We’re excited to present JBB Special Correspondent Gary Neuberg’s JBB Exclusive Interview with Renée Marino, who stars as “Mary Delgado” in the upcoming JERSEY BOYS movie!
by Gary Neuberg, JBB Special Correspondent
Gary Neuberg: Hi Renée! You and I first met in Las Vegas when you were newly hired at Jersey Boys. How did you begin your journey with this incredible show and why is it so very special to you?
Renée Marino: Hi Gary. I am so excited to be doing this interview and thank you for asking me to be a part of the Jersey Boys Blog! My journey with “Jersey Boys” began in 2008 when I was cast as the universal swing for three companies of the show – the National Tour, the Chicago company and the Las Vegas company. For six months, I traveled the country performing all of the female roles in the show whenever they needed covering. The three girls in “Jersey Boys” play 52 different roles combined and, even though it’s the same show, each company has slight differences. So I stayed organized with separate index cards for each cast as well as many recordings of the various vocal parts for each company. It was really great to be a part of each of those companies and creating relationships with the amazing members of the cast, crew and fans like you. After about six months, the actress playing Mary Delgado on tour was leaving and I was cast in the role. I remember being in Denver-my first city on the tour as Mary, and I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to run around focusing on all the other roles because I just had one! As exciting as it was to cover all of the roles, it was even more wonderful to play one role where I could settle in and make it my own.
“Jersey Boys” is extremely near and dear to my heart because I am a true Italian Jersey girl – born and raised in Linden, just miles from where this story takes place. In fact, Frankie Valli used to perform in my town of Linden and Rahway Prison (referenced in the show as the “Rahway Academy of the Arts”) is just about five minutes from my house! When my mother first saw the show she said, “Renée, I used to bowl at the Four Seasons Bowling Alley!,” making even more clear to me how much of the story I was connected with. One statement from the show that always makes me smile because of the truth it holds for the Marinos as well is, “Family is everything!”
GN: Tell us about your professional life before Jersey Boys. What was that magical moment when you knew you wanted to be a performer? How did you decide to go about pursuing a career in show business?
RM: Ever since I was a little girl, I had a love of performing. I started out as a dancer at five years old, then began doing community theater and taking private voice lessons, and from that point on I was hooked. I have to say that I don’t remember one EXACT moment where I said, “This is it. I’m going to be a performer!” For me, it was just who I was and what I loved. It wasn’t a CHOICE, it’s what came naturally to me. When I attended Linden High School, I was a part of every musical production as well as the “Linden High School Musical Theater Touring Troupe” which traveled all over New Jersey and other states performing at various functions and places like the Governor’s Mansion. This was in addition to me attending dance classes during the week after “play practice” and on Saturdays. I attended the Paper Mill Playhouse Summer Theater Conservatory my sophomore and junior years after receiving three Rising Star Award nominations for my roles as Miss Adelaide, Polly Baker and Lola. When it came time for me to decide my major for college, many people said not to do theater because it’s such an unstable career and I said, “I’m going to major in musical theater because performing is my one true love and I’M GOING FOR IT!”
I attended Wagner College in Staten Island, NY where I received excellent training and, the day after my college graduation, I was on a plane to Biloxi, Mississippi to perform in my first professional gig as the lead singer in a casino show called “Heatwave.” It was definitely the beginning of a new life for me. One of the most special moments that stand out in my mind was when I received my first paycheck and I called my mom right away. I said, “Do you see why I do this? I just got paid to do my hobby and the thing I’ve done for free my whole life!” I was on billboards all along the highway and I remember just feeling so cool! I even wrote and recorded my very first song in Biloxi which began my love of writing music. I was so happy to be singing and dancing six nights a week in addition to gambling on the five cent machines every chance I got! Apparently I thought I wasn’t gambling much since it was only five cents, until I realized I was MAX betting each time. Whoops!
After this first paying gig, I moved back to New Jersey with my family and was a substitute teacher at my former high school while singing with upscale wedding bands in New York City on the weekends. Then that spring I was cast as a swing in the 25th anniversary tour of “Cats.” We traveled all over North America for a year and I covered nine different roles. During that time, I collaborated with a fellow musician on the tour and made my first demo. After that job I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do! My goal was to get that all-important Equity card so, after turning down quite a few non-Equity jobs to do so, I was cast in the world premiere of Disney’s “High School Musical” at Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars. This led to the launch of the first national tour of the show which I was a part of for nine months.
After I left the tour, I went into a recording studio to record a five-song demo that I created with my friend and producer L.A.W. The demo is appropriately titled “Jersey Girl” and after a month back in NYC, I was cast in “Jersey Boys!”
GN: What other shows have you been involved with since leaving the Jersey Boys company?
