Renée Marino, The Jersey Girl

By David Helton | Photographs by Jesse Caylor + David Burgoyne

Renée Marino is Mary Delgado in Clint Eastwood's 'Jersey Boys'

From Broadway to the big screen, Renée Marino is Mary Delgado in Clint Eastwood’s recent screen adaptation of the hit musical, ‘Jersey Boys.’

Renée Marino, quite simply, has one of the warmest souls I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. This woman doesn’t need a spotlight because she is lit from within. From her petite frame she exudes a big, quiet confidence that empowers you. She embraces you the way an old friend would. It’s a rare thing in Hollywood to meet someone with so much backbone and substance. Kindness overflows from her. She is every inch a super star, but within moments of meeting her, it’s like you’ve known her for years. She’s the quintessential (Jersey) girl next door; the girlfriend you can gab with about anything. She’s conquered Broadway and now stars in her first major film – and she’s just getting started.

Can we start off by saying that this is crazy?! The first movie you ever do is with Clint Eastwood – and it’s one of the biggest Broadway shows ever. How does that even happen?! Honestly?! It feels so surreal and I can only describe it as something that is beyond my wildest dreams. Broadway was one of my biggest goals as a girl growing up but I always wanted to do TV and film as well. But for it to happen this way, and with a show that is so special to me, is just unreal. Being from New Jersey, you know, I feel like I really understand these people. This is a historical piece about this woman (Mary Delgado) who really lived and these guys who really went through all of this drama to become a singing group. I just feel like this is extra special for me. And seriously, to have Clint Eastwood be the one to give me my first big role… it’s all just so surreal. 

How did your family react?! It was actually pretty great because when I got the call from my agent I was at home in New Jersey – in the house I grew up in – with my mom, dad and grandmother. We were getting ready to leave for my older brother’s wedding. So I get the call and my agent is like, ‘You’re Mary Delgado in the movie! Clint Eastwood loved you!’ And I just screamed and ran out of the bedroom crying. I was like, ‘I’m going to be in the movie!’ My grandmother who is 92 – who thinks she’s like 22 – was like, ‘I have been praying for this for you for years!’ My mom is crying. My dad is crying. We’re all crying. My mom was like, ‘Calm down, you’re going to pass out!’ and I was like, ‘ I don’t care!’ It was so special. However, it was a full wedding weekend for my brother “his weekend” so I said, ‘We’re not telling my brother until after the wedding is done.’ I didn’t want to intrude on his special time. That following Monday, we told my brother and sister-in-law and they were like, “What?! Why didn’t you say something?!’ <laughs> They didn’t know what to say. They were over the moon. I got to share all this excitement with them as opposed to being in my apartment all by myself in New York City jumping around like a maniac and calling people. The stars aligned.

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How did you prepare for the role? I had played Mary on Broadway in Jersey Boys for years. The character is the same but it’s so different from being on the stage. Thankfully, a lot of the script is very similar. The writers of the stage show also wrote the script, so there was a lot of continuity. A lot of it is identical but there are some added bonuses for the film. That was great for me because I didn’t have to start something from scratch. This is a role that I’ve lived. I know her very well. I had that comfort. But everyone was like, ‘It’s film so you can’t be theatrical’ and I was like, ‘You know what, Renée, relax. Clint Eastwood cast you in this role – you just need to trust in that.’ Honestly, I’ve evolved so much. I have grown so much – not just as an actress, but as a person in learning to trust. It was like jumping off a cliff. I had never been on a film set. I had taken some classes, but that’s it. I just had to say to myself, ‘I can do this.’ It was all a lesson in trust and I am really proud of myself because it was one of those moments where I just needed to let it all go – and I did. That first day filming I had to hold back tears.

The funeral scene was really powerful. Yeah. Totally. That scene was added for the movie, it’s not in the musical. It took a lot out of me because we were actually filming in a cemetery. I wasn‘t speaking, there is no dialogue, it was just pure acting. It was very dramatic.

You are such a happy person – how do you suddenly go, ‘Ok, I am at a funeral. Let’s do this.’ You have to literally put yourself in those shoes. This is my daughter who died so of course I would be heartbroken at my daughter’s funeral. What a lot of people don’t know is that Mary had another daughter from her pervious marriage. Francine was the baby. For them to have a daughter who died from a drug overdose, they were just such a mess. No parent wants to lose a child. That is probably one of the worst things that can happen in a person’s life. I just had to really imagine how that would feel. Since I am so close to my family, it hurts to even imagine it.

Shooting took just 8 weeks? Yes, only 8 weeks. It was insane. It’s a lot of ‘hurry-up-and-wait.’ Clint does things in like one or two takes. He is not the standard. He gets the job done and gets the best out of you and then we move on.

