Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.
Following the fanfare of the 67th Academy Awards in 1995, John Travolta and his father went to Chasen's in Hollywood to decompress. “Forrest Gump” had ruled the night. Tom Hanks won best actor, besting Travolta for his turn as heroin-loving, burger-eating, hip-shaking L.A. hit man Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.”
‘Tarantino XX: Celebrating 20 Years of Filmmaking’
Two of Quentin Tarantino’s films return to the big screen in Gainesville this week:
"Reservoir Dogs”:7 p.m. Tuesday at Cinema 14 Butler Plaza in Gainesville.
“Pulp Fiction”: 7 p.m. Thursday at Cinema 14 Butler Plaza in Gainesville.
Tickets: Available through Fandango.com and at the theaters.
“We went out,” Travolta recalled, “and I said, ‘Dad, are you disappointed I didn't win?' He said, ‘Johnny! Could anyone have squeezed more out of a nomination than you did? The press. The offers ... Do you think if you would have won it would have been that different?'”
“You know you deserved it,” Salvatore Travolta told his famous son. “But I'm thrilled with all the wonderful results you're getting from it.”
Indeed, father knew best.
The quirky, violent “Pulp Fiction” launched writer/director Quentin Tarantino from indie-film hero to box office-busting Hollywood player. But it also put Travolta — he of “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease” — back on the A-list.
“It meant a new beginning for me,” said Travolta, who lives in Anthony with his family. “It's not that I wasn't working as an actor; the biggest comedy at the time was ‘Look Who's Talking.' It wasn't that there was a lack of success or movies, but there was a lack of people inviting me to the quality of film I started out with — ‘Urban Cowboy' and ‘Saturday Night Fever' — that were Oscar-caliber roles.
“That was important for me to get that back because for, what is it?, 16 or 17 years, I've been able to do great movies with great directors, and it's been a gift that has lasted longer than the first part of my whole career.”
Last week, Travolta spoke at length about “Pulp Fiction,” as the much-loved/much-loathed film is slated for a one-day-only return to the big screen on Thursday. The nationwide screening is part of a larger celebration honoring Tarantino, who marks his 20th year of filmmaking. His first big film, 1992's “Reservoir Dogs,” is slated for a one-day-only theatrical screening on Tuesday.
For Tarantino, “Pulp Fiction” provided an opportunity to direct one of his favorite actors, John Travolta.
“I've just been a fan of his for a really, really long time. I just haven't seen him in a movie used the way I thought he should be used, the way I would use him,” Tarantino said in a documentary that accompanied the deluxe DVD release of “Pulp Fiction.”
For Travolta, “Pulp Fiction” was more than a career cannon. He adores the film, adores Tarantino, adores the memories of this bloody, stylish and oddly funny film about L.A.'s offbeat underbelly. The following are excerpts from an Ocala Star-Banner interview with Travolta on the movie, its making and, certainly, its impact.
Q: How did you know about this script?
A: There was a rumor that a young new director who had directed a film called ‘Reservoir Dogs' was quite interested in working with me. And his name was Quentin Tarantino.
I said, “Sounds good. He's talented. I saw the movie. I would love to meet him, too.” There was nothing said about what was in mind, but I met with him. After six or seven hours of hanging out, he verbally presented two ideas to me. One was the vampire movie “From Dusk Till Dawn” and the other one was “Pulp Fiction.”
I responded to “Pulp Fiction” but I didn't respond to “From Dusk Till Dawn,” and he noticed that. So at the end of the meeting he said, “I'm curious. You seem to like the ‘Pulp Fiction' one, but you did not respond as much to the other.” I said, “Well, it's simple, Quentin. I'm just not a vampire guy.”
Q: How did you develop Vincent Vega?
A: (Quentin) was pleased with my take on it. And, of course, I improved my library of choices by all the investigation I did on the role. I interviewed heroin addicts quite in depth. White-collar heroin addict, street heroin addict. They both had different takes on it because one was just a weekend guy, and one was every day.
I was interested in somewhere in the middle but more toward the weekend guy because (Vincent) had this job as a hit man. A lot of my research added a full-bodied take on this character.
Quentin said, “Wherever you take me, I'm going to go with it.” And he did. I mean, I was doing very unusual choices that didn't really make sense to him — walking slow, my slow delivery of dialogue, my shuffle, the way I was scratching my face. I was playing the heroin addict, but out of context, he wasn't sure how it was going to all make sense. But he trusted that it would.
