John Tra­volta wants to be Bond… James Bond.

Court­ing 61 and rar­ing to go, the Hol­ly­wood me­gas­tar chats with Colin Drury about play­ing the iconic Bri­tish spy, his love for Dubai and re­turn­ing to TV

Friday - - Contents -

John Tra­volta gives me the head­line to­wards the end of our meet­ing.

‘I would love to play James Bond,’ he says. And there it is! The big news, the top line.

One of Hol­ly­wood’s most fa­mous heavy­weights – Danny in Grease, Vin­cent in Pulp Fic­tion, Edna in Hair­spray – throws his wig into the ring to re­place Daniel Craig. JT wants to be JB. Dou­ble oh – surely no one saw that com­ing?

He might be 61. He might be Amer­i­can. He might be fa­mous for wear­ing a white suit (in Satur­day Night Fever) that would have Sean Con­nery spit­ting into his on-the-rocks night­cap. But why not? Tra­volta could pull off a su­per spy, couldn’t he? He knows his way around a gun and has a good put-down or two. He could have all of Hol­ly­wood shaken and stirred.

And then... there’s sort of a pause. Then there’s a but.

‘I would love to play James Bond... but my un­der­stand­ing of it be­ing a Bri­tish ori­gin thing means my an­swer to him is Get Shorty,’ he says. ‘I al­ways felt Chili Palmer was an Amer­i­can ver­sion but more... re­al­is­tic.’

An­other pause.

By the age of 24, John was the BIG­GEST Hol­ly­wood star on the planet and for a brief while, he OWNED the most fa­mous FACE in the US. He SHRUGS when I sug­gest this and says, ‘That’s prob­a­bly A FACT’

‘I will say,’ he adds, ‘I do feel I should play a bad guy in a Bond pic­ture.’ That’s al­most as good a head­line, isn’t it? We’re sit­ting, John and me, in a ho­tel room in Reno, Ne­vada, sur­rounded by fruit plat­ters and PR types. He’s in town to at­tend an avi­a­tion show (more on that on page 50) and ty­ing in a mini me­dia whirl­wind. In fact, he’s do­ing seven face-to-face in­ter­views this af­ter­noon.

That’s why there’s a French woman in the cor­ner hold­ing her phone up as a stop­watch. I have just 10 min­utes with the big man, it turns out.

John is unique-look­ing in real life. He’s tall and broad and still has that fa­mous dim­ple dec­o­rat­ing his Su­per­man chin, but there’s been surgery, and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily been kind. His face gives the im­pres­sion of a Toby jug moulded to look like how John Tra­volta used to. He looks like an A-lis­ter strug­gling to cope with grow­ing old.

Which is strange be­cause that’s not how he comes across. In con­ver­sa­tion, he’s en­thu­si­as­tic, ex­pres­sive and anec­do­tal. When I say I’ve trav­elled from Dubai, he springs up in his seat.

‘I love that place,’ he cries. ‘The ar­chi­tec­ture is amaz­ing. Any city like that, de­voted to ar­chi­tec­ture, wins me over straight­away. Chicago, Hong Kong. [They] as­tound me.’

As a fa­mously fully trained jumbo jet pi­lot with a pri­vate run­way in the back­yard of his Florida home, he says he’s flown twice into Dubai In­ter­na­tional.

‘It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary air­port,’ he says. ‘A piece of art re­ally. It’s like a vi­sion of the fu­ture made real. It’s busy but I like fly­ing in there.’

There’s a mi­nor pause. ‘It’s good you’re from Dubai,’ he con­firms.

And that’s how we be­gin. We’re al­ready a minute in.

To be fair, be­fore I flew 16 hours from Dubai for this meet­ing, I’d al­ready been told time with John would be tight. There were no bones about that. He’s in de­mand, they said. Part of me felt it wasn’t worth the air miles. Let’s be hon­est, what can John Tra­volta pos­si­bly say in 600 sec­onds that mer­its a 12,500km jour­ney? What can I even be­gin to ask that might re­motely give an insight into his life or an essence of who he is? More per­ti­nently, what’s to say John Tra­volta isn’t go­ing to spend 10 min­utes talk­ing about his Bre­itling watch (he’s do­ing the in­ter­view as brand am­bas­sador), pro­mot­ing his lat­est projects (he’s the voice of Gummy Bear for an up­com­ing movie) and then bam – thanks for com­ing, good night, next! Why even bother board­ing that plane? But I guess the an­swer is sim­ple: be­cause it’s John Tra­volta. Ac­tual, real-life chills mul­ti­ply­ing, royal-with-cheese, watch-the-hair, would-you-mind-not-shoot­ing-at-the-ther­monu­clear-weapons John Tra­volta.

