light.gif (2204 bytes)  About "the General's Daughter" & more!


JUNE 1999 - Despite having to watch hundreds of hours of dreck every year, being a film critic definitely has its perks. Sometimes you get the chance to meet famous and almost-famous personalities. Once in a very great while, youíre offered the chance to sit down and interview a movie star who may become a legend.
Last week, WRE spent some time with John Travolta, one of our favorite screen personalities, a man who is that rare combination of both actor and movie star. Few can discount his significance as a good will ambassador for the film industry, his dedication as a loving father and family man and his influence on popular culture for the better part of the last quarter century.

Having first gained notoriety as the smart-mouthed Vinnie Barbarino on the sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter," Travoltaís career has had more ups and downs than a yoyo. In 1977, he made Saturday Night Fever, a movie about a working class New York kid who spent his nights dancing to disco. More than a mindless musical, SNF not only made Travolta an instant pop icon but also managed to be a kick to they eyes, ears, heart and soul. It also garnered Travolta his first Oscar nomination.

After SNF, Travolta made another musical (Grease), then another psuedo-musical (Urban Cowboy), then turned down An Officer & A Gentleman, then turned down An American Gigolo, and made Moment by Moment and Two of a Kind instead. It left many wondering whether heíd lost his talent along with his ability to pick good scripts.

In the mid-Ď80s, Travolta made his first comeback (commercially at least) by doing the three Look Whoís Talking movies. Though each had diminishing box office grosses, the trilogy was lucrative and high-profile, though pretty much slammed by the same critics who had initially heralded Travoltaís first few efforts. When a picture he produced, Chains of Gold, went immediately to cable, he again disappeared into the woodwork.

In 1993, Travolta received a call from a little known director named Quentin Tarantino who wanted him to take the lead role of the heroin-shooting assassin Vincent Vega in his upcoming crime epic, Pulp Fiction. Rumors say Travolta turned Tarantino down until the director recapped the actorís career verbatim and reminded him of his great untapped potential. Travolta took the role and a year later, he had received his second Oscar nomination and began the third phase of his career which shows very little sign of letting up. With the possible exception of Toms Hanks and Cruise, he is currently the most sought-after actor working in Hollywood.

This week sees the release of The Generalís Daughter, a military murder mystery with Travolta as a crafty CID officer trying to unravel the complex death of a beautiful Army captain. After a long day of TV and radio interviews in Atlanta last week, Travolta met with WRE at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. Although tired from flying his own jet from town to town to promote the film for the better part of two weeks, he entered the interview room with a bit of dance in his step and a smile on his face. We are delighted to pronounce, once again, that everything they say him is true: John Travolta is one of nicest, most congenial, most accommodating people Ė much less movie stars -- youíd ever want to meet.

Even while his handlers were begging him to leave, he stayed far beyond his appointed time, answering all our questions and shattering an age-old axiom in the process: Not all nice guys finish last.

Q: President Clinton has been in the news a lot lately, imploring exhibitors to start strictly enforcing the R rating. This will obviously reduce the number of people who can see your films. How do you feel about that?

JOHN: Well, [The Generalís Daughter] is a decidedly adult movie with mature themes and in that respect, I agree completely with the president. I think that the upcoming South Park movie is going to have a bigger problem than The Generalís Daughter. Itís core audience is teens and I heard that it might be rated NC-17. Listen, thereís been violence in movies for literally 100 years. Itís nothing new.

Q: So why is it getting all this attention now?

JOHN: The two school shootings and the bombings really brought it to the fore. You know in the Ď60s when there were major crimes being committed, people looked at LSD and other hard drugs for the cause. Todayís kids are just as much, if not more, into not only street drugs but some major prescription drugs. Wouldnít drugs like that alter the mind of someone is watching a picture? A child on drugs watching a violent picture is certainly going to have a different point of view than one who isnít. Itís not the movieís fault or the recordís fault or the TV showís fault. Look at some of the old gangster movies from my fatherís time. Public Enemy #1, White Heat or, what I grew up with, Bonnie & Clyde. Those were tremendously violent films. I think those who are pointing the finger at the entertainment industry should really consider the state of mind of the viewer when talking about these issues.

Q: Does being one of the worldís highest paid and most recognized actors provide you with the chance to spend more quality time with your family?

JOHN: Yes it does. I have it written into my contracts that I will be done every day by 6:00, no matter what. By that time, [my son] Jett is home from school, we sit down, turn off the phones and have our quality time. I canít tell you how much I treasure that.

Q: What about when youíre on location?

JOHN: Even when Iím location. Especially when Iím on location.

Q: Does Jett have any idea how big "John Travolta" really is?

JOHN: Yeah, a little, but definitely not the whole shebang.

Q: Do you allow your son to watch your movies?

JOHN: Oh, yeah.

Q: All of Ďem?

JOHN: No. Iím a responsible parent. Look Whoís Talking, Grease, Phenomenon. Thatís it so far. I monitor what he watches.

Q: You shot this film in Savannah in the middle of the Summer. How did that effect your performance?

JOHN: I liked it, but you gotta remember, I lived in Florida for six years so it didnít come as much of shock. It actually helped me get into character. There was a day when filming had to be stopped because a tornado was coming through town so they herded us all into this huge, Gone With The Wind, Tara-like mansion. Watching a tornado from the window of that Tara-like mansion was pretty cool.

Q: What made you decide to do The Generalís Daughter?

