John Travolta: “I Come From a Working Class Family, so Any Ups and Downs Were not That Significant. Losing Those You Love – That Is a Real Tragedy”

The story of John Travolta differs from the usual images of actors in Hollywood. He was the sixth child in a family of immigrants, in his youth he did a lot of singing and dancing; and only after the movie Saturday Night Fever, was he recognized and became the idol of disco era youth.

Today, Travolta is, of course, an extremely wealthy man. As should be expected, he owns luxury real estate, an aircraft fleet, and regularly participates in charity events. But he operates his air fleet himself and personally delivers food aid all around. He has not been associated with scandal. Having married once, 22 years ago, he continues to be faithful to his family. Travolta had to go through, perhaps, the most terrible tragedy for any father – the death of his son (Jett Travolta died in 2009 as a result of a seizure caused by Kawasaki syndrome – Ed.remark), but he found the courage to get back on his feet and two years later return to cinematography with new film, Killing Season.

What made you take on such a challenge: to star in an interesting film that hardly has any chance of becoming a hit? It’s quite risky considering the fact that you had a break in your career.

The truth is, this movie, Killing Season, was on the “Black List” in Hollywood. It’s a new age of cinema as you can see. In the foreground now, is the entertainment part of a film. The era of films, in which the focus is on the people and their stories, is not as prominent anymore. You have to seek to find more of these kinds of movies. I don’t like it. I love films that sink down into your soul. I loved the character that I played, I loved the challenges of that character. It’s the first war movie in a while, where you really examine the mental state of people that are forced to be in war. A soldier willingly or unwillingly performs war crimes. This is their suffering and I wanted to examine what it must be like for these people who do this, and that was my reason. It is his purpose.

This now quite unpopular kind of storyline, however, attracted another star of great magnitude – Robert De Niro. Was his vision of the film similar to yours?

I knew Robert de Niro from many years ago. He, as you may call him, is an “old-school” actor as well. In his time he was setting a trend for a different kind of acting. His way was that if you portrayed a character you became that role by studying and gaining inside knowledge. For example, for the film Raging Bull, he became a boxer. For New York, New York, he learned how to play the saxophone for real. He was exemplary for me. When I starred in Saturday Night Fever, I decided to become not just a dancer, but a professional one. So I dedicated nine months to training and drilling, and training and drilling to become the character I was about to play. Robert started a new way of acting and I had to wait 37 years to finally work with him on the set.

Since we have started talking about dancing, as a young man you played mainly in musicals, but you managed not to get stuck in that niche and broke through to the bigger world of cinema. How hard on you was that transition?

I grew up in a family of actors. I remember we always challenged ourselves to be different characters in different scenarios as kids. As in Broadway, you act, you sing, you dance. In the film industry, sometimes you do a musical, sometimes you do a drama, sometimes you do a comedy. This transition was not difficult for me, but as I’m used to it from childhood.

Nevertheless, you do not dance on the big screen anymore. What about doing it for yourself?

Oh yes! I still enjoy it a lot. Dancing is a part of my soul. It makes people happy, it makes me happy. My children are good at it too.

Lately, what movie has impressed you most?

I really loved this little movie called Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s a very interesting movie. It made me feel that it was possible to do great movies for very little money. I think it had a million dollar budget, but the movie has a billion dollars’ worth of warmth and heart.

Throughout your 35 years of experience in the film industry, please, recall the happy and sad moments of your career? What makes you sad?

I come from a working class family. My father was making a living doing what he loved, but we never had an overabundance of money. So any ups and downs were not that significant for me. The only thing that really mattered was my losses. That’s what had the biggest impact on me. I wish I could give you a more dramatic story… (Pause). I enjoy playing in films, but I don’t have a dramatic feeling about the ups and downs in my oeuvre.

You went away from cinema for a while because of the tragedy with your son, Jett. Just a few months ago, your great friend actor James Gandolfini, with whom you have worked in several films, passed away …. How did you survive this period, what were the sources of emotional recovery?

(Pause) When my son, Jett, passed away, he (James) was the person, who stayed with me until I started feeling better. He would not even leave the city, he was worried about me. It was really great of him. I felt it was so human and so unusual for a Hollywood actor to have this depth of feeling about someone and sacrifice this much. I felt a really strong love for him as a friend as well. The year he was going through a divorce with his wife, he was very sad. I saw him backstage and I said: “Jim, did I ever tell you something? I loved you the moment I met you.” He started to cry because he needed to cry. In general, family and close friends always help to cope with life’s twists and turns. I hope that explains my feelings.

Tell us about your family. How did you manage to keep your marriage for the past 22 years and still be successful in your career? How do you find a balance?

My wife’s name is Kelly, she is also an actress. We have two children. Balance? I love my job very much, but it’s not my life. It is only a part of life and I have a clear understanding of it. I try as much as I can to attract close people of mine to my work and take them everywhere I can with me.

What are your plans for the future? Have you thought of becoming a director? And if so, what genre would you like to work with?

The only movie I’ll probably end up directing is a short based on a little book I wrote about a boy who flew across the US, when the propeller airliners were turning into jet airliners. It’s an adventure about the people he meets throughout his journey. It’s a semi-autobiographical story, and I’d like my son to play me and my wife to play his mother, and maybe I will play the captain or something. Directing and producing is hard work. You have to commit every moment to it. I have too much in life, so if I’m going to direct, that will be what I would do.

Photo: KVIFF


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