firework.gif (16577 bytes) John talks about everything! firework.gif (16577 bytes)


The comeback king lays some moves on the media, McDonald's and President Clinton
by Bob Strauss

When John Travolta first hit it big 20 years ago in the musicals Saturday Night Fever and Grease, millions dared exhaustion trying to copy his sexy moves.
Now, after a long, slow stretch that would have discouraged Job, one gets exhausted just trying to keep up with Travolta's voracious work schedule. Since his Pulp Fiction comeback late in 1994, the dimpled Jersey Everyguy has headlined Get Shorty, White Man's Burden, Broken Arrow, Phenomenon, Michael, Face/Off, She's So Lovely and now Mad City.
And there's no rest in sight. The 43-year-old star recently completed a turn as a Clinton-esque presidential candidate in Mike Nichols' adaptation of the bestselling political roman ? clef Primary Colors, did a stint in Terrence Malick's star-studded war epic The Thin Red Line and currently portrays a hotshot lawyer in the legal drama A Civil Action.
Pretty good for a guy who started life as a lowly Sweathog on the classroom sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter and who, just half decade ago, could only get work with talking babies.
Mad City finds Travolta in the company of some of filmdom's most admired talents. He plays schlubby Sam Baily, a dim, downsized museum guard who tries to get his job back at gunpoint, only to unintentionally take hostage a class of schoolkids and an exploitative TV reporter--Dustin Hoffman's Max Brackett. The situation escalates into a media circus, which the director, social-issue specialist Costa-Gavras (Missing, Music Box), plays for all the venality, absurdity and tragic inevitability it's worth.
Through good times and bad--and amazing weight fluctuations--Travolta has remained the same, sweet charmer. He attributes part of that to his faith in Scientology and part to his love for his wife, actress Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire), and their five-year-old son, Jett.
But it becomes clear in talking to Travolta that, if you liked your work as much as he does, you'd be a happy dancer, too.

What do you think the public likes about you so much?
JOHN: Being around a long time helps. Doing good work helps. Doing an abundance of work helps. Everyone's working hard in life, so when someone like me works hard, as long as the quality stays there, that's a good thing.

You were one of many celebrities who made public statements in the wake of Princess Diana's death. Now you're in the first film to criticize media irresponsibility since the tragedy.
JOHN: I'll tell you my quote: "Celebrities have to be more careful, and the press has to negotiate with us how far is fair to go." I was one of these guys that felt both sides have to take more responsibility. It's interesting and ironic that Mad City is coming out in the wake of that. But we certainly didn't plan it.

How would you characterize your relationship with the media?
JOHN: Well, being mobbed has been part of my life since 1976. That's never changed. I've found that you are mobbed less if you stand there and allow them to take their photographs; then they can get their quota, and you're free to go.
As far as the tone of reporting, since Pulp Fiction, I have only noticed an extraordinary receptiveness to who I am. I also know that you have to communicate, fill in the vacuum as to what's going on. That way, there's less dubbed in about who and what you are.

When were you mobbed the worst?
JOHN: June of 1978 in London, when I was promoting Grease. The ceiling of our car was caving in, while the fans rocked us back and forth. I thought, Oh God, I'm gonna die in my limo!

Mad City is a pretty tragic story, but you often play Sam like a big goof.
JOHN: I did the same thing in Pulp Fiction. If the guy's head explodes and you don't follow it with something funny, people are going to want to leave the theater. It becomes gross. I've always felt it's very important, the more tragic the figure, the more humor you'd better find in it.

Could Scientology have helped Sam?
JOHN: It could have helped him a lot. I think that's about a 15-minute answer. I would've given him a book, had him read it.

What was it like working with a high-energy prima donna like Dustin Hoffman?
JOHN: I was more inspired and excited than intimidated. When anyone's really good like Dustin, they invite your creative juices to flow. The main thing he did was allow the freedom, without judgment, to create anything you wanted in your character.