The two-time Os­car-nom­i­nee, twice Golden Globe-win­ning, twice MTV Awards con­quer­ing John Tra­volta. Not just an ac­tor – not just your av­er­age Amer­i­can ac­tor like Chan­ning Ta­tum or Gar­rett Hed­lund – but a bona fide, four-decade-in-the-mak­ing, all-singing-all-danc­ing (lit­er­ally) Hol­ly­wood im­mor­tal who hasn’t been able to go out in pub­lic with­out be­ing recog­nised since 1978, when Grease went mas­sive and stayed that way for­ever; an icon widely con­sid­ered among the most ver­sa­tile show­biz tal­ents of all time; a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to the likes of Fred As­taire and Gene Kelly, who, in­ci­den­tally, were both per­sonal friends. John. Tra­volta. Who wants to be Bond one day. Sort of. John’s incredible story started in En­gle­wood, a tough neigh­bour­hood on the out­skirts of New York. Less than gifted aca­dem­i­cally, he took up act­ing and danc­ing as a teenage dis­trac­tion. He starred in a cou­ple of mi­nor films and TV shows be­fore the strato­sphere came call­ing.

Over a pe­riod of 18 months, he was cast in what he thought would be two rel­a­tively small-scale, retro films. Both went on to be­come defin­ing movies of the 20th cen­tury.

Satur­day Night Fever (1977) and Grease are cin­e­matic clas­sics. The former, about a disco dancer, is archived in the Li­brary of Congress be­cause of its cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. The lat­ter, a high-school flick, be­came the high­est-gross­ing mu­si­cal of all time in the US.

It meant that by the age of 24, John was the big­gest Hol­ly­wood star on the planet. For a brief while, he owned the most fa­mous face in the coun­try.

He shrugs when I sug­gest this. ‘That’s prob­a­bly a fact,’ he nods. He

would re­ceive thou­sands of let­ters from fans ev­ery sin­gle day. When crit­ics were cruel about his next few films, he had a ready re­ply. ‘It’s hard to make a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non ev­ery time,’ he told one.

His next great film was 1994’s

Pulp Fic­tion, from which peo­ple still quote at him to­day. ‘It’s that kind of writ­ing,’ he’s said pre­vi­ously. Since then, there’s been the good (Face/Off), the bad (Sword­fish) and the ugly

(Bat­tle­field Earth in 2000). But, in both con­tent and qual­ity, there has never been any lack of va­ri­ety. How does he de­cide his roles? ‘Ac­tu­ally, I’ve al­ways felt like I’ve been a muse for writ­ers,’ he says.

‘John Gotti the mob­ster LOVED me. So does his SON. He thinks I NAIL ev­ery role I play. So he came to me and said, “Who else to PLAY my dad but you?” That’s how we be­came FRIENDS, him reach­ing out’

‘If you had said to me years ago, “OK, th­ese are the roles you will play: the pres­i­dent of the US, a lawyer, a gang­ster, a woman”, none of th­ese would I have given to you as sug­ges­tions of what I would like to play. So, I’ve al­ways felt like writ­ers have given me the great gift of some­thing to be. And they have done such a good job that I spend very lit­tle time wor­ry­ing about roles.’

His up­com­ing projects are sim­i­larly di­verse. Pre­mier­ing in Fe­bru­ary will be his first

TV work since he was a job­bing young­ster. He will play Robert Shapiro, who was part of former foot­baller OJ Simp­son’s le­gal team, in Amer­i­can Crime Story: The Peo­ple

v. O. J. Simp­son. He fol­lows in the foot­steps of a clutch of other Hol­ly­wood stars such as Martin Sheen and Steve Buscemi re­turn­ing to the small screen.

‘Well, TV is the fu­ture and the fu­ture is here,’ he says. ‘You think of Mad Men and other se­ries like that... With Amer­i­can Crime

Story, we’ve ba­si­cally done a 10-hour movie. The qual­ity of [pro­duc­ers] Ryan Mur­phy [Glee] and Nina Ja­cob­son [The Hunger

Games] doesn’t get bet­ter in Hol­ly­wood. This is the big­gest pro­duc­tion I have ever worked on. Bar none. It’s mas­sive.’

Then there’s the long-ges­tat­ing biopic on the late New York mob­ster John Gotti, which will go into pro­duc­tion next year. JT was cho­sen for the part of Gotti Sr by the gang­ster’s son, Gotti Jr ‘John Gotti loved me,’ ex­plains JT. ‘So does his son. He thinks I nail ev­ery role I play. So he came to me and said, ‘Who else to play my dad but you?’ That’s how we be­came friends, him reach­ing out.’

He has ap­proached the role with a me­thod­i­cal zeal. ‘I want to know every­thing about my char­ac­ter,’ he says. ‘So I went from the time John Sr. woke to the time he went to bed. I went to the house he lived in, then through ev­ery de­tail.

