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Travolta is at the Cannes 2018 Film Festival with his new film Gotti, a biopic about mafia man John Gotti.
As part of the Rendez-Vous series at Cannes, in which notable actors and directors (like Travolta, Chris Nolan, Ryan Coogler, and Gary Oldman), sit down for an “in conversation” session, followed by an audience Q&A period, Travolta talked openly with the audience about a wide range of topics.
In the Bunel Theater, Travolta sat with French filmmakers, actors, and writers – and those from across the globe, too – and spoke for over an hour about his advice for artists (“take risks!”), the impact of Pulp Fiction on his career, what Benicio del Toro thinks of Grease, and more.
Sweetly (and unsurprisingly, as one expects Travolta to be a sweet guy), he delighted the audience by speaking snippets of French, offering gratitude for being hosted at Cannes, and he also drew attention to his family members present at the talk – wife Kelly, sister Ellen, and his daughter – lauding their praises and showing gratitude for them.
Of Pulp Fiction, the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film that re-booted Travolta’s career, and also won the Palm d’Or in Cannes, Travolta said:
“I don’t think anyone had any clue to the magnitude [of the film]. We thought of it as a small art film that would have a limited audience… I personally thought it’d be more like the fate of Reservoir Dogs… When we won the Palm d’Or, it exploded the film to a new level. That changed the film’s history.”
He went on to say of working with director Tarantino:
“It was terra incognita. This film broke through for directors, filmmakers and the audience. Quentin was like all great directors. All the great directors have one thing in common: they trust the actor that they’ve chosen. Quentin always viewed me as an unpredictable actor. He said: ‘If I wanted predictability, I’d have chosen someone different.’”
Of the direct consequences of the film, Travolta said with a smile: “The direct consequence was that I could write my ticket for the types of film I wanted to do and the type of directors I wanted to work with. It gave me 24 years of choice.”
Like many, Travolta has a special fondness for Grease, in which he played heartthrob Danny Zuko:
“Grease has been this timeless, endless gift to each new generation. I’ve never seen another movie do that. I grew up with Wizard of Oz and Yankee Doodle Dandy, and when I was watching them, I knew they came out a long time ago [unlike how young, new fans view Grease].
“Benicio del Toro,” who is this year’s head judge of the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes, “told me on the set of our film Savages: ‘When I was 12, I watched Grease 14 times in the movie theater. And you’re the reason I’m an actor.’ Benicio has this power and gravitas that you’d never think Grease would create an actor like him, but it did!”
He talked about the unpredictability of a life in the arts:
“Whenever there was a dip in my career, I just decided to live life to the fullest and absorb all that I could. Because when I got back to the opportunity to perform, I’d have a greater library of experience…
It’s our duty, as artists, to live life as art, and observe everything acutely that’s happening so we can use it. … I got a text from an actor friend about three months ago who was saying he wasn’t working, and didn’t know if he’d work again. I said to him: ‘You chose a profession that by its very nature is unpredictable. So go with it! Instead of looking at the downturn as a deficit, think of what could happen, what you might do next… The only guarantee is your confidence. It’s up to you to have certainty in your abilities.’”
Travolta spoke with fondness about his move of signing on to play the cross-dressing role of Edna in Hairspray:
“That’s what I do. I take risks. If I’m not taking a risk I’m not comfortable.”
Travolta told the audience, particularly the actors in the audience, that they should only compete with themselves:
“I don’t compete with anyone. I compete with myself. You have your own journey. You have your own ability. [You can’t keep] looking sideways to other people’s accomplishments. Keep your own personal integrity to the pieces of your work and your art. Did you ever take someone’s advice and fail at it? Isn’t it the worst feeling?
Ever take your own advice and fail at it? Doesn’t feel as bad. Because it’s your own advice…
It’s a very confusing world. So find things that stabilize you. And it can be different for every person. It can be anything.”
Bonjour Paris correspondent Anne McCarthy is on location in Cannes this week. Read her dispatches here.
Lead photo credit : John Travolta at the Cannes press conference. Photo: Anne McCarthy
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