This story appears in the March 1996 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

This article originally appeared in the March 1996 issue of playboy magazine.

As John Travolta saunters through the clubhouse of the Mountain Gate Country Club near Brentwood, California, there’s no mistaking his star wattage. Celebrities are as common as sunny days in southern California, and, with few exceptions, barely warrant a turned head. But no one in the snack shop even pretends not to notice Travolta. “Tom Cruise has no idea of the kind of stardom John Travolta has experienced most of his life,” says Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino.

Dressed head-to-heel in black, he joins his foursome at a table. He’s been shooting action sequences for *Broken Arrow* at night and losing a lot of sleep in the process. His hair stands in a variety of tufts and cowlicks, and the famous cleft chin is covered by two days’ stubble. When a member of his group asks him about a rumor that he’s been offered $10 million for his next picture, Travolta lowers his head as if embarrassed, his voice dropping to a whisper. “My son,” he says, “is going to be really rich someday.”

There’s talk in Hollywood these days that Travolta will be nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Get Shorty as the confident and charming Chili Palmer, a small-time Miami hood who becomes enamored with the possibilities of a second career in the movie business. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel, the movie is a comic fable about the promise Hollywood holds for anyone who dreams of reinventing themselves. No one personifies that theme more than Travolta, who in 1994 returned from professional oblivion in the surprise hit Pulp Fiction. In one year he rose from playing second banana to a pair of talking dogs in Look Who’s Talking Now to an Academy Award nomination.

This month Travolta will redirect his career again with the release of the action thriller “Broken Arrow,” directed by Hong Kong legend John Woo. Co-starring with Christian Slater and ex-football star Howie Long, this time out Travolta gets to play the heavy – an Air Force major and stealth bomber pilot gone bad, who steals nuclear warheads in an extortion plot against his own government.

It’s another unpredictable turn in the career of Travolta, who was born 42 years ago in Englewood, New Jersey, the youngest of six children, several of whom also entered show business. (His sister Ellen appeared on the long-running TV comedy Charles in Charge.) He recalls his childhood as a profoundly happy time, and the closeness of his large family has remained the cornerstone of his adult life. His mother, Helen, was an actress, and drama teacher who encouraged her son’s interest in the performing arts. Salvatore, his father, a semipro football player and co-owner of a tire store, built a miniature stage in their basement, where the children could put on their own shows. With his parents’ blessing, Travolta dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to pursue an acting career in New York City. Although he was initially satisfied to find work in summer theater, off-Broadway productions and commercials, his manager, Bob LeMond, believed Travolta was destined for greater things on the West Coast. Between stints in the road company of “Grease” and the Broadway musical Over Here, Travolta went to Hollywood, where he landed numerous guest roles on prime-time dramas. He graduated to teen-idol status as Vinnie Barbarino on the hit comedy series “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Twenty years later, the Seventies sitcom is still running in syndication.

During the filming of a TV movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Travolta, then 22, became passionately involved with Diana Hyland, the 40-year-old actress who played his mother. They were together a year, until she became ill with cancer. She died in his arms in 1977. Their relationship, and the circumstances of her death, became a favorite topic for the tabloids. As a result, the usually personable star became wary of all press and progressively withdrew from the public eye.

Travolta’s career as a film actor can be divided into three stages. After a supporting role in the teen thriller Carrie, his rise came in a series of signature films from 1976 to 1980. As Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Travolta became a central figure of the disco era, and earned an Oscar nomination for his convincing blend of teen angst, raw sexuality and compelling dance routines. From there, he moved to light musical comedy in Grease, a relatively uninspired adaptation of the Broadway hit that became the phenomenally successful Hollywood musical. Travolta’s roll continued as the hugely successful Urban Cowboy ushered America from disco to country.

But with the success came pain in his personal life. Two years after Hyland’s death, Travolta’s mother passed away from cancer. He relocated to an isolated ranch north of Santa Barbara, California, where he indulged his enthusiasm for exotic cars and aircraft; he studied French, flying and art history, took violin lessons and traveled the world.