Let’s talk about Clint Eastwood for a minute. Ok. I could talk about him all day. <laughs> Seriously, I get there for my first day on set and, more than anything, I value genuine people. When you are working with good people, well, that just makes the whole experience that much better. No matter how talented someone is or how good looking, if you’re not a good person inside, then I am just not impressed. Clint Eastwood works with the same team of people. They were like a family. I walked in and they were like, ‘Welcome, Renée, how are you?!’ and I felt right at home instantly. I felt like I was with my own family. Ten minutes into this, I was like, ‘Hey Mr. Eastwood.’ And he was like, ‘Hi Doll, I heard you were on set yesterday.’ And it’s true, I took it upon myself to come by and meet everyone and check it out on my own before I was going to be in front of the camera. It was great. So we’re talking that first day and he was so complimentary. He said, ‘I knew you were perfect for this role when I saw you in the show.’ The audition for him was the icing on the cake. Like I said, I had to hold back tears that whole first day. You forget that you are talking to Clint Eastwood. He is so laid back and chill that I had to remind myself, ‘Renée, you are talking to a legend.’ One day the guys were rehearsing on set and Clint and I just start dancing together. Even though it was no big deal and it all felt very natural at the time, later I was like, ‘Sweet Jesus, I was dancing with Clint Eastwood!’

How is he as a director? He follows the old style of directing. When he was in westerns, they didn’t yell ‘cut’ or ‘rolling’ because it would spook the horses. So on his sets, he just calmly says, ‘Whenever you’re ready.’ So there is no pressure or craziness. He’s just like, ‘When you’re ready, Doll, just do what you gotta do.’ And that’s what makes for a good product. As an actor you are just doing your thing. There is not that unneeded stress on you. He’ll even film the rehearsals. He knows that a lot of the best stuff happens when you are not trying. Like everything in life <laughs> When no one is watching I am like, ‘OMG, I’m amazing!’ Then everyone looks at me and I fall on my face <laughs> It’s awesome because he lets us improv so much. I loved to have that freedom, especially in my first film. I would be like, ‘Hey, Clint, can I try this.’ And he’s like, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ There is no ego with Clint Eastwood. We all felt respected. I think because he’s an actor first and foremost, he knows how to direct for actors – he gives everyone the respect they need. Even hair and makeup. Whatever they needed, he said, ‘Take the time you need.’

Speaking of which, they really aged you in that film. You were an old lady by the end of that movie. I know! Tell me about it. It was amazing. The makeup and hair team were the best. We’re all friends now actually. I did another event for the Oscar after-party and they all did my hair and makeup for that event. I love them. Really, I loved everyone I worked with. I made a lot of friends through this experience and I’m so grateful. Clint cast everyone so perfectly. We became like a family on set.

You get recognized now. Is that weird? Yes! I am not used to it. It’s so funny when Mike and I were out to dinner last night, I had just finished eating this great big plate of pasta and this guy comes up and says, ‘Oh, wow! You were fantastic.’ And at first I was like, ‘That was nothing! You should see me eat at home!’ <laughs> and then I remember, ‘Oh, wait, the movie is out! He’s talking about the movie.’ <laughs> I thought I was getting a compliment on my ability to put away the pasta.

How did you get started on this journey? Innocently enough really. When I was like eight years old my friends were doing community theatre and I wanted to do what they were doing. Betsy’s doing it, I wanna do it. And I caught the bug. I loved to sing and dance. Later, I was singing in the shower and my mom was like, ‘Hey, you have a good voice’ and I was like, ‘Really? Thanks!’ and then the next thing you know I started taking voice lessons and stuff.

Did you have a stage mom? Oh, no. Not at all. And that is what I am most thankful about. I am so close to my family and my grandmother who lived with us my whole life. They somehow found the best balance of being parents and friends, if you know what I mean? Always supporting me and never pushing me. In high school, I would be going to rehearsals every day from 3pm to 7pm and then dance classes til 10pm. My mom would be all, ‘Just take a day off.’ She is the opposite of a pushy stage mom. Anytime I complained, she’d say, ‘Relax. Take a day if you need it.’ Of course, I was like, ‘No, I have to do this.’ It let me know that this is what I wanted to do and not something I was being pushed into.

Are you like your mother? I want to be like my mother. I adore her and respect her so much on every level. I definitely get my dance talent from my parents. <laughs> They can cut a rug. They were all into disco back in the day. <laughs> Dancing has always felt very natural to me. People ask, ‘When was that one moment that you realized this is what you wanted to do?’ and you know it’s funny – I can’t remember one singular moment. It just always felt like this is who I am.

You live full time in LA and now you are on your way back to NJ to get married? <smiles ear to ear> Yesss. I’m so excited.

