John Travolta in conversation with Barry Norman

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
Sunday 16th February 2014
Producers: Rocco Buonvino and Joe Ricotta
Hosted by Barry Norman 


John Travolta turned 60 on Tuesday 18 February 2014.  Two days before his birthday he received a welcome befitting a megastar at the 2,196 seat Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London.

The auditorium was packed with the young and not so young. Tumultuous applause commenced even before he set foot on stage. The prelude to his appearance was a twelve-minute screening of scenes from his movies. This dragged on a bit but his fans lapped it up, although one could sense the growing anticipation to see him in the flesh.

The audience was not disappointed. In a dance-like move he faced his fans and declared his love for them. ”I want to make love to you all,” he said more than once.  Orchestrated responses of “I love you, John” and more cries of joy and clapping filled the auditorium. The star of the blockbusters Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Pulp Fiction to name but a few has retained a youthful physique and cheeky smile.

Barry Norman, the evening’s host, a veteran TV presenter and film commentator, seemed rather nervous, and Travolta twice reached out to Norman’s hand and pressed it with warmth. He answered questions candidly, those put to him by Norman and later on by members of the audience. Most of what was said is in the public domain, yet it was an experience to hear him say it live. He indulged the audience with short dance routines and lots of smiles. He presented himself as reachable, touchable and loveable.

His late mother, a high school drama teacher and actress, his two sisters, present at the auditorium, should be credited with his success, he said.  Travolta, the youngest of the six siblings, made it very clear that he was very lucky to grow up in a family of artists.  He learned to sing, dance and act. In the acting profession, he confesses, you learn early on that to survive as an actor you need to master all three skills.

Barry Norman pressed him more than once on whether money was the motivation for working so hard and producing so many films. Travolta insisted it is definitely not money but interest in the role in the film and love of acting. He gives each and every role his 100 per cent. He loves the challenge each part brings with it; hence the wide variety of films in his repertoire – musicals, drama, action, science fiction and comedy.

The 1980s were his lean years. He rejected roles in a few films that turned out to be blockbusters. The role of Julian Kaye in American Gigolo, which propelled Andrew Geer to prominence, is just one of them. Billy Flynn in Chicago is another.

It was in 1989, that he made a stunning hit with the movie Look Who’s Talking (with two sequels). Travolta makes it clear he does not like sequels, yet he took part when he had to.

His career reached new heights with Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. His role as Vincent Vega won him a nomination for an Oscar in the Best Actor category.

Does he regret rejecting the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago?

“I don’t believe in regrets. There is room for us all,” he says.  In the last decade he completed 21 films and many other TV programmes. He insisted it is not the money; rather that he loves acting, the different roles and the challenges that they bring.

Travolta confessed that it is more fun to act the villain, and yes, he made it clear he would love to act the villain in a James Bond film. Watch this space.

Norman touched the delicate subject of the death of Travolta’s eldest son, Jett. Here there were moments of total silence in the auditorium. Norman told Travolta that he knows the pain of losing a loved one, as he lost his wife some three years ago and never recovered. Time does not heal. Travolta confesses that after Jett’s death he “didn’t want to wake up,” and that it was “the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life.”  He gives full credit to his religious faith and fellow members in the Church of Scientology “I will forever be grateful to Scientology for supporting me for two years solid, I mean Monday through Sunday. They didn’t take a day off, working through different angles of the techniques to get through grief and loss, and to make me feel that finally I could get through a day.”

James Gandolfini was also by his side during that difficult time. “James went out of his way to come to Florida and he would not leave Florida until I was okay, or he felt that I would be fine,” Travolta said of his Get Shorty and Lonely Hearts co-star. Unfortunately, three years later Gandolfini died.

As to the economic flop of Battlefield Earth, a movie based on a science fiction book by Scientology founder Ron Hubbard, Travolta appreciates that the film backfired and recognises its total failure to depict the book. And although the film was crowned as one of the “worst films ever made”, Travolta does not regret making it.

During the Q & A, a husband asked him if he could teach his wife to dance. Travolta reached out in response to the offer. The wife in question seemed thrilled, yet very self-conscious.  He slow danced with her and taught a handful of very excited fans a dance from Grease.

The audience loved the openness and warmth generated by this superstar. He reached out to his fans with affection and appreciation, and they just lapped it up. The presentation of the birthday cake and singing of happy birthday, the vibrant dance movements on stage—for the audience, they were the icing on the cake.