The second stage of his career was a case of overnight failure. Between Urban Cowboy and Pulp Fiction he made 12 pictures, all duds, the biggest hit being Staying Alive, the critically hammered sequel to Saturday Night Fever directed by Sylvester Stallone. Almost as depressing as the bombs were the missed opportunities – movies he was offered but turned down, such as American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, Prince of the City, Arthur and Splash.

He sold his California ranch and moved to Spruce Creek, Florida, a “fly-in” development – luxury homes built around a private airfield – near Daytona Beach. He fell in love again, this time with actress Kelly Preston, his co-star from The Experts. They were married in Paris, by a Scientology minister in a private ceremony in 1991, and have a three-year-old son, Jett.

The only career bright spot was the popular success of the lowbrow romantic comedy Look Who’s Talking and its progressively less-charming sequels. Travolta has a piece of the profits in the modestly budgeted trilogy, and his share has reached into the millions of dollars. But the promise of his early years seemed broken. In the view of a new generation of Hollywood executives, the actor once ordained by New Yorker critic Pauline Kael as the next Brando was now on a par with John Ritter and Steve Guttenberg.

Then came stage three, from Pulp Fiction to the present. As Travolta says, “One movie can make you, and one movie can remake you.” Capitalizing on his comeback, he worked nonstop for 15 months, completing four films in that period: Get Shorty, White Man’s Burden, Broken Arrow and the upcoming fantasy Phenomenon. Additionally, he’s committed to Lady Takes an Ace (with Sharon Stone) and a political thriller, Dark Horse. According to published reports, his combined salaries for these pictures exceed $40 million. Spurred by the runaway success of Get Shorty, his asking price for the Nora Ephron comedy Michael has escalated to $21 million.

In a more obscure if telling measure of Travolta’s resurgence, film critic Gene Siskel, who, in March 1978, purchased the white suit the actor wore in Saturday Night Fever for $2000 at a charity auction, sold the suit last summer for $145,500 – about the same amount Travolta was paid to appear in Pulp Fiction.

We sent freelancer Judson Klinger, who interviewed Travolta for us in December 1978, to find out if stardom is sweeter the second time around. Here’s Klinger’s report:

“When I arrived at the set of ‘Broken Arrow’ on the Fox lot, I hadn’t laid eyes on Travolta in more than ten years, and the sight of the bulked-up actor in military hair and fatigues took some getting used to. But as anyone who’s been around John for more than five minutes will tell you, there isn’t a nicer human being in Hollywood. He’s a better person than he is a player. And in that sense, he’s the same friendly, charming guy I met in the Seventies.

"Back in those days, he used his sizable charm as a defense mechanism, masking the fact that he was a bit overwhelmed by the circumstances of his life, both good and bad. This time around, despite an intense work schedule, he was always relaxed – an expansive storyteller brimming with confidence, who frequently displayed a self-deprecating sense of humor. These qualities have been exhibited in his recent performances.

"Our opening sessions took place during the production of 'Broken Arrow,’ in his trailer and at various locations around Los Angeles. We wrapped up the interview during a weekend at his vacation home on a small island in Maine’s Penobscot Bay. The secluded 20-room château, surrounded by acres of pines, overlooks the ocean and comfortably accommodates up to 50 guests. He bought it because Christmas is his favorite holiday, and he wanted a place big enough to house his extended family. When time allows, he loves to decorate the place for the season; two years ago, he put a Christmas tree in every bedroom.

"The importance of family is his favorite topic, and in Maine he can downshift and become a doting dad and husband. He seems to enjoy nothing better than cracking a plate of lobster for dinner, followed by good conversation and a fine Cuban cigar. He smokes them, he says, not because it’s become fashionable in Hollywood circles to do so, but because they remind him of his father.”


Let’s start with a question you probably haven’t heard before. How does it feel to be back?
[Laughs] Actually, about seven years ago, when Look Who’s Talking opened, that was kind of my comeback.