RM: One of my biggest goals as a young girl was to perform on Broadway so after touring as Mary Delgado for a year, I decided that I needed to take a risk and leave the show so that I could reach that goal. After attending a callback for “Oklahoma” at Arena Stage in Washington DC, Paul Hardt (the casting director) called me into his office and asked, “Do you sing soprano?” and I answered “Yes” assuming that this was in reference to “Oklahoma” and he said, “…because we need you to cover a Shark Girl in West Side Story on Broadway!” In complete shock, I responded with, “I think I just peed my pants!” Haha
I had auditioned for “West Side Story” months prior and made it to the end and Paul explained that they wanted me in the show at some point, but I was still on tour at that time. Well this was the time, and long story short, I began rehearsals the next day and after the third day they needed me to go on. It was a Wednesday matinee and I rehearsed in a dance studio with the associate choreographer that morning. That afternoon (after never being on stage besides the audition and only rehearsing in a dance studio), I MADE MY BROADWAY DEBUT! I took a deep breath, looked up to the heavens and said, “Here we go!” as I made my entrance. It went very smoothly and as I bowed that first time at the Palace Theatre, the tears welled up in my eyes as I realized I reached a childhood dream! I was a part of the “West Side Story” revival cast for the final eight months of the show performing all of the Shark Girl ensemble roles, a Jet Girl role and then finally taking over the role of Rosalia. Our original Rosalia left to do another show and Arthur Laurents asked me to take over the role. It was quite a dream come true!
During the last two months of “West Side Story”, I was auditioning for other shows and was cast in the original Broadway musical “Wonderland” which began two months after WSS closed. I was once again cast as a swing covering nine roles. The musical lasted only a month, but I was lucky enough to have performed five of the nine roles in that time.
After “Wonderland,” I enjoyed a lot of other creative outlets such as dancing in “Broadway Bares” and singing at different events around NYC such as Marty Thomas’ Divas Live (where I was a guest diva) and also at the LGBT Community Center for “Broadway Sings for Pride”. In addition, I was taking part in a set of workshops, “Superfly” and “Becoming Chaplin” (which ultimately became the Broadway musical “Chaplin”) and I was asked to be in the original cast. Unfortunately “Chaplin” closed after six months, but the universe works in such mysterious ways, because around that same time, the Mary Delgado on Broadway was going on maternity leave and I was asked to cover the role. I was ecstatic and so unbelievably grateful to again be a part of the “Jersey Boys” family…a family that I treasure deeply!
GN: I found a great music video of you on YouTube which must have been so fascinating to do and have creative control to boot! Tell us a little about that process from conception to realization.
RM: OK, as my girlfriends in both “Chaplin” and “Jersey Boys” can attest after listening to me talk about his talent constantly in the dressing room, I am a HUGE Bruno Mars fan and I think he is an INCREDIBLE artist! From his voice to his stage presence to his comedy (which was evident on Saturday Night Live), I am a true FAN! One day I was listening to his song “When I Was Your Man” and I found myself singing along but changing the words to make it the opposite point of view which is how “When You Were My Man” was born. I was so excited about singing this song that I went into a studio to record it and got the idea that it would be so much fun to create a music video for it. Then Bruno could see it one day and realize that he wants to sing with me! ? So my roommate and I began brainstorming the premise of the video, found locations and then I got a team of great friends together and we created it just like that. It was a blast and I’m really proud that I didn’t just talk about it, but actually did it!
GN: Outside of Bruno Mars, what artist(s) influenced your performance style? Is there anyone in particular you would be just thrilled to work with?
RM: I have been and continue to be motivated by so many great artists. I grew up with my family listening to all the oldies groups from the 50’s and 60’s like Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Temptations, Tavares, the Ronettes, The Shirelles, and I am a BIG fan of those oldies groups and that sound. I can sing those songs all day long and often do!
I also love the softer vocal qualities of Connie Francis and Karen Carpenter, the funk of Teena Marie, the R & B sound of Mary J. Blige and love to play with those sides of my own voice from being inspired by these musicians.
If I could work with one person in particular, it would be Kristin Chenoweth who is such a talented artist. She is not only well-rounded having worked successfully as a stage and a TV/film performer, but I’ve met her and she is a sweet and lovely person. It would be a very “petite” performance with the two of us on stage together!
GN: The Jersey Boys movie directed by Clint Eastwood is on the brink of being released nationwide and this is your first professional film. How did you become involved in the project and what was it like to be directed by a Hollywood legend?
RM: Well, I was performing in the show on Broadway last spring, and one Sunday matinee I was backstage in the middle of the show and someone said, “Clint Eastwood is here” and as I stepped forward to stand in front of the microphone for “My Boyfriends Back”, I saw him sitting in the audience right in my sight line! I thought, “Wow, I’m singing My Boyfriends Back to Clint Eastwood!” It was pretty amazing that he got to see me play the role of Mary that day and a few weeks later I had an audition to be an Angel in the film.