The other thing he didn't know I would add to it was the humor. My origin is comedy. Comedy is normally how I would approach any dramatic role because you balance it. It's like a yin-yang thing.
At one time he said, “I didn't know I made a comedy. I discovered I made a comedy after it was over.” I just felt I had to balance the violence and the grotesque images with something that cut it right in half. By making it funny, it made it more watchable, more viable as an entertainment piece.
Q: What was your favorite moment on the set?
A: Well, my favorite moment was when we spent the whole day, from 7 a.m. to probably 8 p.m., on a scene at Jack Rabbit Slim's with Uma (Thurman, during the Twist contest to Chuck Berry's “You Never Can Tell”). Quentin said to me at the end of the day, “Do you realize that you have captivated every single person of this crew from the moment we started this morning 'til we shut down tonight?” He said, “I am so (expletive) proud of you.”
Q: What were your particular choices in that scene?
A: I'm a stickler on rehearsing when you have a lot of objects. I had to roll a cigarette, drink a milkshake, cut a steak, roll a cigarette, light her cigarette. These are all bits you have to do amid an eight- or 10-page scene. Once you get certainty on that, you can approach it in character and be the guy. This character, that's why he got high before he left for the date because he's very nervous about the date. So the heroin's taking the edge off the nervousness.
There was a lot of stuff to play, and I just felt I had a through-line that worked. Uma had a through-line that worked, and they met very beautifully. It's hard to say why it worked so well, but I knew I had a take on it.
Q: Whose idea was the Batusi?
A: You mean the dance? Well, the Twist was Quentin's idea. My idea was to add all the novelty dances ... the Batman and the Swim and the Hitchhiker and the Watoosie. The Twist is wonderful, and as a little boy, I used to do the Twist. I even won a contest doing the Twist when I was 8. But (here) it went on too long, and I said, “You might want to mix it up.”
The funny thing was it wasn't the Twist that was the memorable part, it was the Batman.
Q: Did you have any idea these scenes would have such longevity?
A: I don't know if I could honestly say I did. Quentin's enthusiasm was so intense over how I was doing and interpreting the role, I knew we had something good. But to know that it would be iconic would probably not be accurate. I think you have something that the audience discovers and makes it iconic.
To be honest, I thought “Pulp” would have the same fate as “Reservoir Dogs,” meaning it would be an art house movie that would have a smaller audience. I never thought it would have a mainstream audience; I thought it was too unique of a movie to hit a commercial note. And when it did, it surprised all of us, I think, because we were going to be fine with it having the same success as “Reservoir Dogs.” But that it would become “Forrest Gump” was a (starts laughing) whole other idea.
Q: What were your thoughts when you watched the final product?
A: I had not seen it until I arrived at Cannes (Film Festival), and I saw it on this gigantic screen. Kelly (Preston) and I sat there and we were literally blown away. I mean, we could not believe how good it was. And then moments later, it won best picture at Cannes Film Festival.
It was one of those astonishing things ...You're watching a best picture and then you get acknowledged for being the best picture and you say, “Yeah, that's right.”
Q: Then came the Academy Award nomination.
A: That was phenomenal. In show business, in particular the movie industry, you cannot predict these things. You just never know. I had full confidence the movie would be nominated, but I didn't know if I would. I was on the set of “Get Shorty” when that happened. ABC, NBC — they were all there — waiting for my reaction, and I thought, “Well guys, what are you going to do if I don't? This is going to be an embarrassing moment.” My name, because of ‘T' is the last on the roster, so the four came up and I thought, “Oh, man! This is not going to happen and I'm going to be on national news.” And then, BAM!, John Travolta for “Pulp Fiction,” and I was on screen, elated.
Q: Were you prepared to throw a tantrum if you were not nominated?
A: No (laughing), I was prepared to hide.
Q: How often are you approached with the “Cheese Burger Royale” lines?
A: I get it a lot (laughing). But the wonderful news is, because of the variety of films I've done, there's always such a beautiful variety of catchphrases that people will say to me from their favorite movies. Even “Welcome Back Kotter,” I'll get a quote. But definitely “Pulp Fiction” is up there with quotes.
Q: Any chance of a sequel?
A: The only thing I can say is there is a big desire for Quentin and I to get together again, whether it's for a sequel or something new. I know there is a push toward it from many angles. ... So I'm expecting something will be done, I just don't know; it would have to be a prequel, and I don't know if, all these years later, that would make sense.
I think that the operative thing would be that Quentin and I would be working together again.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.