The Look Who’s Talking trilogy has been enormously successful from a financial standpoint, but it can’t compare with the one-two punch of Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty.
Those films have greater credibility, artistically. With Look Who’s Talking, I got as warm a reception, it just wasn’t on a serious level. It was more like, “Oh, it’s good to see you up there on the screen, and you’re very funny.” But it would be foolish of me to pretend Look Who’s Talking doesn’t exist. It actually brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.

As we recall, when Pulp Fiction premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, you were hailed as if you were a conquering hero.
I’ve said it before and I meant it: The reaction to me in Pulp Fiction from journalists, the critics and the public warmed my heart. I didn’t realize how much love and support and goodwill there was out there. I was blown away.

So you are sensitive to what the press writes about you?
Of course. There was an article in the Los Angeles Times in which film critic Pauline Kael was asked about me. This was before Pulp Fiction. She said something like, “He’s so essential and valuable to American cinema that he’s sorely needed.” For me to hear that, especially when the chips were down, made me feel like, “Oh my God. I better do something good. I better live up to this!” It made me feel that people were glad I was alive.

We’ll talk more about Pulp Fiction in a bit. You also got raves for your follow-up film, Get Shorty. What appealed to you about the premise of a Mafia wise guy who metamorphoses into a movie producer?
I liked the idea that Chili Palmer was gifted, but in the wrong profession. He was a good loan shark, but he was really better suited for the movie industry. I also liked his childlike interest in film.

Were you an Elmore Leonard fan before you made Get Shorty?
No. I was introduced to the book by Quentin Tarantino and Danny DeVito. I think Quentin had optioned a couple of Leonard’s books that haven’t yet been turned into films.

Is it true that Tarantino had to talk you into taking the part?
Yes. I read the script and there was something incomplete about it. Then Quentin and Danny said, “You have to read the book.” They were right. The book was the essence of what they were trying to do, and that made me realize what had to be done to fix the script. I said, “Elmore’s dialogue is so fabulous, but in the script it’s been paraphrased. You’ve taken off the edge.” Then I gave them an example by reading a whole scene from the book, then from the script. Scott Frank, the screenwriter, got what I was saying immediately. He said he’d go back through the script with my notes. Afterward, it was spot on.

You have an interesting chemistry with Rene Russo, who plays a B-movie actress in the film. Had you met her previously?
Yeah. In fact, she screen-tested for Urban Cowboy. She was adorable then, and I’ve always liked her. She has a great sense of humor. She’s down-to-earth, very smart and perceptive. She knows who she is.

She looks great in the film, and they also gave your character quite a stylish look – for a Miami loan shark.
[Laughs] They really lit me well and dressed me sharply. It’s quite a contrast to what I usually look like.

What do you mean?
Well, I’ll usually take a shower the night before shooting so I can get up and go right to the set. But when I get up, my hair is in a thousand different cowlicks and I look puffy. One morning, I walked into the makeup trailer, and Gene Hackman was in there, and he was just shocked by how bad I looked. He said, “Oh my God, makeup and hair do wonders for you.”

Was he joking?
He was dead serious. He took a long look at me and said, “John, in movies, you should always wear hair and makeup.” I said, “Well, Gene, I wouldn’t go looking like this.” We laughed.

Earlier in your career, you did more leading-man roles. But with Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty, you’re in ensemble situations.
Is it easier when you know you don’t have to carry every scene and that the success of the movie doesn’t rest solely on your drawing power?

I don’t mind being responsible for a whole movie. If you know your character and you believe in your character, you already have freedom, regardless of the responsibility. But it’s always more fun to act with other people you admire. Psychologically you think you’re gonna be better with them, because you’re getting to play on par. You get to play with the big boys.

Your latest film, Broken Arrow, in which you and Christian Slater play Air Force pilots, has been described as “Speed on a bomber.” It’s your first full-on action movie. How grueling were the action sequences?
They weren’t, except for the cockpit scene. We were in tight quarters and Christian and I had to fight. We had some good laughs, but it was hard.

You two have similar backgrounds. For instance, both of you come from acting families.
We do have a lot in common. Christian and I probably have more similarities in our backgrounds than any other two actors in town. Both child actors. We both had the New York thing going. And, as a kid, he was in a musical on Broadway. No one knows that. He did the remake of The Music Man.

