Yes, that’s John Travolta in leather, riding a motorcycle, in advertisements for his newest film. Indeed, the man who’s now in his fourth decade as an A-list star is one of the “Wild Hogs” the movie’s title refers to (his co-stars are Tim Allen, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence). At least it’s less of a stretch than Travolta’s upcoming turn as Edna (yes, Edna!) Turblad in the big summer musical “Hairspray.” Where have you gone, Danny Zuko?
MTV News sat down with the versatile star of “Look Who’s Talking,” “Face/Off” and “Pulp Fiction” to talk Justin Timberlake, roles he refused and dressing in drag. (Click here to check out our extended Rough Cut conversation with Travolta.)
MTV: “Wild Hogs” is about men attempting to stave off boredom. How do you stay engaged?
John Travolta: I play sports, I travel, I study Scientology. I do so many things outside my business.
MTV: When you’re traveling, at this point are there places you can go unrecognized?
Travolta: No. But that’s OK. I accept that. I’ve accepted that for 30 years.
MTV: Do you ever think back to what your notion of stardom was in the beginning of your career?
Travolta: Sure. My notion of stardom in the early days was Paul Newman, Warren Beatty and Robert Redford. I have a great sense of the history of cinema. I’m just thrilled I’m still here and people still want to watch.
MTV: Are there younger stars today that you have an affinity for? You worked with Scarlett Johansson recently.
Travolta: I adore Scarlett. She has an old-time essence about her. She is a classic type. She’ll be around forever. There are a lot of young stars that I really enjoy. The two from “Brokeback Mountain” I thought were great. And they’re of the new generation, don’t you think? Jake [Gyllenhaal] and Heath [Ledger].
MTV: Do you ever see a glimmer of yourself in any of the young stars?
Travolta: [He pauses.] That’s a good question …
MTV: Timberlake has the dance moves.
Travolta: Justin Timberlake does have my moves, for sure. I have to give him the kudos for that. There’s nothing holding that boy back.
MTV: It’s amazing to think of all the roles you turned down. Recently, there was “Chicago.”
Travolta: Oh, yeah. Well, mine are legendary.
MTV: Do you have any regrets? Like, “Oh, if I had done ’Forrest Gump’ or ’Chicago,’ what might have been?”
Travolta: No, because if I didn’t do something Tom Hanks did, then I did something else that was equally interesting or fun. Or if I didn’t do something Richard Gere did, I did something equally well. But I feel good about some I gave up because other careers were created.
MTV: I don’t know if we can credit Tom Hanks’ entire career to you, but if you look at his filmography, there are a few roles that were supposed to be yours. “Splash” for one.
Travolta: “Splash,” yeah. Of course several of Richard’s. I’m pleased I can share the wealth.
MTV: As the years go by, do you think there’s any chance of reprising your role as Vincent Vega for Quentin Tarantino?
Travolta: I don’t know. Quentin is an unpredictable personality, and I love him. But your guess would be as good as mine as far as what he’d want to do. He would have to do a prequel, if anything, because I died in “Pulp Fiction.”
MTV: Superhero movies are so in vogue right now. Did you ever come close to donning tights and a cape?
Travolta: There was some talk of Batman years ago. There may have been one or two others. When I did “Get Shorty” and “Be Cool,” it was more like the American James Bond. I would’ve been more attracted to doing something like James Bond than the superhero pictures.
MTV: Tell us a little bit about “Hairspray.” This is really your first musical since “Grease.”
Travolta: Oh yeah, it’s a full-throttle musical. It’s my first musical since “Grease” and interestingly enough, it’s almost ended up like a sequel to it. “Grease” took place in 1959, lets say, and “Hairspray” takes place in 1962.
MTV: The pictures of you in drag for the role are out there and they’re kind of shocking. You’re playing Tracy Turnblad’s mother, Edna?
Travolta: I’m playing Edna. Big, old Edna.
MTV: Did it take arm twisting to get you to play this big woman?
Travolta: That took arm twisting. Absolutely. I didn’t know why they wanted me. I thought, well if you look at “Grease” and you see me as that kind of performer, then why would you want to put big breasts and a big ass on me and make me a woman? And they said that’s why. It’s much more fun to take a guy that’s known for macho leading roles and do that twist on it. So I considered it, and I’ve always been very bold with my choices, whether it be playing the president or playing a heroin addict, or an angel. I’ve always pushed the envelope with anything I’ve done. Believe it or not, even “Saturday Night Fever” was considered pushing the envelope years ago because nobody had really danced in films in years.
MTV: How did your voice hold up after all these years?
Travolta: That’s a good question. I hadn’t sung for so long. I had to take vocal coaching again so I didn’t hurt it. It turned out great. I didn’t hurt my voice at all singing and I liked it because I was smart with it. I’d warm up and do what you should do. Just like with dancing, I’d do warm-ups and make sure I didn’t hurt myself. It was good to get back in the saddle again with musicals.
MTV: What kind of dance moves can we expect from you this time?
Travolta: It’s very choreographed, so you’re going to see kind of gimmick numbers. I do a whole Tina Turner dance thing where [Edna] comes out of her shell. I enjoyed that and in the beginning, “Welcome to the ’60s” is kind of like a big, extravagant number.
MTV: You’ve been attached to play J.R. in a “Dallas” movie for a while and it’s gone back and forth between being a broad comedy and something played a little more straight.
Travolta: I would rather it be a broad comedy than anything else. Only because it’s more fun. I want “Dallas” to make people laugh.
MTV: Have you got your hat selected?
Travolta: No, but I’m pretty good at that. I did the whole “Urban Cowboy” thing.
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