Speaking of prima donna-ism, you are known to enjoy the more outrageous perks of your position--like making productions pay for your private-plane fuel and hire your personal chef.
JOHN: Lunch is a big deal. People say, "Isn't it a little strange you get your own caterer?" I do it for the whole crew. Everyone's in a better mood when they're fed well. Imagine a crew working 14 hours a day and having a lunch they don't look forward to.
Of course, every day on Mad City, I had to get the kids McDonald's and fried chicken and Jack-in-the-Box - not the stuff we ate. I mean, imagine an eight-year-old getting excited about chateaubriand.

How was playing the President in Primary Colors?
JOHN: It was fun.

You look very Clinton-esque in pictures I've seen.
JOHN: Oh, yes. That was intended. There's an ability I have to emanate certain things if I spend a little time with a person. In this case, everyone's familiar with Clinton, so I studied footage of him a little harder and used him as an archetype. Of course, the story is fictional and takes different turns.

You're appearing with just about every actor who's the least bit cool in Terrence Malick's World War II epic, The Thin Red Line. There's Woody Harrelson, George Clooney, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Nick Nolte...
JOHN: I only have a cameo in that particular thing. It's like a one-day part. Everyone's really got little, tiny parts in that. I did it as a favor for Terrence, who I was supposed to do Days of Heaven for years ago.

There's talk of you starring in a Phantom of the Opera musical, directed by your Face/Off and Broken Arrow pal John Woo.
JOHN: I love John Woo, what can I tell you? He has made musicals in Hong Kong, and he's got such a sense of horror, humor and emotion that that piece is, like, ready for him.

For the past couple of years it's been, "Wow, what a comeback!" You seem not only established in the $20 million club, but everybody who's anybody seems to want to work with you. How do you keep your head straight?
JOHN: Well, acting is what got me here. So, it doesn't change anything there - just do a good job. You don't work with Dustin or Costa or Mike Nichols without their thinking you do a good job. They'd rather choose someone who does a good job and is less box office than vice versa. If you can do both, that's even better.
Fortunately, that's been the case recently, and that's something to be proud of, I'd imagine. I'd like to continue to do the best I can and, hopefully, work with only the good people, because now I'm spoiled. I don't know if I want to go back to working on movies that don't have the upper level of quality to them.

Any plans to make a movie with your wife?
JOHN: Yeah, there have been things offered to us, and we're entertaining the possibilities. But we really want to do it right, because we'd rather it not just be one movie. We'd rather people like the idea of us being together through a few films over the years. The chemistry should be right for it to have more of a chance of floating.

How do you maintain a happy high-powered marriage?
JOHN: I think communication has helped our marriage. We just negotiate and communicate until we're both happy about whatever subject it is.

So, when do you have time for fun?
JOHN: I do tons of things I like: I travel, fly my planes, play tennis, ride motorcycles. But I'm on such a great roll with all these good films, I just want to keep that going. So, I'm choosing carefully. I don't have anything booked, believe it or not, after A Civil Action.

As a fellow pilot, did John Denver's death shake you?
JOHN: I was saddened by it. I know you feel betrayed as a pilot when a machine lets you down, and I know he must have felt that way. But you also know that experimental aircraft are potentially structurally squirrelly. So you've got to apply a know-before-you-go kind of thing to it.

Would you ever fly an experimental plane?
JOHN: I might. But if I did, I think I'd be trepidatious. I'd wanna know who put it together, how he put it together - the whole bit.

To fly out of here on a happier aviational note, tell us about your first book, One-Way Propeller Night Coach.
JOHN: I originally wrote it as a Christmas gift for my family, and now it's a Christmas gift for anyone who doesn't want to spend a lot of money. It's a novella - only takes an hour or so to read it. It's a fable about a kid flying across the country, about all the people he met on planes in 1962. It's fictitious, but semi-autobiographical - about a kid who's obsessed with airplanes. It's funny.