There is one significant difference: Although you both achieved success at an early age, you managed to sidestep the drug-booze-rehab cycle.
That’s because I had Scientology on my side. Who knows what would have happened to me if I hadn’t?

Didn’t you say that without it you wouldn’t have lived any longer than John Belushi?
I think I would have found a way of destroying myself. Not his way, but my own way.

You sound convinced.
Yes. How can I put this? I was too empathetic to the human condition ever to have made it without the help of something that helps people get through rough times. I can walk into a room and, like a magnet, I’ll find the person who is bummed out. Now, I can actually help someone. But before I would have empathized and felt like there was no hope.

Are you saying that Scientology was a substitute for getting involved with drugs and alcohol?
Not that the other stuff wasn’t interesting, it just never made me feel particularly good. It never bailed me out of anything. I realized that addictive things would bring me south, whereas everything in Scientology is designed to bring you north. If anything, that was more intriguing to me because I kind of knew where the other stuff would lead.

Let’s talk about how Scientology courses work. Do you have to go every day?
It depends. Next week I’ll do a certain aspect, and that’ll be every day for ten days. I was on one course for a couple years because I did it part-time. I could get to it only two or three times a week. Other times you’re free and you can go every day until you finish the course.

What subjects do the courses deal with?
One time you might be interested in dealing with something about your family. The next time could be finances or administration. There are so many different courses that you could spend years entertaining yourself. It all depends on what you want to deal with, or advance yourself in, or create more ability in.

Do you attend many of the gala events at the Hollywood Scientology center?
Yeah, I do. If I’m in town, I’ll go to a function. There are usually a dozen a year, and I might make about four or five of them.

What goes on at those parties?
There’ll usually be some great piece of news, say about how Scientology has helped people get through the bombings in the Middle East. Scientologists are all over the planet trying to help people, so at these events you’ll hear news of a breakthrough where they successfully helped in some situation. Take the Oklahoma City bombing: Scientologists were all over that place – trying to help people out of the building, trying to help people recover from their injuries. They were given some merit for contributing on a stellar level. You don’t go just to yap at one another.

Since you’ve been involved, has Scientology reached a higher level of public acceptance?
Oh, totally. The difference between now and 15 years ago is amazing.

Do you spend less time defending it from attacks in the press?
I never defended Scientology. The word defend means you have to justify it. I never felt it needed to be defended, because it was too great ever to be defended. I feel more of an urge to enlighten others about it.

Enlighten us now about Pulp Fiction. How did you first meet Quentin Tarantino?
I was told he was a big fan, that he wanted to work with me. I knew he was really a hot item at the time, and I thought, Isn’t that refreshing? There’s some new talent who feels that way about me. Someone other than Pauline Kael is interested in my surviving in the cinema. This is good. [Laughs] Then, after watching Reservoir Dogs I thought, Hmm, what am I in for here?

What did you think of that movie?
I was startled by it. It scared me. Yet I found myself attracted to Michael Madsen’s character. Then I wondered why I found him so compelling, when he was doing such awful things. It made me want to meet Quentin. So we had lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel, and then we made a second appointment. At this point, there was no job or reason to get together. I would be doing something to make a serious fan happy, which was playing board games with him. [Laughs] I was basically making a dream come true for Quentin Tarantino.

We’ve heard the story of how he got you to play the Welcome Back, Kotter and Saturday Night Fever board games. What would the Quentin Tarantino board game be?
The categories would be movies, television and fast food. It would depend on how much movie and TV trivia you knew. If you could name the character in Rio Bravo who did whatever, you would move forward. That would be the Quentin Tarantino game.

Where did you play?
At his house. And the strange thing is that when I got his address, I recognized it. It was the address of an apartment building in Hollywood that I had lived in. I thought, Wouldn’t it be amazing if he were in the same apartment? When I got there, I knocked on his door and said, “Before you say anything, let me tell you something about the apartment you live in. You have maroon and pink tile in your bathroom. Your refrigerator is on the north wall. You have an oddly designed window in the bedroom.” I named about a half-dozen things. He went nuts! He said, “How do you know that?” I said, “I used to live in this apartment. I was cast in Carrie and Welcome Back, Kotter – two of your favorites – in this apartment, and now you’re living in it.” We couldn’t get over that.

