Recently John Travolta has been embroiled in a sex scandal where he was accused
of groping two male masseurs. Although one of the accusers was discredited, when it turned out that Travolta was out of town on the day of the alleged incident, more men have since come forward, making similar allegations against the Hollywood star.
In spite of the raging storm of negative publicity around him, Travolta, dressed casually, looks as cool as hit man Chili Palmer, who he played in Get Shorty, when he dashes into the room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss his
role in Oliver Stone‘s new movie, Savages, a film about a war between Californian marijuana growers and a Mexican drug cartel.
Fit and agile as a 20 year-old athlete and smiling jovially, the 58-year-old takes a seat behind a table and gets ready to express himself for the first time since the latest explosion of his life a few weeks ago, which remarkably he seems to be unfazed by. So how does he swim so serenely, while surrounded by so many avaricious sharks, in the treacherous waters of the ocean of life?
“I play tennis 5 days a week, I lift weights and I eat well,” he explains. “I added Greek yogurt to my daily diet, which I highly recommend.”
That is what keeps him fit, but what truly keeps him happy is his religion, which he has been practicing since 1975, and flying.
“My Scientology has always kept me healthy and happy,” he says. “Flying my airplanes keeps me young and my attention outward.”
A certified private pilot, Travolta owns five aircraft, including an ex-Qantas Boeing 707 airliner. His $4.9 million estate in Florida is situated on Greystone Airport with its own runway and taxiway right to his front door, which he designed himself.
“The home in Florida is all based around aviation,” he enthuses. “And I have designed the interiors of my planes because I have a very specific idea of how one should be a passenger, so I go to great lengths to do that.”
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Travolta flew his 707 full of supplies, doctors and Scientologists into the disaster area. But he mainly uses his planes to indulge his friends and family with trips around the world.
The New Jersey native has been married to actress Kelly Preston since 1991. The following year, the couple had a son Jett, who died in 2009. Their daughter Elle Bleu and son Benjamin were born in 2000 and 2010 respectively.
“Having a baby at my age is like having a grandchild,” he quips. “You have enough experience that you don’t worry about the same things you did when you were younger having children, so I would say it’s a lot easier this time even though running around with him on the antics that we do is a little more exhausting at this age.”
Travolta’s career has been as tempestuous as his private life. The son of an Italian American father and an Irish American mother first gained fame as a suave, dim-witted, Brooklyn high school student on the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” but what really catapulted him to superstardom was his sensational starring roles in the disco drama “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977, which earned him an Oscar-nomination, and the musical Grease in 1978. But then – for some indiscernible reason, the biggest star of the 1970’s languished throughout the next decade, his engaging talent essentially untapped and virtually forgotten until he was resurrected in 1994 by Quentin Tarantino, who cast him in a leading role in Pulp Fiction, which injected his dying career with a new anabolic boost and gained him another Oscar nomination.
Although Travolta concedes that Pulp Fiction is one of the most pivotal and defining events of his career, he believes that some of his good work has been overlooked.
“The truth really is that right before Pulp Fiction, I had done a huge comedy called Look Who’s Talking,” he stresses. “It was the biggest comedy in history at the time but it wasn’t the quality of film that I had started out with.”
“I started out with an Academy award nomination and Golden Globe nomination and a lot of respect for my acting, so by the time these several years went by and I hadn’t done that kind of role again it was diminishing. So there was a lot of success but there wasn’t that level. Pulp Fiction introduced a new level of work which enabled me to take the opportunity and do more work that was of that quality.”
Indeed, following the phenomenal success of Pulp Fiction and the rousing response to Travolta’s gritty, darkly funny performance as a junkie hit man, he was overnight commanding tens of millions of dollars for macho actioners like Get Shorty (1995), The Thin Red Line (1998) and Ladder 49 (2004). The Oscar-winning film also introduced the actor, who had previously played lighthearted, lovable characters, to the dark, hard-edged roles.
“To have the ability to delve into the darker side gives you more opportunity to have a varied career,” he says. “Pulp Fiction invited me to that and then it built kind of a juggernaut after that with Broken Arrow and Face Off and other movies that invited this darker side to my performances. It’s fun to play,” he laughs.
So when Oliver Stone approached him to play a corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Savages, the two-time Oscar nominee leapt on the opportunity to delve into the darker side once again.
Although aware of the Mexican drug cartels from news reports, Travolta was not versed into the details, hence he was not sure how to play his character, until Stone introduced him to a DEA agent, who spent a week with him, introducing him to his perilous job.
“That’s where I discovered the duplicitousness of this character, because he would actually spend time with families and be acting someone different with them, and within days he was going to betray them and turn them in. I said ‘you love this family?’, he said ‘yes’, so I said ‘how could you live with yourself turning them in?’, he said ‘that’s just my job and that’s what I have to do. I said ‘wow and I thought ‘there’s the character,’
“He could make a mistake so he had to be that good of an actor to fool people well in precarious situations, because If he made any wrong move in the way he looked, the way he spoke, he could get found out and killed.”
Having journeyed into the dark tunnels of his character, Travolta decided to brighten it with a bit of humour, which helped to balance the grim darkness of the movie and give it levity. “I just played him as a dick the whole way full throttle,” he laughs.
No one doubts Travolta’s brilliance in playing tough characters, but many of his fans still miss his musical and dancing talent that beguiled them in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. In fact, his 2007 musical Hairspray, which garnered him rave reviews and a Golden Globe nomination, went on to become the third highest grossing musical of all time, with Grease still holding strong in first position.
“I think musicals are like westerns,” he reflects. “They’re a genre that is limited in how often they’re made. They have to be really good to buy into them and that’s why I don’t do more because I love them and I would do one a year if I could. I have someone working in New York on a musical for me now, but I don’t know if it will come to a fruition or not.”
In the meantime, the veteran stage actor will continue to play bad guys. He is looking forward to playing an historical bad character, the eponymous Gotti, which is still at the development stage. “I’ve never played a bad guy that’s been a real live historical character, so it may be interesting,” he enthuses.
These days, however, people are far more interested in the star’s sextuality instead of his creative endeavours. Even his riveting performance in Savages has been virtually overlooked in the media’s preoccupation with his legal battles.
Travolta has been a target of such allegations over a period of decades by ruthless people hellbent on destroying his career or fleecing money out of him. But he always emerged unscathed and victorious. Whether the recent allegations have any substance or not, an actor should be free to love and have sex with whomever he wants and not need to broadcast it to the world. If he is truly gay and is trying to conceal it, then he is harming only himself and his family. But he insists that his family comes before everything in his life.
“I’m sure if I were to be in a situation where my family, my kids and wife, were vulnerable and I’d have to prove my self to protect them, I would so, but knock on wood I haven’t been in that situation yet,” he says with an emotional voice.