video.gif (803 bytes)          John's Career


Success has her suitors, many only acknowledged in passing. But even among the longstanding variety, only a few have been granted the illustrious, 'second chance' in Hollywood. John Travolta is riding high on the winds of a new public faith, a resurrection in tinsletown, and a pardon from the gallows (ah hem, That's Dancing!, The Dumb Waiter, Staying Alive, etc., though you're better off forgetting). With his comeback assured, thanks to the surreally smooth druthers of Vincent Vega and later roles in powerhouse films (Get Shorty, Face/Off, The Thin Red Line), Hollywood's boarders have become his sole limitations, and he has approached his newfound appeal with humility and genuine happiness. We sat down recently to talk with him about fame, family, and the seemingly unbearable likeness of being so cool.

The press have flurried all day around John Travolta, who has been giving interviews in a tireless, torrential effort to promote his latest Warner Brother's picture, "Swordfish." Despite the tedium, he is high-spirited, and he has skipped dinner to maintain his uncompromising pace. He enters with an entourage of six, (one who offers him a seat cushion, which he politely declines) and he is instantly at ease. "
Let's give the end of the day synergy. I feel the love," he says, grinning. In his subtly playful expression, he carries almost three decades-worth of characters that have sculpted cultural trends and that have all, in their own way, smacked of the elusive familiarity and timeless temperance that are patently his own.

Both retro-sheik and stunningly contemporary, his breed of cool defies temporal constraints and generational boundaries. When asked if he finds his continuing icon status surprising, he responds bluntly, "
No." Then with a twinkle of his eye, he continues. "I've had twenty six years of it. I don't mean to be silly, but it's been such a long time and I've been told so often that I'm supposedly this icon that I guess I believe it now. It's been enough conformation of cowboy hats, white suits, 'Pulp Fiction' hands. I don't know, there's been enough evidence now that I shouldn't be surprised of that, really. But you know, it's still a thrill."

His endeavors have brought him to a place worlds-removed from "Welcome Back Kotter," the 70's television show that catalyzed his first success. He says that
"Kotter" feels "Like another life, yeah. Well, God, I've had so much happen to me in my lifetime, you know, there's five books on my life. I mean think about it; all the experiences I've been through and all the nooks and crannies of my career and my life and my experiences. So, when thinking back to 'Kotter,' it's like another universe." His training in the success game left him well accustomed to the laws of fame. "Pretty much, there's nothing that happens in the celebrity thing that doesn't feel familiar to me. I've been famous more than I've been not. So I'm more used to that than I was before," he says humbly.

Stardom began early for Travolta. He first realized his celebrity status as a twenty-one year old, shortly after "Kotter" began. "
I was at a shopping mall in Palm Springs visiting my sister and everyone. Well, most of the young people were, kind of gathering around me and asking for autographs. That was the first time I had gone out in public. It was like the third or fourth week of the show, and that's when I realized it was catching on."

When asked how life as a celebrity in the 70's compares to stardom today, he remarks, "
Well there were less of us. There were less shows, less movies, and there were less of us. If I didn't do a movie, Richard Gere did it. If he didn't do it, then usually they wouldn't do the movie, meaning, it wasn't like this plethora of actors, so the stakes are higher today. Many more actors, many more ancillary avenues to create. You could be a video star; you could be a TV cable star; you could be an international star. So there are so many options, but stakes are higher; it's probably more difficult to make it."

Yet Travolta has clearly made it, twice. His '70's star appeal tapered, leading to a longstanding slump that ended when he donned the cheap black suit and heroin-smooth prose of hitman Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." Travolta still feels a deep fondness for Tarantino. "
Quentin will always be my guardian angel. He has a love for me that only I can remember my father and my mother having, honestly. I've never known someone who has loved my talent and wanted my career to survive so much; maybe my parents, maybe... There's hardly anything I wouldn't do for Quentin... But he already feels paid back by my doing a good job. I know Quentin doesn't feel I owe him anything. He doesn't want anything back other than my well-being, and every time I think about the purity of that, it makes me want to cry or something..." Tarantino translated his love for Travolta's former 70's persona into a character that embraced virtually all of Travolta's passe qualities, and used them to demonstrate the actor's powerful contemporary appeal. "He just had this passion. It's touching really; it's a moving thing. So I always feel like he's there, and he trusts me and I make my own decisions, and he's proud of me. He just wanted me to have it back again so I could do the things that he felt I deserved to do or that audiences would like to see. I miss him, and he was with me last year for a little bit. Then he went off and is just writing. Somewhere. Who knows?"