You’re sure it wasn’t the premeditated working of an obsessed fan?
No. At least I don’t think so!

In a city with thousands of apartments, that’s quite a coincidence. Is that when he talked to you about Pulp Fiction?
No. All he said was that he was working on a script, but that it wouldn’t be the one for me. When I left, he even said, “I don’t know when I’ll have something for us to do, but one day… .” I said, “Well, that’s fine. It was fun meeting you. I didn’t come here thinking I was getting a job.”

The next thing you know, he sends you the script in Vancouver, where you’re making the third installment of Look Who’s Talking.
When I read it, I liked it. And the way he made it sound was that if I liked it, I could do it. But then I thought, Wait a minute. This is a little too good to be true. It’s very sweet that he called me and wants me for this, but he’ll never be able to get me in it.

Why not?
At that point I wasn’t exactly an A-list star, according to the studios. I knew people were going to try to talk him out of casting me, especially when I heard there were five people who were hotter than hell who wanted the part.

Quentin said, ‘Either you do it with John, or I’m not doing it.

Can you name names?
No. I just thought Quentin would be talked out of casting me. And I wouldn’t have blamed anyone, because he deserved to have a hot actor in that part. But they couldn’t talk Quentin out of it. Finally he said, “Look, either you do it with John, or I’m not doing the movie.”

He put the entire project on the line for you?
Yeah, and don’t think I didn’t feel the pressure the first two weeks of filming. I thought, Oh God, man, here I am. Not only did Quentin have to fight for me, but how do I show them that he made the right choice?

Were you uncertain?
I never lack confidence in my acting. But I worry that others won’t get it until they see the whole performance. I’m a peculiar actor. I don’t make your average choices, so I can’t give you the totality of a performance in one scene. I’m just going to give you that scene and be honest to that scene. But Quentin knew what I was doing, because he saw it in rehearsals.

But you were worried about Tarantino getting phone calls from panicky studio executives.
Yes, and in fact, I’m sure there were such phone calls. But I couldn’t panic and go, “OK, I’m going to give you my whole performance in the first two scenes because you’re impatient.” I had to say, “OK, I’m going to do what we rehearsed and they’ll have to see the performance unfold when it’s all done.” Even Quentin didn’t know the level of performance I gave until it was all done.

Explain.
Sometimes the things I do are subtle and you don’t always catch them on the set. You just see them on-screen. Quentin kept getting excited about what he discovered in the editing room.

What is it like working with Quentin?
He’s a film enthusiast. And you’re safe, because he wants you to do well. Then add in that you’re, like, his favorite actor. So there’s little you can do wrong. I was free to create on a level I wasn’t even aware of. I was in a zone unprecedented in my experience.

Quentin is also an actor. Did that make a difference to you?
Yeah. I love directors who are actors, especially if they can actually act. If there was ever a line that I didn’t agree with, or didn’t like, I could say, “You do it.” He’d do it and say, “You’re right. It doesn’t work. Let’s change it.” I was the only one who felt like we could change things. Everyone else treated that script like it was the Bible. I didn’t feel that way. I added a line here and there, or even a word or two, which changed the whole tone of my character.

Give us an example.
Like when Marvin’s head blows up in my face. As it was written, there was more of a dramatic reaction to that. I added, “I shot Marvin in the face,” like I’d stepped on his toe. I knew if I didn’t say that, it wouldn’t be funny. If I had to do something that gross and not expect the audience to get grossed-out and leave the theater, I had to put a twist on it. So I thought, The nature of man is to lessen the bad things he does. He shoots this guy’s head off and it’s like, “I shot Marvin in the face,” like it was nothing. And add to it, “You must have hit a bump or something.” [Laughs] It was so clear there was no bump. Sam Jackson says, “I didn’t hit no bump!”

