Zurich 2012 - John Travolta Q&A
Posted on Friday September 21, 2012, 22:24 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
Empire talks to John Travolta, this year’s recipient of the Zurich Film Festival’s Golden Eye Award for Life Achievement.
Winning a lifetime achievement award must put you in a reflective mood. How do you feel about winning the Golden Eye and, looking back, do you have any regrets?
I’m very proud of the award. It means people have looked at my life and deemed it worthy of acknowledgment, and that’s always an honour. I don’t believe in regrets, I believe your future is in your tomorrows. I do believe you learn from your past, but it’s been a good life, filled with ups and downs, with fascinating adventures.
Talking about ups and downs, you’ve certainly had your share. How important has it been to have a strong wife and family by your side?
Well, as long as it’s the right wife and the right family it’s marvelous (laughs). If it’s the wrong wife and the wrong family then it’s not. I have the right one and I’m very happy for it. I know we’re kind of dinosaurs in Hollywood aren’t we, having been together for so long (Travolta has been married to actress Kelly Preston for eleven years), but it works.
How do you feel when you’re channel surfing and you stumble across one of your old movies? Do you stop and watch or hurry on by?
I don’t go out of my way to look at my old films, but if I happen run into one on TV I’d probably watch it for a little bit to see how I feel about it in a new unit of time. It’s always fun to see what I looked like then compared to what I look like now, whether I’d have played the scene the same way today as I did then. It’s a bit of a reflection, but overall I’m a pretty good audience. I kind of forget it’s me in the movie.
What for you have been some of the outstanding moments in your career, and which characters did you enjoy playing the most?
I try not to play favourites. If you forced me, there’s be fifteen or twenty I especially enjoyed. Let’s start with my role in Savages (Oliver Stone’s drug war drama in which Travolta plays a sleazy drug enforcement agent named Dennis). Being brought back into movies by Oliver and this wonderful script was my most recent joy, a tremendous opportunity. And of course there’s the obvious: Pulp Fiction, Night Fever, Get Shorty, Face/Off, Grease, Urban Cowboy, Hairspray... gosh (laughs), Phenomenon, Michael, The General’s Daughter, Ladder 49. They’re all movies I’m very proud of and they all mean something to me and to many other people. What I’m most proud of is that I split the genres. I’ve been able to do and be very successful in drama and comedy and action, even a western. I’m very proud of the totality of my career, and it’s nice to be acknowledged for it.
Are there any roles you’ve played that, looking back, make you shudder?
Not really. When I say yes to a movie it’s usually because, to a greater or lesser extent, it’s because I’m enthusiastic about the character. How well that character ultimately comes off depends on a lot of things: your relationship with the director and so on. But at first, you’re on board because you think you can do something with it.
Apart from picking up an award, you’re also in Zurich to promote Savages. In what way did Oliver Stone affect the character you play?
Well, Oliver expects excellence from you and you want to give him excellence. I’ve never seen a director take greater responsibility for every aspect. Oliver set up a meeting for me with a DEA agent who was very informative. That helped me mould the character. When we were in rehearsal I was able to give Oliver an idea of where I was going with the character. Then, when you’re on set, that’s a whole other adventure where you’re figuring out the geography and the staging of each shot. That may change your performance, sometimes on set you even change your lines - with permission from the mettre ensemble (laughs).
How much did you know about the cartels, the drug war and the extreme brutality of that world before you made the movie?
I was quite familiar with it. It’s newsworthy because of the level of violence being used on innocent people. It’s quite different to the Mafia we’re more familiar with; this is a mafia that has no boundaries. Women and children were immune in the old mafia; with the cartels no one is immune. If you betray them, this is what happens. Our story is reflective of the truth, but fictitious as well. But to answer your question, I was familiar with it to some degree.
Tonight is all about looking back on your career, but it’s far from over yet. What have you got in the pipeline?
I’m entertaining the possibility of doing a remake of John Woo’s The Killer. We still have the Gotti movie in development (long gestating biopic of notorious mobster John ‘The Teflon Don’ Gotti), we haven’t got the script right yet. There’s also a movie about football coach Vince Lombardi (legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s), who my dad was actually coached by. I’m considering doing his life story.
And you’d play Lombardi?
You’ve also got The Killing Season with Robert DeNiro coming out next year. Can you tell us a little about that?
It’s about two war criminals who have a beef to settle. One’s a Serbian soldier, one’s an American soldier and they meet up in the United States to try to resolve an unresolvable mental condition they both have, which is a) being forced to go to war and b) the ramifications of that. It’s a beautifully written script. And I think I make a pretty convincing Serbian (laughs).