For my final interview of 2013, I have been lucky enough to persuade Jon Boydon to answer a few questions. Many of you will have seen Jon in action at the Prince Edward Theatre playing Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys. It has taken me a while to write this up as he answered everything so thoroughly, but I am delighted with his answers and very much hope you’ll agree that it’s a wonderful insight into his career.
1. You are currently playing Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys. Please tell us a little more about your character.
Tommy DeVito is one of the founding four members of the pop group The Four Seasons which launched Frankie Valli’s career and spawned countless pop hits. Tommy is principally a guitarist and a singer, but really his input to the band was the drive that he had. He wasn’t the best singer, ideas man or musician but he had the guts and the drive in the early days to secure them gigs. Once he saw he had the potential in the other three to get somewhere, he was determined to get there and he was responsible for those early bookings and getting money – a lot of which he kept for himself – and getting this band off of the starting blocks and out into the public eye. He’s a bit of a bad boy, he has a gambling problem once the money starts coming in, he’s mixed up in the mob. He’s a very mixed up character and great fun to play.
2. Were you a fan of Frankie Valli (and the Four Seasons) before you joined the cast?
I knew quite a few Frankie Valli/Four Seasons songs before I joined the show. I was brought up on my Dad’s music really – my Mum and Dad had great taste in music, Dad particularly has a great music collection – so I was aware of quite a lot of the songs. I wouldn’t necessarily know who they were by. I think a lot of people come to see the show armed with a handful in their minds and as the show progresses they think “oh, they did that one.”
Their music was covered by a variety of British artists and some of those British artists had bigger hits in the UK than The Four Seasons did with their songs. I would say about a third of them I knew, a third of them I knew but not by them and there were a third that were new to me – songs I had never heard before such as ‘Ragdoll’ and ‘Dawn’ which just weren’t on my radar – I’m not that old!
3. Are there any other roles within Jersey Boys you would like to tackle?
I joined the show nearly four years ago and came in to the role of Tommy and I’ve done it ever since. If I was going to play another role in Jersey Boys, I think I’d probably like to try Nick. I think Nick’s a really interesting character, I’m certainly too old for Bob and I don’t have the voice for Frankie. Maybe in another ten years I’ll be looking at Gyp (laughs), but I do think Nick would be interesting to play. If I was to play Nick, I think I would always be secretly looking at Tommy thinking “Hmmm, I wish I was doing that!”
4. You have been in Jersey Boys for around four years. Have you noticed any changes within the audiences or the popularity of the production over the years?
Being in a show for four years is a new thing for me, two years has usually been my maximum. There’s something about Jersey Boys that’s kept me here and it’s interesting to see a show – it was two years old when I joined it, so very much still at the beginning of its hype and excitement – Year three was still surging forward in that, a lot of the original cast were still involved and it was a very exciting time.
The show has maintained an incredible following and we still have very, very busy houses, people that are coming to see it for the first time and then people who are coming to see it for the hundredth time, it’s a real mix of experiences for people. I can’t seem to see that it has changed at all really – there are always seasonal fluctuations in the size of the house in any show unless it is in its first six months when it is totally sold out, so (for example) any given Wednesday at the beginning of November could be pretty quiet on any show and that’s been true of Jersey Boys as well, but the weekend crowds we get in are still packed to the rafters, still loving it, still seeing it for the first time. The show itself is maintained with incredible precision by our British creative team that the show is still as fresh as the day I joined it.
5. You have played a multitude of roles as well as been in a number of concerts/bands. Do you have a favourite and why?
I’ve been a very lucky boy and played a lot of fantastic roles in theatre. I’ve almost been able to tick off my hit list. They are all special for different reasons, I don’t think I’ve ever really done anything that’s so similar to another one that I have to pick a favourite between two. Playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar was as legit musical theatre as I’ve ever been, even though it’s still a rock musical, so that was a great journey for me to go on, doing a totally through-composed musical playing such an incredibly heavy part and going on a very difficult emotional journey every night – it was incredibly rewarding.
