Joseph Leo Bwarie, who graduated from Emerson College in 1999 with a BFA in acting, is a seasoned traveler. He grew up in Los Angeles, Calif., and has performed in over 30 cities, but it is safe to say he is a Jersey Boy at heart. In his interview with The Beacon, Bwarie speaks with enthusiasm for his job, gratitude for his education, and the joy of a man who is living his dream night after night.
Berkeley Beacon: What do you think of the study of acting, and the argument of doing versus learning about it in a classroom?
Joeseph Leo Bwarie: I think you do [need to study it], not because you can't do it without studying it. Of course there are many actors, many journalists, many everything in the arts that are just . you have a talent and you just go for it and you make a career out of it. But having the knowledge and the fundamentals that really make up the structure of the art form, just to know them, inherently, I think it helps. I really wanted to master more of the real craft of acting. That's what I wanted to focus on and take away with me from Emerson, was this skillset of actual acting and understanding of how to break down a character and break down a script and how to do all the aspects of performing. I think it is essential to get an education in that.
BB: Can you think of a specific instance where you were reminded of your training at Emerson?
JLB: I'm not just saying this, but there are a lot of times. I've been doing Jersey Boys for two years now, and I do a lot of yelling and screaming in the show, and a singer would really mess up their voice if they did not use their instrument correctly.
So last night I was yelling at my girlfriend in the show, and we were done with the scene and I went backstage to do a quick change and I thought, 'God, that Kristin Linklater, she really taught me how to scream and not even feel it.' So that whole freshman year at Emerson where you spent a semester learning how to breathe and a semester learning how to walk and a semester learning how to talk, when I thought ' Well I thought I knew this already, I've been doing this for 18 years but now someone is teaching me how to breathe,' it really comes into play.
BB: Did you meet Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons?
JLB: I did. I met all of the living Seasons, only one of the original Seasons has passed away. I was nervous but then you realize he's just a guy, a regular guy who didn't want to talk to me about anything except life.
He didn't want to tell me, 'Okay, this is how you be me,' because that would be an awkward conversation and he knows that too. I spent a lot of time with Bob Gaudio, and Bob Gaudio is the one who wrote the songs and is a really key component of The Four Seasons. He is without a doubt a genius and I don't say that about many people. Beyond that he is a really nice man. Because Frankie is the voice of the Four Seasons there's no dispute about that, but the person who gave the material to the voice is Bob.
I'm singing the material that he gave to Frankie, so I feel that my connection with Bob is the way that Frankie's connection was with him. Bob has offered me a lot of input into the songs and the arrangements and the storytelling of the lyrics and how it all comes together.
BB: How do you get into character day after day? Is Valli so different from you?
JLB: Frankie is different from me and then there's parts of Frankie that are the same. I do use a lot of what I learned at Emerson to kind of get into that character, and I do it in a quick way. I don't spend gobs and gobs of time going through all sorts of process and warm-ups and meditation; I don't do all of that for lengths and lengths of time. I do it in a very truncated process. That foundation that I learned at Emerson is so present with me, and the tools that I have gathered along the way since Emerson, it's all there with me the whole time.
BB: Any last words of advice for Emerson students?
JLB: You can make any dream come true if you have goals to get there and work to achieve those goals. You can do anything you want, but it requires huge commitment and huge work ethic. The only reason I'm sitting here with you is because of that, because there is no such thing as a lucky break. It's about believing in yourself, but taking that belief into action, not just thinking about it, but making your thoughts a reality.
Joseph Leo Bwarie will be speaking at Emerson College on Wednesday Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. in the Semel Theater.