Travolta on the ‘Basics:’ Inside a Hollywood icon

Jean Ellen Gismervik

“Basic,” John Travolta’s latest turn as an unconventional military officer, opened fourth in the box office last week in the midst of a war, but on the heels of Chris Rock and Queen Latifah. It seems that movie-goers would rather see Rock as “Head of State” and let Latifah’s slapstick bring them in the movie house than see more camouflage and bloodshed. But whether or not “Head of State” is escape or irony, “Basic” is a movie whose moral reminds you that things are not always what they seem. Sitting down with Travolta was a buffet of topical densities ranging from the frosty residue of his impeccable cool to the chilling reality of training with Rangers – only to watch them go off to fight a war while his would only exist on celluloid. But always present and effervescent, was a genuine and childlike enthusiasm that bubbled up throughout his descriptions of life and the people in it. Basically, John Travolta may be the epitome of cool, but there is no escaping his warmth.Jean Gismervik: There’s been some talk of a sequel to “Pulp Fiction …”

John Travolta: Yes, but you can’t predict that because Quentin beats to his own drum. He has it in his mind what could be … I know he wants to work with all his “Pulp” actors. He’s done Sam already and he’s doing Uma now with “Kill Bill” so I’m kind of the next up … so he wants to take a long meal of all his “Pulp” actors, but I think I’m next, I don’t know what that means.

JG: You’ve uttered some of the coolest lines in cinema … but which one was your favorite?

JT: Oh gosh there’ve been so many, almost iconic like, “Look at me” from “Get Shorty.” I like the one from this one, “I’m still a little drunk from this morning, so if I skip the witty banter and skip straight to hitting on you, I hope you don’t mind.” That’s pretty cool. God, every movie had cool dialogue. I mean, look at “Pulp Fiction,” you could quote almost every other line and it’s a cool piece of dialogue. Although all the stuff with Uma I really liked in that movie.

JG: Have you ever used some of these lines on your wife, Kelly Preston?

JT: I don’t know if they’d work on my … actually no, whenever I do a little “Urban Cowboy” or something and she gets kind of giddy. I mean I can do that and it kind of does work or if I get into a uniform or something.

JG: You’ve said that playing military persona fits you very well, can you elaborate on this?

JT: When I did “Broken Arrow” I was surprised that I was able to be so convincing as a military person, especially a psychotic military person whose like a warmonger, an elegant warmonger, but nevertheless a warmonger but the whole orderly kind of discipline I seem to pull that off well … it’s something that I’ve stumbled upon that seems to be effective … I wouldn’t have thought I could have played a heroin addict hitman either, except I’ve only played one of those where I’ve played a few military types.

JG: To prepare for “Basic” you trained with the Rangers. What was the experience like?

JT: It was interesting. It’s a very confident group. They know they’re the best and they’re real and down to earth and they’re all built. They all have these great builds and I thought ‘Oh God now I have to get in shape’…they carried themselves well, very proficient at what they did. I did the grenades and the bunker thing and crawled on the ground … and then the next day the battalion I worked with went to the Middle East and that really messed with my mind a little bit. Like, I was just pretending here, but they’re going to actually go and I didn’t like that feeling. That was weird to me.

JG: You had to get in shape for this role and we see the results very early in the movie. I go to a school where the students are very body conscious; do you have any advice for them?

JT: Well I think that the purpose is to just be healthy and the physical will come after that. That’s how I did it … what I meant is that if I just wanted to feel better then take your time and you’ll get in shape, but if you do it just to look better, then you’re just going to get obsessed about it. Then it just gets weird … if you do it just to feel better then the by-product by nature is that you’ll start to look better.

JG: Who are some people you would like to work with in the future?

JT: I’d like to work with Meryl Streep, I would like to work with Scorscese, Spielberg. I’ve had my share of amazing directors but those are two that I haven’t. Tom Hanks is a good friend of mine. I’d like to work with Tom one day.

JG: In the movie you play an interrogation specialist. What’s the best way to get the truth out of you?

JT: Give me a piece of chocolate cake!