Renaissance actor/performer Jack Zullo reflects on his triumphant run of his show “With a Little Help…It’s John Belushi!” @ Theatre 80 in NYC. The Hollywood Dog caught up with Jack, now back in L.A., rested and reflective…
THD: First of all, welcome back to L.A.
JZ: Thank you; it’s good to be back.
THD: So, I thought it might be a good time to see where you’re at in terms of the recent run of the Belushi show in New York.
JZ: Sounds good to me. Shoot.
THD: So, as an actor getting into the head of the character, because you were playing an historic figure, did you give yourself any leeway how to play him?
JZ: Honestly, I did so much research and writing about John, that I never really had to get into his head, nor did I try. I felt oddly connected to John, not with a fan’s enthusiasm, but on some sort of spiritual plane of inspiration. I didn’t think of leeway, or if I was playing him correctly, I guess I just let all the work and research and love permeate my soul, and the DNA of the character emerged. I just figured if I brought every inch of my heart and soul to the work, John would be there.
THD: How would you compare the New York audiences to the L.A. audiences reaction to this show?
JZ: New York City audiences were more visceral, for sure. I think there was this in born attachment to Belushi as a gritty artist in the city that cultivated his star to the level it grew, whereas in Los Angeles, he was already a star by the time he really was there. I think NYC takes ownership and adoption of John as the place where he became a legend.
THD: What exactly is your favorite part of John’s personality and/or life?
JZ: His joie de vive is really what I like. Say what you want, he ate drank snorted fucked comedied and lived all out. Just wish it didn’t kill him, I guess, but here we are talking about him as a comedic legendary force. Some say it’s better to burn out than fade away, I guess.
THD: How is Belushi’s life and work relevant today?
JZ: I don’t know, really. With so many YouTube and Instagram and online personalities in general, there isn’t a shortage of performers out there trying to fill the entertainment needs of a digital generation. We’ve seen similar performers stylistically, though not to the success John had, with the exception of a Jack Black or a Chris Farley to a certain extent. Some of John’s really early work doesn’t necessarily translate, today. It’s a similar question as to whether Babe Ruth would have been successful in today’s professional baseball climate. I guess the relevance is: “They don’t make em like they used to.”
THD: How did you play John with such abandon without losing control of your professional acting and production skills?
JZ: Your guess is as good as mine. This project was amazingly difficult to pull off, all things considered. I guess what it came down to was, as an artist, my goal was to push myself beyond the realm of anything I had ever accomplished with the piece, and on other levels, within myself. I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to pull this off: the rigorous schedule, the all out violence of throwing myself around the stage for 2 hours, without padding, singing and speaking with the bluesy rasp, night in and night out. I called myself out. I took myself to task. I asked more of myself than I ever had accomplished. I just relied on my years of experience producing and acting to as a solid foundation from which I could leap into Faith’s arms.
THD: Any advice to anyone considering producing a show this ambitious, as well as starring in it?
JZ: Surround yourself with as many reliable, hard working people as you can. I changed the name of this show, for this production, to “With a Little Help…It’s John Belushi” in part due to my realizing I could not do this without the help of my friends (and family) both in New York, and Los Angeles. You’ll only be as good as the people around you. Also, sleep as much as you can.
THD: Was the Theatre 80 run everything you expected it to be?
JZ: Don’t know what I expected. While I was hoping for more street traffic and awareness of the show, I could never have guessed what a valuable historic resource the theater turned out to be. If I needed a musician to sit in, or gear for the band, or audience members who knew John, Theatre 80 stalwart Laura Gagnon and her boyfriend Tony Mann came through, big time. Great space. Was an honor to be on that stage.
THD: Did you learn anything about John Belushi during this run you didn’t know before?
JZ: Yeah, the perception of him as a musician, namely a drummer, was a lot more positive than I realized. I think earlier in his career he wasn’t that proficient, but with the time and opportunity that monetary success afforded him it seems his skill approached the talent, so to speak.
THD: I understand there’s a documentary about the time leading up to production? When can we expect to be able to see that?
JZ: The documentary is at the editing bay, currently, with a timeline for a rough cut some time by the summer. Hoping by next fall we could be picture locked and sound mixed. We’ll see.
THD: Are there any plans to reprise your role as John Belushi in the future?
JZ: I’m currently developing a pitch package for theaters to peruse, whether it be a pared down version of the show, or the full on production with updates. Judy Belushi and Dan Aykroyd did a press release announcing Alex Brightman as attached to the script based on many of the same source materials I pulled from. That might spur a wider interest in my show to theaters around the country.
THD: Well, I certainly hope so and wish you all the best of luck in this very virtuous artistic venture. You’re keeping the flame of the great John Belushi brightly burning forever.
JZ: Thank you.
THD: Thank you!
For The Hollywood Dog, this has been Steven Alan Green. For more information on Jack Zullo, go to his website.