As I was in the audition room chatting with the casting director about how much he loved the show, I said, “I have to be honest with you. I was really hoping to come in and read for Mary Delgado (as they were looking for a Mary for the film) and he looked at me and said, “I was just thinking the same thing!” I was thrilled to hear that response and after I did my Angel audition, I went in the hallway to look over the scenes for Mary. He asked if I wanted to come back another day to read for Mary and I said “Nope. I’ll do it today.” I went back in the room, read the scenes and left there that day so thankful that I just had the opportunity to audition for the role. Then a few weeks later, I was home in Linden at my parents’ house and we were all about to leave for the weekend for my older brother’s wedding. I saw that I had a voice message, checked it and it was my agent saying, “Renée, I talked to the people over at “Jersey Boys,” Give me a call.” My heart dropped at the sound of her monotone voice and I sat in my room and called her back. It took a while for her to pick up, but when she did she was on speakerphone with my other agents, screaming, “YOU”RE MARY DELGADO IN THE MOVIE!!! CLINT EASTWOOD LOVED YOU!” I jumped out of my chair and screamed at the top of my lungs while my agents screamed on the other end! I ran out of the room and my mother said, “What happened?” and I said crying with happiness, “I’m going to be in a movie!” She, my father and my 91- year old grandmother all began screaming and crying and my gram said, “I’ve been praying for this for you for years!” It was so very special that I received the news while I was in the home that I grew up in with my beautiful family before we left for my brother’s wedding! I told my brother and sister-in-law that following Monday after their amazing weekend was complete.
Working on the film was truly magical. I was doing something brand new and the whole experience was a lesson in trust. When I got transported to set that first day, I sat in the shuttle in my beautiful “pizza scene” dress and again had a moment like when I had my Broadway debut where I looked up and said, “Here we go!” From the second I walked on set, I had to hold back the tears, because it was so surreal. Clint Eastwood is one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever met and when talking with him, I would forget that he is a legend because he’s just so down-to-earth. His whole team was just as warm and it’s inspiring to see how he chooses to surround himself with great people. As a director, he allows his actors pure freedom and for this being my first film, I appreciated that greatly. There is no “ego” with Clint and his directing is so collaborative. Some of my favorite moments were the times he kept the camera rolling, and we just improvised until were heard “Stop!” We laughed and joked around so much on set and the atmosphere was so comfortable. On my last day filming, we were shooting a scene at the dinner table where we were eating Eggplant Parmigiana. I cheered with joy telling everyone, “Eggplant Parm is my favorite!” As we were filming, Clint leaned over to me and said, “Wow Renée, you’re really chowing down on that eggplant! I responded with, “I told you it was my favorite!”
I truly could not be more grateful and HONORED to have been a part of this film with such gracious people and with a story that I am so very connected to. I hope that everyone enjoys the movie as much as I did filming it and that I make all those involved in the “Jersey Boys legacy” proud!
GN: Now that the movie has wrapped, what’s in the works for Renée Marino?
RM: Currently I am in Los Angeles for pilot season with my new fiancé and our dog. It’s my first time out here auditioning for pilots, so I am soaking it all in. I’m taking classes and treating this all like a new adventure as if I’m back in school learning from square one! I also did some post-production for the film, took new headshots and I am meditating on a daily basis and working to not focus so much on the past or present and simply appreciate the present moment!
Favorite actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
Favorite singer: Bruno Mars for the boys, Adele for the girls.
Pre-show ritual: Putting lavender essential oil on. Also, I just love a good dance party in the dressing room before a show!
Post-show ritual: A nice spritz of body spray or perfume!
Songs you belt out in the shower when no one is listening: “The Star Spangled Banner” and “I Can’t Let Go” – Jennifer Hudson
Top song on your iPod this week: “Treasure” – Bruno Mars (of course!)
Favorite place to eat in the Theater District: Scarlatto on W. 47th!
Your guilty pleasure: Oh there are so many! Lots and lots of chocolate, croissants, Belgian waffles and French fries! Oh, and as my fiancé will tell you – “Sex and the City” episodes in the afternoons on the E channel! When they’re on, he can’t talk to me because I’m just not listening!
GN: You’re such a girl. Thanks for spending some time with your fans, Renée and all of us here in JerseyBoysLand wish you continued success in your career. We’re looking forward to seeing some great photos of you at the JB movie premiere. Blow us a kiss from the Red Carpet!
RM: It’s a deal. Thanks again Gary and I hope everyone enjoys the movie. After all, the fans are the ones who have a huge part in making the film possible!
By the way, I have just revamped my website with lots of fun new stuff, so be sure to check it out: www.reneemarino.com