergen on leaving Las Vegas and how Clint Eastwood made him a better actor

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Erich Bergen hits the silver screen this week in Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Jersey Boys.

Every one of the actors currently playing principal characters in Jersey Boys at Paris Las Vegas auditioned for roles in the upcoming Clint Eastwood film adaptation of the popular musical. So did most of the former cast members of the Strip show, which opened at Palazzo in May 2008.

But only one actor who performed in Las Vegas landed a role: the multitalented and telegenic Erich Bergen, who portrayed Bob Gaudio in the Vegas cast from the show’s opening through September 2009. Bergen reprises that role in the film, which opens June 20.

Bergen, you might recall, was unceremoniously dismissed from the Jersey Boys cast by the show’s producers in 2009, and his final performance with the cast was not in the production itself, but as a featured guest on an episode of America’s Got Talent that year. He spoke to the Weekly about his path from the stage to the screen in this musical based on the Four Seasons.

What was it like to audition for a movie role that you’d played so many times onstage? When I got the audition for the film, I got a call at 6 or 5 in the afternoon. There was this audition that just came in, we need to see you at 9 in the morning. There was a concern that I would not have time to memorize the lines. I said, “Read me the first line of the audition scenes, the two scenes I need to know.” He read the first line to me, and I read back to him the entire scene. So, if that gives you any idea …

What set you apart among the other actors who played Gaudio onstage? I don’t know if anything set me apart, as far as anything that I did. But truthfully, Clint wanted to use people from the show. So he went around to all of the various companies to see people, including Las Vegas. When he didn’t find what he was looking for in the character of Bob Gaudio, he called Bob himself and asked, “Who should it be?” And Bob said it was me. I don’t know if that happened before they auditioned me or after. I hadn’t talked to Bob since I was let go from the Vegas company.

You used the phrase “let go” as the reason you left Jersey Boys, which I haven’t heard you use before when talking about why you left. You know, I have never tried to imply that I was anything other than let go. It certainly wasn’t my decision. But it was … to be honest with you, I was never told by the producers what happened. The first time I spoke to the producers in Las Vegas since I left the show was Monday night [June 9] in New York City at the premiere, but they had nothing to do with the movie.

You have never seemed a retaliatory type of person, but was there a hint of retribution in landing this role? It was an interesting thing, for sure. I think a lot of people have brought up to me, “This must feel like revenge, huh? Like, ‘Screw you,’ to them.” But I have got to tell you, that has never popped into my head. This has been too much of a positive, incredible experience that anything other than, “Holy sh*t! Oh my God!” hasn’t popped into my head, and that is an honest answer.

What is it like to work with Clint Eastwood? When I walked in there, like any actor, I was petrified. I have to now please the director. What Clint did immediately was instill confidence in me so that I didn’t need him at every second. He was so into what our first instincts were as actors and wanted to capture that without talking about it too much. He didn’t want to tell us what to do, but he wanted to see what we did and for him to work his movie magic around that … He said to me, “The reason I hired you was because you are right for the job, not because I was going to teach you to be right for the job.” … He’s made me a better actor because he’s made me trust myself.

Where do you go from here? (Laughs) It’s all downhill from here. I don’t know how you get better than Jersey Boys and Clint Eastwood and all of that. I start a new TV show in the fall, and I am having to move to New York City to start production on Madam Secretary, which is a part of the fall schedule on CBS. And my second album comes out [this month]. … So, that’s where I am, literally, next. I’d like to do something where I don’t sing in a movie. Maybe something where I just, I don’t know, act. I’ll juggle. I’ll do anything but sing.

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