We Will Rock You being the alternate Galileo was a fantastic acting journey for me actually, because I’m not typically suited to the role – I’m quite tall and I was probably a little bit too old on paper – but it was great to put my head inside Galileo’s mind and be this young kid with this information bursting out of him that he’s seemingly unable to control and of course to sing such amazing songs, at times in the presence of Queen and Ben Elton. And being a rockstar at the end of the show every night was just a dream come true.
Currently, Tommy is my favourite role, I think the fact that I’ve done it for four years is testament to that. It’s a funny thing when jobs like this come along at the right time, when you’re available for a start, you’re the right type, you’re the right skillset and the door opened as I was ready to walk through it, so I’m not done with Tommy yet and I continue to enjoy pushing the envelope within the constraints that we have here at Jersey Boys, you know, finding new things out. And the profile of the show is magnificent, it’s like being in a band sometimes when we’re out doing little roadshow things and it just is a real buzz every night being not even the frontman – being the ‘side-guy’ on the guitar but still the band leader, it’s a great little adventure every night.
If I was pushed to pick a favourite I would say Tommy but if I end up in something else in a few years time, I’m sure it’ll be whatever I’m doing at that time although I will always have fond memories of everything I’ve done at different stages of my career.
6. If you could play any role – from ANY show, which would you choose and why?
The one that got away, probably because I’m not a great dancer, was Rum-Tum-Tugger in Cats. I always thought I might like to play Rum-Tum-Tugger and it’s certainly not going to happen now. Currently in the West End there’s not much that’s suited to me that I’d regard as being better than where I am, but I went to see The Bodyguard and I did enjoy the part of the Bodyguard (Frank Farmer) and I thought ‘Oh I could play that’ and it was the first time for a little while where I have watched something and thought ‘I could do that’ (I can’t obviously get to the theatre much because I’m working) and I did think that would be a nice role.
I think I’m suitable for one of the Dads in Mamma Mia! But I don’t have a huge desire to rush along and do that whilst I’ve got Tommy DeVito to play with. I toyed with the idea that I might like to play Phantom but I think vocally I’m not quite right, I would have to put on a bit more of a legitimate theatre voice and that’s not who I am, but the kudos of a role as famous as that would be incredible to play. I guess Jean Valjean in a similar way would be something else. But right now? I think I was lucky enough to tick off Frank-N-Furter and Judas and Galileo and a Jersey Boy and there isn’t much left that leaves me hungry. But there are always new shows coming – new shows on Broadway that you hear of, new writing for London – and who knows what will come along that will have my name all over it and I’ll think “I’ve gotta do that job!”
7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
To have a career at all has been an incredible achievement or extended highlight. I didn’t go to drama school, I didn’t train as an actor, I didn’t train as a singer, I didn’t train as a musician, I’ve just taught myself everything along the way and to sustain a successful career for nearly 15 years just by sheer determination and hard work is something I am thankful for every day.
There are highs in any gig – singing Bohemian Rhapsody for Brian May on the opening night of my contract as Galileo was an incredible high with my family watching. Playing Hyde Park for Radio 2 Proms in the Park on my birthday doing Jersey Boys songs for 80,000 people was an incredible highlight. And sometimes it is just smaller things along the way – just having a kid at stage door come up to you and say “I want to be an actor when I’m older, would you sign my book” or “I bought your CD”. It sounds a little bit twee, but it’s a genuine thing that if you know that you’ve been to work and done your job – essentially all we’re doing is going to work and doing our job every day – but you’ve affected one person in an audience of 1500 and changed the course of their life for the better or inspired them to be creative, then that’s a little something you can take away with you without thousands of screaming fans or meeting famous people and that’s enough.
8. Are there any negative aspects to your job?
There aren’t many negative aspects to this job, it is a job, after all, that we love to do. We’re very lucky that we leave the house every day to go to work and know that we love what we do, but any job can be tedious at times or you can be tired or you can have personal problems or issues that you’re dealing with outside of work that you have to leave at the door and carry on regardless.
