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MAY 2000 - John Travolta, WRE's favorite movie star, gave us about ten minutes during his whirlwind tour of Atlanta, where he was promoting his new science fiction epic, Battlefield Earth.
He was not quite the same guy. A little heavier, hair in a buzz cut, Travolta did not exude the easy confidence, the effortless top-of-the-world attitude that marked our previous meetings. Dressed in his customary dark colors, he was still very friendly and approachable. He was still polite and professional. But he has more riding on Battlefield Earth and it was easy to tell.

Travolta is both producer and star of the film, which is adapted from the first in a series of futuristic novels by L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard is also the founder of Scientology, the controversial 20th century religion Travolta belongs to and has defended for years in the press and to the government.

Long before the film's release, anti-Scientology zealots were claiming the film would be full of subliminal Scientology messages and needed to be avoided. The preview audience the night before clearly disagreed, cheering and applauding when it was over, though the critical press sounded much less impressed.

WRE was not interested in tussling with a guy we love, so we mostly tossed him softballs. The moment Scientology came up, his handlers were there to signal the interview was coming to an end. If you were expecting a knock-down drag-out with one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, sorry.

Q: So you're a father again. Congratulations.

JOHN: Yeah! Second time. Had my daughter a few weeks ago. Ella Bleu. My second child. My son is 8 now. We're a pretty happy household now.

Q: What's the difference between being a father of one child, compared to two children?

JOHN: It's better. I think there's often too much significance put on an only child. The weight of the world is on them. They're the second coming to most parents. That one and only child, it's a lot. I could feel the weight shift when the second child came along. It was like, all right, now Jett gets a break.

Q: Is this the last one?

JOHN: One more. One more.

Q: Battlefield Earth has been a pet project of yours for years. It sounds like getting money was very difficult. Did you defer your salary for this? Did you put up your own cash?

JOHN: A little of both. Deferred, a little of my own. Because at the last minute, when you want that special effect that you need to make it perfect, you go [takes a deep breath] 'Okay!' Because when you see a project this massive, it can get so close to being great that there are little tweaks that need to be done, but it's so worth it.

Q: Speaking of massive, the book Battlefield Earth is over 1000 pages. I hear you're already thinking about a sequel.

JOHN: Yes. We covered the first 500 pages of the book, roughly. We will take on the second 500 pages next year and release it the following year. There's really no other way to do it. I thought we tackled the first 500 pages in two hours really well, and we'll do the same for the second part. Same writer, same group, everything.

Q: The director will return?

JOHN: Roger [Christian]? Oh yes. You know Roger was a gift from George Lucas. This guy was in on the first Star Wars, where everyone sacrificed to get it done, he knew what that was about and he knew this movie wouldn't get done unless everybody sacrificed to some degree. Everybody chipped in, worked for nothing as a labor of love, until it all fell together at the end.

Q: Who is J.D. Shapiro? I see his name in the final credits as a screenwriter, but there's nothing about him in the press kit.

JOHN: J.D. Shapiro did one adaptation earlier. It was good, but it wasn't 'it.' Corey Wendell, who is really a sci-fi aficionado, fell in love with the book, and that is the key. With General's Daughter, Primary Colors, Civil Action, Get Shorty, the key to a great screenplay is that the writer, the adapter, loves the book. Not that J.D. didn't love the book, he just didn't get the things that the reader loves in the movie. Corey was really good at doing that.

Q: Are you a fan of sci-fi in general?

JOHN: No, not really. As a kid, I liked Time Machine, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But I never really felt it was realistic enough, until I read BE, and like 6 million other people I think I saw what they saw. It actually reminded me of Grease in a way, because Grease was this Broadway show that was like the biggest Broadway show ever, then we went and made the movie and it was the biggest musical ever. Well, this has that same kind of love of the genre. It was the most loved science fiction book of the century. It had a great foundation, a great blueprint, and I felt a little ahead of the game, like I did with Grease.

Q: Does this project mean more to you than any other?

JOHN: Well, believe it or not, Grease did. Because I was 18 when I first saw it, and I replaced somebody in the show. I think it meant a lot to me to get that movie going.

Q: What's it feel like to see it on the screen after working so hard for so long to get it made?

JOHN: What's even more impressive than seeing it for the first time on the screen is seeing how well done it was. That blew me away. [He goes on at length, praising everybody from co-stars Barry Pepper and Forrest Whitaker to the cinematographer, set people and special effects gang, etc., actually at one point saying ... We had talent that was unsurpassed in a [sci-fi] undertaking.]

Q: Talk about some projects we've heard you're working on. Martin Scorcese's Dino?

JOHN: I love Scorcese and Tom Hanks [who is set to play Dean Martin] is a good friend of mine. At first when that project was brought to me, I hesitated to play Dino. I thought it was more interesting to play Frank [Sinatra] anyway for somebody like me, somebody who sings and dances. It just keeps getting postponed. Marty hasn't solved the script yet. I was going to do a movie called Standing Room Only, my wife [Kelly Preston] and I were going to do. That was going to replace it, but that got postponed too.

Q: What about the rumor about The Vega Brothers movie?

JOHN: I saw Quentin [Tarantino] about a month ago. And he said 'There are three things my fans want me to do: They want me to do a movie with you, a movie with Uma, and a movie with Sam Jackson. I've done Sam Jackson. Next is Uma. After that is you.' I think it may be the Vega brothers thing, but I'm not sure. Because I never know with Quentin what the deal is. He's so unusual and creative that I'll just have to wait and see. Even with Pulp Fiction. He talked with me first about the vampire one [From Dusk 'Til Dawn]. And I wasn't so interested in that. I said, 'I'm just not a vampire guy.' I turned down Interview with a Vampire. But when he was writing PF, he said he couldn't get me out of his mind. And that turned out to be a better opportunity.

Q: When I spoke to you a couple years ago, you seemed an expert student of Hollywood as a business. You said there's so much research now, the bean counters can tell you how a movie's going to open two weeks before it does.

JOHN: Yeah.

Q: So can you give us a guesstimate of what Battlefield Earth is going to open with the weekend of May 12?

JOHN: Some surveys, like the one for Entertainment Weekly, have it as the #1 most anticipated movie of the summer. Then you have the tracking that looks very promising. Two weeks out, well, you really know a few days out. But personally I hope it beats my personal best, General's Daughter, which was $24.5 million and before that was Face-Off at $22.4 million.

Q: Can we touch on the Scientology angle for a second? You think all the press about that is going to work against the movie at all?

JOHN: No. Not at all. Clearly, it's a great science fiction book. If the book hadn't been so successful, that might be a concern, but it's so huge, there's no analogy.

Q: What about the complaints of subliminal messages in the film?

JOHN: I don't know if you know this, but even back in the 50s, when they did it, it never worked. I giggle more than anything about it. It's just like, too stupid.