Do you guys want to have a big family? You know, Mike and I just want to enjoy our lives for now and be newlyweds for a bit. We have plenty of time for kids. We have Frankie <their English bulldog>. That’s enough for now. <laughs> I mean, I have this dog and I act like a crazy person. He goes missing for a second and I hyperventilate. I worry he jumped out the window or something. Which is crazy. I think ‘What the hell am I gonna do with a kid?’ To think that I am going to be a mother someday makes me a nervous wreck. I can’t even imagine.

I can’t even babysit. I am like, ‘My job is to keep you alive until your parents get back. That’s all I can do.’ Me too! The minute the kids leave, I am like, ‘Ok, I need a cocktail. That was a lot of work.’ <laughs>

Do you have a large family? Oh, yeah. Mike and I have big families and we grew up together. We lived a mile apart. His family and my family have known one another for years. His sister Amy and I went to dance school together. His mother saw me in my childhood performances. She still remembers when I played Annie when I was 12 years old. <laughs> It’s so weird how similar our families are. I think that makes the relationship stronger when you have family support. Absolutely. Again, I have to have that support from good people. It means the world to me.

I think this is why a lot of gay relationships have a tough time, they sometimes lack that true family support. Oh, yes. I am appreciative of the support Mike and I have. When things are hard, they help us get back to a good place. Everyone needs that.

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Marriage is hard anyway. Yeah, it is. It’s also a choice. And I know it’s a choice. I ask myself sometimes, ‘Do I wanna work through this with you or do I wanna just choke you out right now?’ <laughs> We have our parents to look to. My parents have been together for, like, 36 years and his parents have also been together for many, many years. Anytime we’re complaining, we look at what they’ve done and we’re like, ‘We can do this, too.’

Is it good that he’s not in show business? I just feel so blessed that we are not in the same field but we are in fields that compliment one another. We’re both very connected to the gay community. He’s been doing the Broadway Bears event for, like, 3 years now and he loves it. All my gay boys, once they meet him, they just forget all about me and they’re all, ‘Mike!’ <laughs> Ok, whatever. <eye roll> But it’s a beautiful thing. I love that he’s not an actor or in the business. He’s just very supportive and he loves the theatre. His grandmother loved the theatre and she instilled that in him. He’s not ‘in it’ with me though and I like that. I can really rely on him and he keeps me grounded.

It makes for a lot of conflict with two people both in the same industry. Yeah, I can’t imagine. I annoy myself sometimes. <laughs> He would put me over the edge.

What do you think is next for you? Music? Film? Stage? Music is my heart.

You need a pop record. Yes! I agree! I’ve wanted to do it for years. I’ve written so many songs and I feel like this might be the right time. Maybe put the theatre aside for a little bit and try the music thing more seriously. I’m in LA so now I have space to breathe – start focusing on my music again.

Are you a writer? Oh my God, David. I am obsessed with my journal! You don’t understand. I love to write and it’s a huge outlet. Mike is impressed with how much I write, but for me, no matter what I am going through – special times, like now – I have to document it. During the film, I journaled the whole time I was on set. Everything. I want to remember it. If I am going through something, I want to write it down. Sometimes there are even tears on the page. Writing allows me to get it out. Release it.

So what do you like to read? I am all about meditation and that kind of stuff. Mike thinks it’s silly but I gravitated to it. I am reading, ‘Return to Love’ by Marianne Williamson. I love all her books. I am into, ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘A New Earth’ and all of those types of books that are more forward thinking. I connect with that. I feel like it teaches me something. It leads me to think about things in new ways.

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What advice do you have for younger people who aspire to be in a movie or act in a Broadway musical? I can tell you this: you never know. It can happen. I never dreamed that this could happen, but I just worked hard and here I am. But in life, it’s about love. These books I read, it’s all about love. I think that’s why I am drawn to them. You should love what you do and love the people you surround yourself with. We’re all made from the same stuff in the universe so we’re all connected. I don’t think there are any coincidences in life. I think there are beautiful things in life that are just meant to be — and aligned that way intentionally.