JOHN: A lot of people already know the book, Paramount arranged for [Oscar winner] William Goldman to write it plus I have a very good relationship with that studio. I previously did Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Urban Cowboy and Face/Off for them and I feel very comfortable with them.

Q: You play a military man in the new film. Is it easier to get into character when youíre in a military uniform?

JOHN: Yes, definitely. But I think that a character is developed from a multitude of sources. Research of the character, observation of that characterís life, wardrobe, atmosphere and the other actors. Itís a lot like [Travoltaís favorite hobby] flying an airplane. When you start out, youíre confused and often upset. The first dozen or so hours are the hardest and then your instructor lets you know it will come together very soon know what? It does. Then youíre ready to go solo. Youíll have to excuse me. Anytime I get a chance to make an airplane analogy, I take it.

Q: Many of your recent characters seem loaded with ambiguity; they have both good and evil traits. Is it a conscience decision on your part to pick these kind of roles?

JOHN: I think that life is like that - good and evil. I do know that Iím attracted to a certain type of character. Included in those roles are certain other elements; messages if you will. Political, spiritual or otherwise that just come with the territory. When I was younger, I picked stuff that had more of a cultural effect. I think your choices just change with age.

Q: In Mad City and White Manís Burden, you played similar characters that werenít very "Travolta-esque." Both films received mixed critical response and neither of them were embraced very well by the public. Do you think the public has a certain expectation of a John Travolta film?

JOHN: I never expected White Man's Burden to do any business. It came out right after Pulp Fiction and it was a very low-budget art film. I did it for next nothing and I did it, not for the money, but for the experience of stretching as an actor. I did Mad City for the same reason and to work with Dustin Hoffman and [director] Costa-Gravas. Same with Sheís So Lovely and the Cassavettes. If you canít do those kinds of things when you have power, then itís not worth having the power in the first place.

Q: Is there another director for whom you would do a low-budget, scale-paying gig for?

JOHN: Quentin.

Q: Is it true you did Pulp Fiction for $100,000? [Travoltaís current fee per picture is $20 million]

JOHN: Yes, but so did everybody else. Iíd like to say I was the hero who saved Pulp Fiction, but the fact is, all the leads got $100,000. Even Bruce Willis, who Iíll let you know, was way hotter than me at the time.

Q: Is it also true that you originally turned down Get Shorty and Tarantino was the one who convinced you to take it?

JOHN: Yes, I turned it down and yes, Quentin did question me about my decision. Iíd read the original script and passed on it. He called and asked me why I was turning it down and I said because it doesnít have this and it doesnít have that. He asked if I'd read the book and I said no. He said read the book. So I did. Loved the book. Great book. I called him back and pointed out how many of the great passages from the book got left out of the script. "Good point," he said. "Go back, tell them to put Ďem in." I did. They did. The rest is history.

Q: Are going to do the sequel [Be Cool]?

JOHN: I donít know. Havenít read the book or a script. I love the pat response to that "sequel" question: "Yeah, of course Iíll do the sequel." I might have to go through the same process again.

Q: So if they accommodated your script demands, youíd do it?

JOHN: Not if the character did everything the same and there wasn't anything different available at the time that was more interesting. You gotta remember, Iíve been getting the cream of the script crop offered to me for a while, so if Iím given the choice of doing an old character over again or doing a new, exciting character, why would I ever want to do the old one?

Q: Why do think Scientology [Travoltaís professed faith] is so misunderstood by the general public?

JOHN: I donít think that it is the general public as much as it is the media. I think they overemphasize its importance. They pose way more questions than the public ever does. Nobody I ever meet on the street brings it up. New religions [Scientology is approximately 50 years old] always seem to come under unnecessary scrutiny. It doesnít make a lot of sense to me.

Q: When are you going to do another project with Kelly [Preston, his wife]?

JOHN: We have two that weíre considering. The one weíre most likely to pick is called Standing Room Only, the story of Jimmy Rozelli, the nightclub singer.

Q: Whatís next up for you?

JOHN: A science-fiction project called Battlefield Earth, based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard [Scientologyís founder]. Iíve been trying to get it made for over 10 years now. Finally, after 10 scripts, we got it right. Itís got me, Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan) and Forrest Whitaker (The Crying Game). Roger Christian, who was the second unit director on all the Star Wars movies, is the director and the special effects people are the same ones who worked on Independence Day, Godzilla and The X-Files. Weíve got the best people on the planet working on it.

Q: What role do you play?

JOHN: A nine foot tall alien that hunts man.

Q: Come on...

JOHN: Iím serious. Itís hilarious; a really great story. Itíll be out next Summer.

Q: Youíve got a reputation in Hollywood as the "Comeback Kid." Your film career has seen three big peaks and two very big valleys. What goes through your mind living through these many ups and downs?

JOHN leans back in his chair, closes his eyes, extends his hand and says:

Take my hand. Read my mind. [We both have a good laugh] You deal with it. [pause] No, Iím kidding. I was working, I just wasnít in anything anyone ever saw. I lost my opportunities and a few people like Quentin gave them back to me. He actually got mad at me for letting the career go. When I got back on top, I decided to act responsibly. In a way like someone who really cared about it. Like I used to. Like Quentin does now. He was just this little kid people were making all kinds of noise about and he was yelling at me, telling me I hadnít realized my true potential. It got to me like a parentís scolding would have. I guess Iím just trying to make him proud of me. Like Kelly and Jett. I guess you could say that I decided to grow up.