‘He wakes up, show­ers, goes to the bar­ber most morn­ings, meet­ings at the venues he’s in­volved with dur­ing the day, ends up in the evening at a ta­ble, hav­ing din­ner. I in­ter­viewed the peo­ple who knew him, and I dis­cov­ered things. Like even though he took a per­cent­age of all the busi­nesses he was in­volved in [ex­tort­ing, gen­er­ally], if that busi­ness dipped into the red, he’d bail them out. That helped me cap­ture who this per­son is.’

In per­son, it’s sur­pris­ing but Tra­volta ac­tu­ally has a quiet air of vul­ner­a­bil­ity about him. It comes across most when we talk about so­cial me­dia. He doesn’t use any plat­form, and re­fuses to sign up on Twit­ter.

‘Oh, I think you’re invit­ing the devil,’ he says. ‘You’re invit­ing the opin­ions of any­one who wants to get on­line. And there’s enough cyn­i­cism in the world that, re­ally, you’re go­ing to in­vite more?

‘I mean, you can in­vite a lot of beau­ti­ful things in too, but you have to tol­er­ate the bad and that can be tough, and I’m

not a big per­son for sar­casm and cyn­i­cism. And you get that any­way, some­one like me. Just be­ing fa­mous, you get that. So I don’t need any more. Not in my own home.’

Iask if there’s any­thing he’d like to do if he wasn’t fa­mous. ‘Go to crowded res­tau­rants, he half sighs. Or a Broad­way show and not worry about be­ing no­ticed. Go to the movies on a Satur­day night.’

It’s that vul­ner­a­bil­ity, ac­tu­ally, which means, when you have just 10 min­utes, it feels wrong to dig too deep about the darker ar­eas of his life.

He’s spo­ken about how the death of his 16-year-old son Jett from a seizure in 2009 al­most de­stroyed him. ‘The truth is,’ he said dur­ing an on-stage in­ter­view at Lon­don’s Theatre Royal last year, ‘I didn’t know if I was go­ing to make it. Life was no longer in­ter­est­ing to me.’

Scien­tol­ogy helped him, he says. And he still de­fends the con­tro­ver­sial re­li­gion.

‘Peo­ple re­ally need to take time and read a book,’ he pre­vi­ously told Good Morn­ing

Amer­ica. ‘That’s my ad­vice. If you re­ally read [about] it, you’ll un­der­stand it, but un­less you do, you’ll spec­u­late. And I think that’s a mis­take.’ John has two other chil­dren, daugh­ter Ella Bleu, 15, and four-year-old son Benjamin, both with wife of 24 years, Kelly Pre­ston.

‘I love kids and I al­ways wanted to be a fa­ther,’ he says. ‘It’s the great­est role.’

Time’s run­ning out. I ask which, of all the char­ac­ters he’s played, is most like him.

He strug­gles a lit­tle be­fore sug­gest­ing James in Look Who’s Talk­ing be­cause ‘I love kids’.

Then, he adds: ‘Play­ing my­self is not some­thing I grav­i­tate to­wards. I don’t feel like I’m a guy who has ever been iden­ti­fied for my per­son­al­ity. I feel like it’s al­ways been iden­ti­fied as a char­ac­ter per­for­mance.’

I ask which of his films he’d most like to do a se­quel for.

‘I think Wild Hogs,’ he says, ‘be­cause it’s fun, it en­ter­tained peo­ple on a cer­tain level. The more dra­matic things, I feel, should be left alone. Don’t flog them.’

And then time re­ally is run­ning short. He’s telling me an anec­dote about how, last night, he was at an An­drea Bo­celli (the vis­ually im­paired iconic Ital­ian mu­si­cian and singer) con­cert in Los An­ge­les and he started cry­ing be­cause the song Maria was so beau­ti­ful. He’s telling me this when the French lady runs over.

Either John Tra­volta has been en­joy­ing the ques­tions or (seems more likely) she got dis­tracted but we’re six min­utes over. The big man is stand­ing up, shak­ing my hand. He’s say­ing, in a con­text I don’t un­der­stand at the time and still can’t fig­ure out now, ‘You know, it’s how Shake­speare says, to be or not to be.’ What? I don’t know.

And then I’m be­ing es­corted out the door, into the ho­tel cor­ri­dor, out into Reno’s dusty streets. Six­teen min­utes on my tape. A 16-hour jour­ney home ahead.

John Tra­volta is an ac­com­plished pi­lot and has flown into Dubai In­ter­na­tional Air­port twice

From a high-school bad­boy in Grease to hit­man in Pulp Fic­tion, an obese mom in Hair­spray, and disco dancer in Satur­day Night Fever, John Tra­volta has proven that he’s a man of many tal­ents

Kelly Pre­ston and John Tra­volta are a rare ex­am­ple of mar­i­tal suc­cess in Hol­ly­wood

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