worked one day in the last four. And that was a TV chat show. ‘Doing press in Britain is kinda easier.‘ he confides.‘because by the time you get here you already know how the movie‘s done.‘
In this case. the movie‘s done good. and John can feel a little more at his ease. but his past encounters with his critics have left traces of wariness in this sunniest of souls. A probing question can see his bright and boyish demeanour suddenly clouded. murky like tea when the milk‘s just been added. When I ask him how he coped when people appeared not to want to see his movies anymore. he reacts like his own cheerleader with an over-eager response that seemed to conceal an inkling ofdoubt.
‘When you‘re me and you look through my eyes. you see twelve years where I have had five enormous hits.‘ he opines. turning
the azure gaze on full beam and
counting offon his fingers. ‘Saturday Night Fever. Grease. Urban Cowboy. Staying Alive and Look Who's Talking. Of the movies that didn‘t do well. some of them were critically but not commercially successful and some were neither. but ifyou look at the totality you feel proud and honoured to have the opportunity to do that. Most actors go through their careers without even doing one movie that big.‘
But when there comes a point when your profile is fading. when it really isn‘t as high as it once was. surely that must be a cause of anxiety. maybe even panic?
‘Recently I‘ve had a number of journalists take this viewpoint with me. I find it really very tiring. Look. I‘ve always been busy. I‘ve always been happy during that time. For people writing articles. it makes a story more interesting ifit‘s harder on someone. Ijust think it's hard to be in show business. period. Whether you‘re famous or not famous. on Broadway or in summer stock. it‘s hard. The art part is fun. Acting. singing. dancing. that‘s fun. But the press part has always been difficult.‘
One senses too that choosing the right roles has never been a process he finds easy. This is the man who. after Grease and Saturday Night Fever could have had the pick ofthe Hollywood crop. Instead he opted to do Moment By Moment. a mawkish. uncomfortable relationship movie based on the highly dubious premise that people would pay good money to watch John Travolta lock tongues with I-in Tomlin. Next he turned down Paul Schrader‘s American Gigolo because he didn‘t want to do another film with older women. and having thus unwittingly unleashed Richard Gere on an unsuspecting world compounded the process by turning down An Officer And A Gentleman. specially written for him by old buddy Taylor Hackford. Other notable Travolta career decisions include passing on Splash because superagent Mike Ovitz assured him that Warren Beatty would soon go into production with Mermaid (he didn‘t).
‘At the start I pretty much decided what I was gonna do.‘ Travolta recalls. ‘then midway along the line. careerwise. I started to thipkthat maybe someone else knew better than I did and so I should heed some advice. as opposed to thinking that my way would be the correct way. Unfortunately a couple of times that I did that it didn‘t turn out too right. What you learn is that. win or lose. if you make your own decision. you feel better regardless.‘
One‘s only response here is that if he feels good about the way the camera lingered over his thrusting crotch during the aerobic scenes with Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect. or truly elated about the sight ofhimself in a matching three‘piece (headband. loincloth and leggings. that is) in Staying Alive. then who are we to argue? Whatever Look Who '3
Talking is. it sure as hell isn‘t art.
Any movie whose idea ofa comic set-piece involves filming a foetus inside the womb with rollicking
repartee voiced by none other than Bruce Willis just doesn‘t come near the ballpark.
Travolta is keen to remind us. however. that only EThas ever scored higher marks on the test cards from preview audiences. In the film he plays a likeable New York City cabbie named James who ferries pregnant single mum Kirstie Alley to the hospital and sticks around to act as a babysitter while she‘s out trying to convince ne‘er-do-well business type George Segal to be a father to the child. Meanwhile. through the Willis voice-over. baby Mikey lets us know that he wants our J .T. for his poppa. and it‘s only a matter of time before his momma dawns to his all-round good blokeness. ‘There are three things I‘ve always felt I did naturally.‘ says John-boy. ‘I always felt I danced naturally. had a good rapport with children naturally, and ﬂew a plane quite naturally. This movie was written especially for me, and I get to do all three. I think there‘s more of me in James than any other character I‘ve played.‘
On screen in Look Who's Talking he‘s every bit at home as usual. It‘s hard to judge. because he‘s had so few roles that have stretched him in the way that Brian De Palma‘s vastly under-rated ersatz Hitchcock Blow Out did. but one might have the bones of a case to suggest that Travolta is one of the most natural screen actors from the 70s and beyond. In the course ofthe afternoon he refers several times to his Oscar nomination as Tony Manero. and indeed here his authentic empathy for the rhythms of street-talk and movement cloaked a core of insecurity that was deftly rendered. this forthcoming projects. a Miami-set crack movie called Chains ofGoId and the story of a recovering alcoholic The Tender (directed by Robert The Hitcher Harmon). at least the latter suggests something ofa challenge before he settles into the sequel to Look Who’s
In the meantime. one looks forward to a British screening for an American Public Television production of Harold Pinter‘s The Dumb Waiter. where he was cast on the express orders of director Robert Altman and the venerated playwright himself. ‘Actually. Pinter told me it was his favourite interpretation of the role. Not so much the accent. as why I knew that character so well. I told him I‘d met someone like that. with that kind of criminal mentality. I‘d watched him for a while and then brought a lot of that to the role.‘
With a flourish ofwhat is unarguably the worst Cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke donned a chimney-sweep‘s dungarees. he is chuffed that artists ofsuch reputation have come headhunting him. Adding. in a moment that sums up the star‘s ingratiating blend of tacit pride and lingering hesitancy: ‘You wonder why did they choose me.‘
Look Who '3 Talking ( 12) goes on
wide release across central Scotland from Fri 6 April. See Film listings for full details.
‘Travolta was all-singing, all-dancing, all-preening, all-conquering. Whereeveryou looked he was there . . . With his skinny butt strut and the teeth, dimples, and baby blues on full frontal assault he was the piece of ass that passeth all understanding. And because he made them feel good about running a comb through their hair in public, even the dudes dug him. For eighteen months he had the world in the palm of his bikini briefs. He did everything right except die.’
The List (i — I‘) April 19905