It’s a tough job in its energy, it’s a very focussed, extensive burst of energy at the end of the day when everybody else is switching off after finishing work and going out for an enjoyable time. You spend all day at home having your leisure time and then work very hard for a concentrated period in the evening. I think the biggest drawback is the impact it has on your social life, knowing that you’ll never have a weekend, a Saturday night date, time with your family – you know, anytime that everybody else is relaxing – Christmas time and things like that, they are always our busiest period. Anyone that works in the entertainment business or the leisure business or the restaurant business knows that Fridays, Saturdays, weekends, Christmas time, they’re always going to be your busiest time so eventually that does take its toll.However, it is a choice we have. We don’t have to do this job and you have to take the rough with the smooth. But in the main I love what I do, I love my job and I’m very thankful.
9. If you weren’t a performer, what do you think you would be doing instead?
If I wasn’t a performer I’m not really sure what I’d do, it’s changed over the years. When I first started out I was still young enough to just get another career, I imagined I might do something in advertising. Now, obviously, I’m older and it would be difficult to start out doing something from scratch, I’ve thought in terms of jobs I would do maybe in-between being a performer, such as a driving instructor or something similar.
I’m not really sure. I guess if I had to give up the most logical thing for me to do would be to retrain as a teacher and become a drama teacher with experience. At least then I would be keeping within the creative area but just passing on my knowledge to someone else.
10. Who or what are your influences?
I’m influenced by everything really, everything I see, people I see every day, any interaction with the outside world is going to inform your performance at some point or another. Characters you meet out and about on the street, on the bus, in a shop, people you work with, any of this can feed into characters you come up with, even if it’s just for fun.
I don’t particularly single out any one actor or musician that has influenced my life in such a great way, I like a lot of actors and I like a lot of musicians. I think I’ve learnt most from working with people, so anyone I’ve worked with has influenced my skill. Being on stage with someone night after night and feeding off their energy and bouncing off them and using the dialogue that you’re given to create a story is something that you learn – to watch the other person very closely and feed off their timing and their energy and give it back to them in the same way, so although it’s essentially the same performance every night, there are microscopic little differences and changes that you perceive that transform the way you respond.
So I would say that my role models, if you like, have been my family and teachers and a few pop stars and a few movie stars, but generally it’s just getting out there and doing the work and working with good people – it rubs off on you.
11. You have recorded an album – is this a reflection of your musical taste? Do you write your own music and are there any plans for another?
My album ‘Three-Four’ was a collection of some of my favourite songs. Also with the knowledge that my market-base was going to be primarily Jersey Boys fans initially so it was deliberately pitched in places at the ‘Doo-wop’, sixties sound, but these in a way are the songs I grew up with, listening to stuff that my Dad used to play, so I haven’t just gone through and deliberately picked songs that sounded a bit like Jersey Boys songs – they’re songs I’ve known since I could walk and talk.
There’s a little walk down the rock ‘n’ roll side of me, not very heavy rock but enough to fit in with the taste of the album and ‘Fallen Angel’ is one of my own compositions on there, which was ironically titled since there’s a fallen angel in Jersey boys. I wrote it when I was about 20, at university, and never really did anything with it, so in coming to do the album I decided I wanted to put it on there and do a full arrangement with the band, so it was really nice hearing a song that I’d only really ever done with an acoustic guitar and voice come to life with full orchestra, keys and drums etc.
It was quite an expensive process and I was doing it for myself, I wasn’t doing it to make money, but it did in fact cost quite a lot – I haven’t recouped the cost of doing it and I still have several boxes of CD’s that are, as yet, unsold (laughs) in the garage. But even saying this, I do plan to do another one next year, I think we’ll go about it in a slightly different way. The first one was, primarily for me, to spend a week in a recording studio and have some fun and lovingly doing it for the fans. I think the next one will be more directed at the fans ’cause I’ve fulfilled my ambition of recording an album with the last one. It will be funded differently, it’ll be marketed differently, it will be available differently. As to the content, I have had some good ideas and… watch this space!
