Renée Marino has toured the country in various shows and settled down on Broadway before making her film debut in Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys (released June 20), though it wasn’t the first time Marino has played Frankie Valli’s wife Mary Delgado. She first played the role of Mary in the 2009 national tour and followed that with a summer stint on Broadway. Since the release of the film, Marino has been preparing for her August wedding to Michael Lopez-Calleja. After that, this Jersey girl is heading back to LA to pursue more film roles and is “taking it one day at a time.”
Cliché: Was theater always your first choice or did you want to do something different?
Renée Marino: Well, the first thing I started out with, when I was five years old, was as a dancer. From there, it just kind of developed on. I started doing community theater in my town, and after I started doing that, I just caught the bug. I loved it. From then on, that was it. I was a part of theater, and I never looked back.
Your stage journey has taken you from tours to Broadway, so how has the adventure been for you?
It’s been great. For me, it was nothing but determination and perseverance. I always feel blessed and—I’ve said this many times—when you are getting paid to do what you love, it’s like not working at all. This career is no joke. There is a lot of rejection, and there are a lot of ups and downs. One minute you could be working at the top of your game in a Broadway show, and the next day, the show closes. That’s what’s so hard about this career, but for me, it was something that I knew I loved and was going to go for it. I feel like once you accept the fact that this is how it is, then I think you are okay. That’s been my experience. I continued to work hard and kept dreaming and kept training. I’ve enjoyed all of it.
What’s it like touring on shows compared to performing on Broadway?
I’ve done all different sorts of tours. The first tour I did, Cats, was no joke. After I did that tour, I felt like I could accomplish anything because that tour was a bus and truck tour. We literally could be in a city for a night, do the show, hop on the bus, be on the bus for 12 hours, go to another city, and it’s all for a show that is very physically and emotionally demanding. It’s a lot to ask your body. That was great though. It was awesome. We toured all over North America, and we were in Mexico and Canada, so it was such a great first experience in touring. Then the other tours I did, like Disney’s High School Musical and Jersey Boys, were amazing. For me, it almost felt like I was on a paid vacation because I was getting to do what I love and saw different cities. That is the biggest difference between a tour and a Broadway show. With a Broadway show, it’s very different. When you are on tour, those people become your family. You are not only performing with them, but you are living with each other, you are going out together, you are all in the same place. When you do a show on Broadway, of course at the theater, it’s amazing, and you do become a family. But it is a little bit different because a lot of times, people already live in New York City, so they don’t go out as much, and you go to your own apartment after the show. There is always a joke when you are on tour that you are in the tour bubble. Being on tour is like being in your own little world.
You were in various Jersey Boys, right?
Yes. My first was in 2008. I originally—for six months—was what they call the universal swing. That means I cover all the girls’ parts in three different companies of the show. They would fly me wherever I needed to go. I would fly to Vegas for the Vegas company or Chicago, so that was really exciting because I was doing everything. And then, I got moved up to Mary Delgado on the first national tour in 2009. I did that for a year, and then I did Broadway last summer.
And then from there you took the role to film.
That is where Clint Eastwood first saw me. I then later went in to audition for the film and got the call a few weeks after that. It was really great that Clint got to see me play the role, like not just audition, but actually in action. That was really great.
How was it adapting the character from the stage for the film?
Well, the character of Mary is the same. They didn’t change her because this is a real woman. This was really Frankie Valli’s first wife. The character is the same, and translating it from stage to film was more about just starting fresh for me, treating it as if it were the same story but taking myself out of my stage habits. When you are on stage, things are very set. You know you do this on this line and that on that line. It was letting that all go and just being in the moment with the other characters in the scene and allowing her to flourish in this new world. That was really it. I feel like there was a little more freedom because it’s a whole new atmosphere when you are doing it on film.
What about working with some of the old cast?
It was a mix, and it was really great. John Lloyd Young, the Frankie Valli, and I did the roles together last summer on Broadway for six months, so that was really great. We had already established that connection. Erich Bergen, who played Bob Gaudio, is a good friend of mine. We did the show together in Las Vegas. The guy who played Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) was in the Toronto company, so he and I never did the show together, but he was in the company. The guy who played Norm Waxman, his name is Donnie Kehr, he was in the original Broadway cast of Jersey Boys. I never worked with him. Another friend of mine, he played Charlie Calello; he’s one of The Four Seasons that comes in later. He is also in the Broadway company. For Erich Bergen and I, we had so many moments when we couldn’t believe we got to do it together.
Have a favorite part of the show or maybe a scene you really love doing?
Honestly, I just love this character so much. I love Mary. I think if I had to pick a scene, I think the first scene where we meet and we’re at the pizza restaurant, and she’s spewing these lines at him when he’s trying to flirt with her. I think that’s such a funny scene to play. It’s comical; she’s sassy and gets to show her fiery and flirty side.
How was it working with Clint Eastwood?
It was so great. He’s the coolest guy. He is really a fantastic director. He doesn’t stand in the way of the actor’s creativity; he does quite the opposite. He allows you to do what you feel is right, and I believe that’s why his movies are so great. He was an actor first and foremost, so he knows what it’s like, and he welcomes ideas. He has more of a collaborative effort as a director as opposed to making it like a dictatorship. He truly allows it to be a warm atmosphere where if you have an instinct, he welcomes it. It was one of the best times of my life filming with him.
This was your film debut. Is this something you want to continue pursuing?
Yes, absolutely. After filming, I had that feeling that I didn’t have enough. Even now, with the film being out, there is a sense of sadness because I miss everybody. I’m used to being on stage, and on Broadway, it’s the opposite. Once you open a show, you do eight shows a week, so that’s a start of something. With film, once the film is out, everything is kind of done. I’m really excited to see what’s next. I’m out in LA now and will be pursuing more film and TV.
Is there something you would love to be a part of?
Honestly, I would love to do a film—this goes under musical film, because my character (Mary) doesn’t sing, and I am a singer—possibly about some past Broadway star or someone that had that singing and dancing and triple threat ability. I would love to do a biography of someone where I could do all of that.
Is there a Broadway show you have always wanted to be a part of?
There is a Broadway show coming up called On Your Feet, and it is the Gloria Estefan story, and I would love to be a part of that. First off, I love Gloria Estefan. I would love to play her in a Broadway show. When I did my first professional job, I was the lead singer in a casino down in Biloxi, MS. One of the big medleys we did was this big Gloria Estefan medley, and it was everybody’s favorite.
You are engaged, so how is it balancing that with work?
I’m so lucky. I’m with someone who is my best friend, besides being my love, and he is the most supportive person that I have ever met, especially being on this journey with me. When I was out in LA filming, he was there with me. He’s just by my side at all times, and if I feel upset about something, he’s right there. I’m lucky that he’s not in my business, but he shares my love of shows and films. He enjoys that, and at the same time, he owns his own company, so he understands the business side of things, so he helps me with that. We help each other stay balanced.
Renée Marino Interview “Jersey Girl” was originally published in the Aug/Sept 2014 issue of Cliché Magazine
Photographed by Jill Stokesberry