Are you religious? I’m spiritual. You know I went to Catholic school. I was raised Catholic. I am getting married in a Catholic church and it’s been interesting because we’re getting married by a priest. Consequently, there is all of this pre-marital counseling we have to do. The priest who is marrying us is amazing and I am fully upfront and direct with him on things. I tell him that I just don’t want to be in a religion that is fear-based. If he is going to marry us then he needs to understand my views. He needs to know that I am for gay marriage and a lot of my closest friends are gay, so let’s just be honest. I think all of that needs to be understood upfront. Mike is like, ‘Renée, you’re gonna get us kicked out!’ <laughs> But it’s important to me for Mike to know who I am. I said, ‘Father, I have to be honest with you,’ you know because they want to know how you are going to incorporate religion into your family, ‘I pray, I believe in a higher power, but I don’t believe in the thought process that if you do this – you’re going to hell.’ I mean, I don’t want to believe that if I don’t go to church on Sunday, I’m going to hell. Meanwhile somebody murders someone and they ask for forgiveness and they’re just forgiven. He listened to me. He was open. He said, ‘I totally understand. That’s why we are having problems in the Catholic church right now. Look out into the church on a Sunday. There are no new faces there.’ You know, people don’t want to feel like they have a finger pointed at them all the time. But I am so happy to be getting married in a Catholic church because to me it’s about everyone being an individual. I was raised Catholic. But I have my own beliefs. I mix them both together in my own way that works for me. All of my gay friends are going to be there and we’re all going to celebrate together. I still have my own beliefs regardless of what someone tells me to believe.

I guess in a modern world, you are exposed to all sorts of things and you think, ‘You know, that could be true. Who am I to judge?’ Yeah. When I meditate, I think it helps me start off in a really positive way. You know when you hear something and you think, ‘this just rings really true for me.’ Even on the film, I felt so blessed and so happy to have this opportunity. I mean, I have worked with Clint Eastwood, and I’ve gotten to do what I love on film. I have lived out a dream. Even if I never do anything else, I am so blessed. I could not stop crying the day the film opened. I was getting so much love from so many people. My Aunt Jackie – she will be so happy that I am mentioning her <laughs> – she’s like the president of my fan club. She got Jersey Boys shirts made in glitter. Twenty-four of them went to the movie and they were posting pictures. I lost it. I was at a cafe eating and crying at the same time. You know, it was so much more about everyone else – this experience – you know, because they have been with me and supporting me my whole life and now they get to share this with me. It’s the best part of the whole thing. I feel like my heart is bursting with love. They are so excited for me and so proud of me and that means so much.

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It’s just painful and I think it stunts your growth as a gay person, to sit in a church – especially as a child – and hear that you are going to burn in hell. You think, ‘What’s the point of this?’ It messes you up. Listen, I am not even a gay person and it messed me up. That’s not cool. You don’t scare kids and tell them they are going to hell. Who you are, gay, straight, whatever, that’s not cool. It hurts. It’s not cool to spend you whole life apologizing for stuff that you can’t control. I am proud to be a part of the gay community as a straight person.

We can’t do it without straight people. Absolutely. Listen, I grew up on Broadway. I know a lot of gay people <laughs> I am not a political person whatsoever – but they have always had my support. I wasn’t brought up to think any differently. I mean, even my father, who is this alpha guy brought up in the Bronx loves my gay friends. He has no issues with it. None.

I think it’s because he loves you. Yes. He trusts my judgment. But let’s be honest, America, we have much bigger problems to worry about. Let’s worry about the people who hate us or who want to kill us. Maybe if we would allow people to have marriage there would be more love and less hate. I don’t get it. Who cares who people love? I am more concerned about who hates us. Some people are just so focused on the wrong shit. It’s only love, people. Get over it.

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White pants & black top are one of a kind Marisa Kenson pieces.  Marisa loves working with and dressing Renée. She says, “Her spirit and positive energy light up the room. She is truly beautiful inside and out.” Marisa’s collection (which also includes one-of-a-kind fashion jewelry, accessories and her exclusive toxic-free mineral makeup) is available exclusively on the Mkcollab website: www.mkcollab.com

Hair & Makeup by David T. Burgoyne.
David is based in LA and works both as a stylist and photographer.  

To learn more about David and his work, visit him online at DavidTBurgoyne.com

He is also a regular contributor to Left Magazine.

4 Comments on Renée Marino, The Jersey Girl

  1. Janet Bryant // August 5, 2014 at 8:02 am // Reply

    GREAT ARTICLE!! So interesting. The right questions were asked. You were truly blessed to have the opportunity to do this interview with such a beautiful person inside and out. If you continue on this road with Left, magical things will happen.

  2. Maria Cacioppo // August 5, 2014 at 8:39 am // Reply

    The interview with Renee was wonderful. I felt like she was right next to me answering the questions and I could see her smile and answering the questions. I knew Renee for 4 years in high school as her Italian teachers and she was as genuine as she is in her interview . I wish her Luck and success ,

  3. Gary Neuberg // August 5, 2014 at 9:41 am // Reply

    Great article David! I’m very impressed with your interviewing style. You’re right. She’s a superstar. I knew that the minute I met her. She’s headed straight to the top. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl. Congrats, Renée!

  4. Jacqueline Keever // August 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm // Reply

    I couldn’t be prouder of my niece !! She is beautiful inside and out . Renee is simply the best and I wish her the very best !

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