12. Which three words would you choose to best describe yourself?
The impossible question of three words! (After a lot of thought) For today we shall go with optimistic, dedicated and stubborn.
13. What single item couldn’t you live without? (Family is a given):
The item I couldn’t live without would be a guitar.
14. Do you have any advice for budding actors or people wanting to break into theatre?
People do ask me advice at stage door or when I see them, or “Oh, my friends’ daughter is thinking of doing this…”. Advice is an odd thing to give because everybody’s journey is a little bit different. I, for example, didn’t go to college but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you don’t go to college but I can’t recommend that you do go to college ’cause I don’t know what the college will give you.
I think you have to be true with yourself, you have to be honest and ask yourself “Am I really good enough?” “Am I better than the thousands of other people out there that are going to be trying to get ahead in this very difficult industry where there are a very small amount of jobs for a very large amount of people?” And “Is it worth my time and money pursuing it if I’m just average?” That’s quite a hard thing to come to terms with especially if you come from a small town where you’re the greatest thing in every production and play and drama group. Suddenly you come to London and you realise you’re a small fish in a big pond so you’ve GOT to be honest with yourself about your likelihood of succeeding if you want to do it to make a career and a living out of it.
And then just be determined. Just be strong. You will get a hundred knock backs before you get a door opened and that’s all part of the business. There was some very good advice I heard online recently where there was a guy going to auditions worrying about getting a job and he suddenly realised that his job was going to auditions as much as doing the productions. So if you’re an actor, as soon as you walk into an audition room, that’s when your job has started – you’re performing to a very small number of people, and you have to not fret about whether you’ll get the job but just go in and do a good performance, a good audition. That’s your job, that’s what you do and eventually you’ll get some financial reward for it.
I would also say to look after your body. It’s very easy when you’re 19 and bendy to throw yourself around or to not take as many safety precautions for yourself. Just because you’re keen and want to work hard and get on, you HAVE to look after your body. You have to look after your knees and your back and your shoulders and all these things that when you suddenly turn 30, start to say ‘hang on a minute, we’ve had enough, you’re working us too hard.’ But enjoy it. I love what I do, I make a lot of friends and it’s very lucky to be able to do that every day and still get paid for it and say I am a professional performer.
15. Has anything embarrassing ever happened to you whilst performing? Can you tell us about them?
I’ve never really had any terribly embarrassing things happen. In any long run you’re going to have moments where you forget your lines, forget your dance moves, a prop breaks or a chair (or something) isn’t on stage when it should be, and whilst at the time they seem to be quite horrendous to you and maybe minutes and minutes are passing by, generally nobody notices. Even people that have seen the show before, you say “Did you notice such and such happened?” and they say “Oh no, I had no idea,” so the more you work you learn to deal with it – with experience comes confidence and if I’ve stuffed my lines up I just take a beat, take a breath and carry on. The worst thing you can do, and it happens when you’re young and inexperienced, is you get into a flap and you break out in a sweat and then you start shaking and you’re constantly thinking about everything and you clam up basically. The best thing you can do is just relax into it and almost have a sort of ‘well, I don’t care, I can’t take it back’ attitude and just get on with the show.
Aside from general things that everybody goes through in their career, I’ve not had any huge moments where I’ll be writing my memoirs and must include the funny story about x,y and z, whatever so no juicy bits I can give you there, sorry!
Once again, a massive thank you to Jon for answering everything so thoroughly, I have really enjoyed compiling this post. I am very much looking forward to seeing Jersey Boys at the end of January – I will of course write a future post containing my thoughts about it. In the meantime, for those who have seen Jon in action then I hope you have enjoyed this, and for those who haven’t – why ever not? Get yourself some tickets to this toe tapping production and see what the fuss is all about.
Signing off for the final time in 2013, hope to see you all in 2014.