From Paris With Love: Interview with star John Travolta

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John Travolta plays Charlie Wax in "From Paris With Love," directed by French director Pierre Morel (Taken). The film, which also stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, is being released February 5 by Lionsgate.

On His Character

“Charlie Wax is one of those guys who, because he’s so good at what he does, can afford to be a little unethical,” explains Travolta. “He's the kind of guy that would be hired, for a lot of money, to go into very dangerous situations, war zones and so on, to do espionage type of work, undercover type of work, and he’s got it nailed. He’s not afraid of death. He has the war mentality.”

From the moment he read the script, Travolta saw in Wax the opportunity to try something completely new. “As an actor I’m first attracted to what I can do with a character that’s different than what someone else can do with it,” he says. “This was an outrageous character and it gave me a lot of opportunities to stretch.”

A Defined Look

Conferring with French director Pierre Morel (TAKEN) and Besson, Travolta decided to fashion Charlie Wax’s look after real-life soldiers of fortune. “These guys are almost stylish now for some reason,” says Travolta. “We looked at pictures of these guys with guns and scarves and leather jackets and parachute pants and they looked glamorous and it was so bizarre to see this dichotomy of glamour with guns.”

Travolta also grew a goatee and shaved off his hair, which he found unexpectedly liberating as an actor. “A bald look gave me the freedom to be bald,” he explains. “Just like in PULP FICTION, where this unusual kind of Dutch haircut gave a kind of euro-trash feeling to the character, this heroine hit man. It’s very important because film's a visual medium and all you know is what’s on screen, so you have to have a look that you are completely happy with. It satisfies the character.”

Chemistry between Characters and Actors

Much of the comedy in FROM PARIS WITH LOVE stems from the mismatched couple at its heart. Wax has no trouble shooting first and asking questions later, while Reese fumbles, like any civilian might, at the prospect of killing anyone at all. Says Travolta, “At first Wax is trying to estimate who Reese is and how much of a liability he’ll be. Wax is taking a guy who has potential and turning him into someone a little more rugged.”

However different Travolta and Rhys Meyers may be in real life, they succeed in generating a sharply comic, vibrant chemistry on screen. “Jonathan and I both have a similar attack on acting, so we both approach it in a very naturalistic way,” says Travolta. “Our energies are similar in that we keep the fire lit throughout a scene and if we don’t, we make it happen. So having that agreement where we trust each other and we’re comfortable with each other allows for a scene to come alive

A Physical Challenge

Despite Travolta’s talent for physical movement, he admits that FROM PARIS WITH LOVE was a notable challenge, particularly at his age. “This is probably the most action-packed film I’ve ever been in and is the most active that I’ve ever been,” he says. “I laugh at the idea that I’m allowing myself to do half the things I do. Every time I do a stunt where I’m rolling over, jumping over a table or jumping in the air with two guns, I giggle because theoretically you should be winding down at my age and not winding up!”

Working in France, for Travolta, was the fulfillment of a life-long wish. “I’ve wanted to do a movie in France for years,” he reveals. “I loved the atmosphere on set. I'm a very affectionate person and I loved that everybody hugs and kisses each other. But more importantly, I really appreciated that there is a work ethic and a care factor that matters. I had a great time.”