Cool Interview: John Travolta
By 18, he was already on Broadway in Grease which led him to Hollywood where, in 1975, he landed his breakout as Vinnie Barbarino role on the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. Just a couple of years later, he parlayed his explosive popularity as a teen heartthrob into an Oscar-nominated, big screen debut as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, and the rest of his enviable career is history, including another Academy Award nomination in 1995 for Pulp Fiction. His credits include Ladder 49, Swordfish, Primary Colors, Face Off, The General's Daughter, A Thin Red Line, Blowout, Urban Cowboy and Get Shorty.
Born to Helen and Salvatore in Englewood, New Jersey, on February 18, 1954, John Joseph Travolta was the baby in a theater-oriented family of six kids. All of his siblings, Joey (Beverly Hills Cop 3), Ellen (Grease), Margaret (Traffic), Sam (A Civil Action) and Ann (Swordfish) also ended up opting for acting as a profession. Turning pro at 16, John soon found stage work in summer stock and TV commercials. By 18, he was already on Broadway in Grease which led him to Hollywood where, in 1975, he landed his breakout as Vinnie Barbarino role on the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. Just a couple of years later, he parlayed his explosive popularity as a teen heartthrob into an Oscar-nominated, big screen debut as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, and the rest of his enviable career is history, including another Academy Award nomination in 1995 for Pulp Fiction. His credits include Ladder 49, Swordfish, Primary Colors, Face Off, The General's Daughter, A Thin Red Line, Blowout, Urban Cowboy and Get Shorty. Here, he talks about reprising the role of Chili Palmer (from Get Shorty) in Be Cool, a sequel directed by F. Gary Gray based on another best seller by Elmore Leonard.
BSN: What was the dynamic like on a set filled with so many celebs, from Uma Thurman to Cedric the Entertainer to Danny Devito, The Rock, Vince Vaughn, Harvey Keitel, James Woods, Anna Nicole Smith and others?
JT: The dynamic was filled with such illustrious talent that it would be impossible not to enjoy their presence in this situation. Wow, everyday was filled with laughter, and care and respect. And we did have fun with each other."
BSN: Be Cool features a lot of those hip-hop types that Samuel L. Jackson has complained about and won't allow on the set of his movies anymore, Wyclef Jean, Andre' 3000, Christina Milian and the Black Eyed Peas. Would you prefer to not have to work with gangsta' rappers?
JT: "No, because it would depend on the individual situation. For instance, if you look at Andre', he's equally as much of a genius as a comedian, as he is a musician, in my opinion. Who is to dictate, really, where this is going to go? Christina, she'd never done a movie before, but she's adorable, right on the money. And The Rock, Who knew he had that character in him?"
BSN: What made you decide to do this sequel to Get Shorty?
JT: "Normally, I resist sequels, because I think they're arbitrary. But [author] Elmore Leonard seduced me into this because he wrote a book called 'Be Cool' as a homage to the movie Get Shorty. Even though Get Shorty was based on his book, this was an inspiration he didn't expect to have. So, needless to say, he wrote it, and then they adapted it quite well, and it was that adaptation which took me. And that was really wild."
BSN: You've danced in a lot of your movies. Who was your favorite dance partner?
JT: "I have to say Uma was one of those joys to dance with in this movie. It was my idea to do the dance. I wasn't allowed to do it in Get Shorty. I was okay with that. But I did want that character to dance because I had an image of how I wanted him. I always imagined it would be like a Sixties, Brazilian, Jobim-type Samba, Cha-Cha. Something cool and easy. And I really wanted to fulfill that daydream. So, the music was my idea, too. I got resistance, but then when the Black Eyed Peas did this Sergio Mendes mix of a Jobim song, everybody thought I was a genius. My favorite? My wife, Kelly [actress Kelly Preston], is a fabulous dancer in a little film we did together that wasn't too good called The Experts. She was better in the dance than I was. She's a great partner."
BSN: I know you're a pilot, but I always wonder how you talked your wife into parking your big airplane next to the house?
JT: "Well, when I met Kelly, I already had a jet parked outside my house. It was a different house, in a different part of the state. It was smaller and all, but she knew that was part of my life. I think it was one of those, 'Don't marry me if this is a problem' things."
BSN: Where are some of your favorite places to fly?
JT: "I love flying into Shannon, Ireland, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Sydney Harbor and Orly Airport in Paris."
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