OVER THE DECADES, we have seen John Travolta in various avatars. For many, he will always be the slick-haired Danny, totting a cigarette and burning up the dance floor in Grease (1978). For others, he will be the terrorist/agent in Face/Off (1997), and of course, who will ever forget the cold-blooded assassin Vincent Vega of Pulp Fiction (1994)? We can now see Travolta as the crime boss John Gotti in Kevin Connolly’s Gotti. Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston plays his wife in the movie as well. It is a role that Travolta has been pursuing for the last seven years, and it’s one that shows that the man retains his acting chops.
Why have you been wanting to play Gotti?
He just fascinated me as a very complicated character. He behaved in such an interesting way with his family and his crime life, and he was a colourful character. He was someone who was kind of fun to grasp, he had integrity to what he did, and he believed in his decisions on life. And I think that is kind of interesting. I asked many people in my research, ‘He took from your business and why did you love him?’ And they said, ‘Because he protected us if we went into the red.’ So, he would take a percentage of your business, but if you were going to close, he would never let your business close. So, the people were rooting for him and I had never heard of a gangster [who had] people rooting for him. But I guess that was part of his cachet; he bailed people out. So, he had a global kind of concept in a very specific way. He aided people’s survival, otherwise he would not have been loved and admired to the degree and level that he was.
Why did you choose Kevin Connolly to direct the film?
Because Kevin grew up in this neighbourhood in New York and he loved and understood the whole Gotti era, and he knew it to a point where I said, ‘Kevin, you and I know it, but the audience may not understand the dates, times and events, and we have to clarify that.’ But he loved it so much that he just assumed that everyone understood the playing field. So I loved that he understood it, and he’s [a director] who I think has a vision and he is an artist and I think he knew what kind of a movie he wanted to make. And that is why I chose Kevin. He had several incarnations and none of them quite got it. One of them was too violent [for] a classic gangster shoot-up film. The other guy was maybe too much on family and could not balance it. Finally, he got it right. It’s a combination of both.
What was it that attracted you to Gotti’s character?
As an actor, I’ve been around for so long and have played so many different characters that I am always challenged by a dynamic character to play. You love the way he walks and talks and his style and verbiage. He was someone that I could really hold on to and play. I love playing specific guys, not just perhaps John Travolta kind of doing it. But to really be the character, to become Gotti, I [would have to] give a performance.
Gotti did have style. Where does your own fashion sense come from?
I think that initially it came from my mother. I think she always thought that people were each other’s scenery and that we have to look at each other. And the sad thing that happened for a moment in the late 60s was that people thought it was egocentric to look good. Then finally you learn that maybe it’s not egocentric but maybe it’s a polite and well-mannered thing to look nice for each other... ’cause we are not looking at ourselves, and maybe it’s a generous gesture to be of good appearance. And my brother-in-law was a photographer for Vogue when I was a teenager and he dressed us all. He dressed the women and he dressed the men. My first pair of bell bottoms, my first suit, were all from my brother-in- law; so it was kind of in the family to try and look your best at events or for school or what have you.