Travolta, John: Talks about Career, Pulp Fiction, Gotti, Grease, and Staying Positive

When John Travolta was 5, he watched with his parents Fellini’s masterpiece, La Strada. “When I saw Giulietta Masina in that movie, it broke my heart,” he recalled Wednesday as he took part in a master-class conversation during Cannes Film Festival. “I said, ‘Why did she die?’ to my father, who replied, ‘She died of a broken heart.'”

The emotional impact of that moment was a crucial factor in his decision to become an actor. Although his mother, Helen Cecilia, was an actress and singer, he was dissuaded from pursuing a career as a performer. “I was a tenacious brat,” he joked.

Travolta’s passion project Gotti screened Tuesday, followed by a party at the Hotel du Cap. Earlier in the night, Travolta hit the red carpet for the Solo: A Star Wars Story premiere at the Palais.

Gotti was not part of the festival’s official lineup but was presented by Cannes head Thierry Fremaux as a special screening. Tonight, Travolta will appear at a beach screening of his classic musical Grease, celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary.

French journalist Didier Allouch conducted the talk held in the Bunuel Theatre on Wednesday evening.

Staying Positive

An audience member named Sandy, who told Travolta that she was born in 1980 and named after the Grease heroine, asked about his philosophy for staying positive.

“I practice Scientology, and we do very simple things to get ourselves in better shape: take care of yourself, get good sleep, be better parents, be productive, be motivated. It sounds simple, but they all contribute to your well-being.  And surround yourself with people who are positive influences because one bad egg can spoil everything.”

Travolta  brought along his wife and Gotti co-star Kelly Preston; daughter Ella Bleu Travolta; longtime manager Randi Michel; sister Ellen Travolta; and director Randal Kleiser, who helmed the star twice: on the TV movie The Bubble Boy and Grease.

Travolta influenced the career of Oscar winning actor Benicio Del Toro (Traffic). The Sicario actor (and this year’s Un Certain Regard juror) told Travolta that he watched Grease 14 times as a kid. “Benicio has this gravitas and power as an actor that you never really think that Grease would be the thing that created Benicio Del Toro,” Travolta quipped.

The crowd of the master class included a Ukrainian director who offered him a role in her short–he said he’d consider doing a short because he has no career rules.  A Ugandan animator asked for advice on how to get to the same level as the Pulp Fiction star. Travolta said he chooses roles–including playing Mafia don John Gotti–because they have little in common.

“Reinvention is what I’m all about. I get very bored with my own personality,” he said. “Another character, I could do all the time.”

The success of Pulp Fiction, which won the Cannes Film Fest Palme d’Or in 1994, surprised Travolta: “I had no idea the film would ignite as a cultural and box-office phenomenon.

“I don’t think anyone had any clue as to the magnitude that the Cannes Film Festival would have on the launch of this film,” he said. “We thought of it as a small art film that would have limited audience and not a global audience.”

Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino shared one thing in common with the great directors he’s worked with, John Woo, Robert Altman and Mike Nichols: “They trust the actor they’ve chosen.  Quentin always saw me as an unpredictable actor. He said, ‘If I wanted predictability, I would have chosen someone different.'”

His career included iconic turns in such films as Saturday Night Fever and Primary Colors–“I think I have Bill Clinton in my back pocket.”  H acknowledged the guidance he received from some forefathers including Marlon Brando, who Travolta tried unsuccessfully to enlist to co-star in A Civil Action (Robert Duvall played the role and was nominated for an Oscar).

“Brando said, ‘You should never engage in a movie if the director isn’t crazy about you, isn’t in love with you. They have to like you deeply because that trust will allow you to perform at a new level.'”

When asked about the #MeToo movement upending the old Hollywood, Travolta said: “I don’t know much about it. I try to keep people equal. I’m a citizen of the globe.  Division is a dangerous thing.”

Travolta said he has no career regrets, even about the box-office flop Battlefield Earth, as one audience member asked.  “Picasso had sketches that didn’t sell as well as others. I’d put it on my wall,” he said. “I don’t really worry about the absolute success of something.  I was really proud I got it done. That was a personal accomplishment of my life. I literally could do anything I wanted, and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ And I got it done.”