When Travolta is asked about the talk of a prequel to the Vincent Vega story, he responds, "
It's always been a rumor, but Quentin is so secretive about what he writes and what he does that, honestly, five months from now I could receive a script and it could be something new or it could be something, a prequel, you know, you never know with Quentin, and that's okay. I didn't know that Pulp was coming my way. He definitely wants to, his goal, was to work (again) with every actor that he worked with in Pulp and Reservoir Dogs. But he was going to take his time. That was his group of actors, and he was going to take his time and work with them over the years. So Uma's up next, then I'm after that."

Other future-project possibilities include, "
My little book, I want to make into a movie." Travolta wrote and released the novella, "Propeller one-way night coach" three years ago. "It sold about a hundred and twenty-five thousand copies. I didn't promote it, but it was very successful for a book." When asked about directing aspirations, his thoughts quickly center on the book. "I'd direct that. But yet, someone wants to direct it. Rob Morel, the actor, loved the book. So, we want to do it on IMAX; we want it to be an IMAX movie. That's what my dream for that is. And that's a whole other technical art." Also on the table, yet far closer to release, is "Domestic Disturbance," a thriller "that has a lot of sentiment to it," about a divorce situation and stepfather gone awry, costarring Vince Vaughn.

But future possibilities take a backseat to Travolta's latest endeavor; he stars in Warner Brother's "Swordfish" opposite Hugh Jackman (X-men's Wolverine) and Halle Berry (X-men's Storm, appropriately enough). When he is asked if he was at the recent New York screening, he responds "
I was; I was. How about when they just spontaneously broke out into applause? That was great. I loved that part." "That part," is an eight hundred thousand dollar "still-array" sequence that features a Matrixesque 360 degree dolly around a block-wide explosion. As you may have guessed, "Swordfish" is an action flick. In it, Travolta portrays Gabriel Shear, a malignantly wealthy and charismatic spy full of twisted patriotic convictions. His soothing voice tinges villain roles such as these with a ripe amount of irony. Does he particularly like playing the foe? "I like playing good parts that are well written and fun to play, and all that. I think it's fun, you know. I also like playing good guys, but I'm glad I have the option. Jimmie Cagney had the option, years ago. Humphrey Bogart had the option. I think it's good to have options."

The option to remain a supportive father despite a grueling work schedule has kept Travolta well balanced in his career and family life. "
When I'm working in LA I go home every night and I spend every weekend with the family. I put the kids to bed, and I spend the whole weekend. When I'm out of town I go home every other weekend or bring them with me. So with this last film they came with me for a month and I went home every other weekend." When asked briefly about his baby daughter, his face lights up. "Oh my God, she's so great; she's so filled with personality and fun. She makes me laugh. Just everything; the way she walks; the way she eats; the way she talks a little bit now; she's one year old; she's great. She's mini-me."

With such consideration and care directed towards his own children, one wonders what sort of advice Travolta has for the youth that have afforded him his icon status, and perhaps for those now struggling to stand in shoes similar to his own. He pauses, then says, "
Advice, oh gosh, there's so much advice that I could give. But where do you start? If they really love it, stick to it, be careful of the people they choose around them, to help them. Be true to themselves. You know, the money is not the important thing. It's the product, the art is what it's really about, then the money will come. You do a good job and then the other comes. It never should be about that.. A lot of kids get it confused, and it's always about the work, and a lot of stuff lines up after that."

Yet, when things don't line up and Travolta's career suffers a temporary blow, as with the Scientology prompted dive-bomb, "Battlefield Earth," one wonders how he refrains from the sort of cynicism that has been the downfall of so many other seasoned actors. Travolta persists, "
Probably because of Scientology. I get a lot of relief, I get a lot of insight to people, to situations, to things, and cynicism is not my nature, but I could see how a person could be cynical in a world like we have today, filled with drug abuse and violence and situations that are not conducive to man's humanity to man, conducive to man's inhumanity to man. So I think that that's probably the reason why I'm in good shape." Yet at one point, Travolta looks back on his '70's career and says, "Do you realize I was considered the most famous actor in the world when everyone I knew was on cocaine, except me?" He attributes Scientology to much of his success, but around the time of his career's conception, before the Hubbard marketed philosophy was available in Hollywood, it was undoubtedly his integral, personal strength (Hubbard-free) that steered him away from the snares and temptations accompanying his fame.

Either way, his eyes glint with the same blue brightness, indicating that the matter is perhaps not worth questioning. It's the end of a long day, and John Travolta is overworked, hungry, yet still unswervingly happy. He kneads Hollywood in the palm of his hand, he kneads the progressive growth of a career that is in full-scale and long-term recovery, and he needs only the continued support and patronage of his fans, to whom he is genuinely and expressively grateful. Give the man his love.

"Swordfish" opens everywhere June 8th.