Travolta reflects on his career, past Oscar experiences
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 10:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 10:39 p.m.
By John Travolta’s count, he has attended 25 Academy Awards ceremonies.
“Maybe 26,” he said last week from his Anthony home. Travolta will be a presenter at tonight’s 86th annual Academy Awards; he’ll attend the ceremony with his wife, actress Kelly Preston, and their 13-year-old daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta. This will be Ella’s second Academy Awards.
“She’s truly thrilled,” he said. “She loved it last year. She hobnobbed with Spielbergs and with Halle Berry — you name it. Christopher Plummer, Jane Fonda, Adele and Barbra Streisand.”
Travolta speaks warmly about Oscar ceremonies. In those 25-or-more years, he has served in many capacities, from presenter to best actor nominee.
He spoke to the Star-Banner last week about his Oscar memories. As he spoke, his 3-year-old son Benjamin chattered nearby, playing and, at one point, offering pretend food to his famous father.
“I want two,” Travolta told Ben, excusing himself from the interview for a second with a laugh.
These are the moments Travolta adores. Two days after the interview, the Travoltas left — from their backyard runway — for California to prepare for the Academy Awards. This, too, will be a family affair, not just because he is attending with Preston and Ella, but also because he’ll see friends he’s known and loved for decades.
At the Oscars, the actor has gone from a wide-eyed young nominee meeting his screen idols in the late 1970s to a 60-year-old screen idol escorting his two best ladies to a family reunion in the 21st century.
The following are excerpts from the interview in which Travolta discussed the pace, pomp and preparation of the ceremony.
“We start early around 1 p.m. or 12 to get ready. Ella and Kelly will have a hair person there and a makeup person, and I will doll up as much as I can,” he said with a laugh.
Preston, he said, picked her dress out a month ago, while Ella has had her dress for about three weeks.
To be sure, they will look their best, but they will avoid the ceremony’s frenetic red carpet into the theater.
“I don’t do the red carpet — unless you are nominated. Then you have to do the red carpet. I’ve done it a few other times. But it’s actually really stressful because they ask you who your favorites are, and that’s not fair to state before the awards,” he said, also noting the crush of photographers.
“It’s very stressful, so I like to do it after, when all the awards have been announced and there’s no gun to your head and you’re focused. You’re posing for Vanity Fair or you’re posing for the Governor’s Ball. It’s very simple.”
Speaking of after-parties, the three attended the Vanity Fair gala last year, and then Preston and Travolta headed to Madonna’s party.
“Ella only went to the Vanity Fair party. Her shoes were hurting, so she wanted to go home,” he said with a laugh. “It was the first time Kelly was willing to stay up all night since we were first together. She normally isn’t an all-nighter, and I said ‘This would be fun.’ So this year we are going to try and do the same.”
As for the ceremony preparations, Travolta said rehearsals happen on Friday, with presenters spending about 15 minutes each with producers to discuss blocking, the script and possible changes. Being a presenter has given him many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
“I’ve had the honor of giving Barbara Stanwyck her career award. I’ve had the honor of giving Ben Kingsley his Oscar. I’ve done the obituary ones. I’ve done music introductions. I think I presented editing one year, cinematography. I’ve covered most of the categories. Best actress, best supporting actress, best actor — all that stuff.”
Travolta found himself nominated for best actor for 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever” and 1995’s “Pulp Fiction.”
“I just had a sense both of those years I wasn’t going to win. I don’t know why. The funny thing was, when I surveyed Academy members later, they all put money on me. It was the oddest thing … (With ‘Pulp Fiction’), there were at least five or six who admitted to me that they thought I was going to win. Even Vegas had odds on me because Tom (Hanks) had won the year before (for ‘Philadelphia’).”
Hanks, of course, did win again that year, claiming the statue for “Forrest Gump.” In 1978, Richard Dreyfuss won for “The Goodbye Girl.”
“That first time,” Travolta recalled, “my mother said she was glad because she wanted me to have something to look forward to.”
In both cases, Travolta said, he did not have a speech in his pocket.
“I didn’t because I really felt I wasn’t going to win. I’m good on my feet so if for some reason I did, I wasn’t really worried about saying the right things because they would come from my heart. Even if you don’t have something prepared, be an artist and come up with something.”
Other Oscar insights:
Do attendees still get goody bags?
“Yeah, but it’s very small nowadays,” Travolta said. “It used to be extravagant, which was almost too much. Nowadays it’s the sweatshirt and a program and — you know, it’s a different day.”
What is the atmosphere backstage?
“It is very calm usually. If people are worried about what they’re going to say, they’re running it over on little sheets of paper … But everybody’s generally catching up. Artists getting together who don’t get to spend any time with each other throughout the year are always glad to see each other, especially if they’ve worked together.
“Those are my favorite (behind-the-scenes) moments, really catching up and having a moment where everybody doesn’t want to be anywhere else. They’re where they should be, their minds aren’t on anything else but that night. And so you really get to visit.”
Have any joke-flinging Oscar hosts made Travolta uncomfortable?
“Years ago, I was a target with Johnny Carson referring to a movie I did that hadn’t done well called ‘Moment By Moment.’ He made a joke about it being a disaster film or something. I remember I didn’t like that because I had gone from being the toast of the town the year before to one of the opening lines of his (monologue). I knew he liked me, and I had been on his show, but I was just sad that he did that. But that was the only time, and that was 35 years ago.”
What happens after the party’s over?
“Then we go home, and the next day talk about it and enjoy the memory of it,” he said, pausing before recalling his favorite post-game topic from last year: “mostly whoever made a fuss over Ella.”
More laughter — both from the proud father and a giggly Ben still serving invisible food less than a week before showtime.