You’re saying that the black comedy of Pulp Fiction worked well to mitigate the graphic violence.
Yes. And all the people who Quentin cast are inherently funny. Sam Jackson, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Rosanna Arquette. Eric Stoltz is hilarious. We’re all actors who look for humor, even in dramatic characters.

John Woo, the legendary Hong Kong filmmaker who’s directing Broken Arrow, is an idol of Tarantino’s. Did Quentin encourage you to do this movie?
No, John Woo actually pursued me with two different scripts, and allowed me to choose which one I wanted to do. Knowing that Quentin loves John Woo helped me. He introduced me to Woo’s movies. In one way or another, Quentin is probably responsible for three movies I’ve done since Pulp Fiction – movies he would give his seal of approval on, if he were managing my career. Which, until he got busy, he was.

He was your de facto manager?
Yes. He loves me in the true sense of the word. It’s the coolest thing anyone has ever done in my life. I’ve never seen such selflessness. Generous is too easy a word. All he wants is to see me do well, but on his terms. I mean, he’s specific. And it doesn’t mean a hit movie, by the way. All it means is good movies.

It must be comforting, in Hollywood, to have a person behind you who isn’t promoting some personal agenda.
He’s amazing. This is quintessential Quentin: He calls me from Stockholm. Pulp Fiction is at the height of its success, and he’s talking to me about how he arranged a screening for 200 people to see Blow Out the way it should be seen, on an 80-foot screen. He went into depth about every scene that he liked – for 30 minutes he went on about a performance of mine that was 15 years old. Not about our mutual success with Pulp Fiction, but about a screening of Blow Out.

He seems to live and breathe movies 24 hours a day, with almost no other interests. How long do you think he can go without being distracted by anything else in life?
A long time, because it’s what keeps him alive. For me, outside of acting – which is my favorite thing to do – aviation is the juice that keeps me alive. I’ve never lost interest in flying since I was five years old. Filmmaking is that way for him.

Is it true that you once considered giving up show business to become a commercial pilot?
No. But it’s true that I wanted to become a commercial pilot, just because it would be cool to say I was one.

How do you think people would react if they boarded a plane and heard the flight attendant announce, “Your captain for today’s flight is John Travolta”?
I think they’d like it. I mean, I’d like it if I heard Mel Gibson was the pilot. That’d be cool.

How many jets do you own?
Three. A Vampire (a British fighter), a Lear and a Gulfstream II.

Do you own any propeller planes?
No. I used to have fabulous propeller planes. I had two airliners at one point: a Constellation – a four-engine propeller – and a DC-3 – a twin-engine propeller airliner.

Do you always fly your own jets, or do you have other pilots?
I have a full-time copilot and a part-time copilot, both of whom are also captains. On the Learjet I travel with a copilot. Sometimes on the Gulfstream I’ll travel with two extra pilots, depending on the length of the trip. If I’m going to Europe I might want to switch seats with somebody.

Do your jet ratings go beyond those of professional airline pilots?
It’s a luxury to have a jet rating of any sort. But when you start to get multiple jet ratings it’s rarer. An airline pilot is checked out on a 727 and a 747, let’s say. Two separate ratings. Well, add five or six more to that and you get quite a portfolio.

About three years ago, you experienced an electrical power failure on a night flight from Florida to Maine. Did you know where you were when everything began to go wrong?
Yeah. I was near Washington. There was intermittent light coming through the layer of weather, so you could see there was a big city below. But when we lost electric, we lost every system. We had a series of seven consecutive failures that were contagious. Since then, all that’s been corrected.

How did ground control know you were in trouble?
We reported it before the radio went out. We had three minutes left on backup, which is the battery, basically. It drained everything.

How fast were you flying?
We were probably going close to 600 miles an hour at 39,000 feet. Then we descended to 10,000 feet, which was just above the cloud layer. I found a hole in a cloud and did a series of circular turns down below the clouds.

A story in The Orlando Sentinel reported that while you were coming down, the control center directed a nearby commercial airliner to fly by and look for you.
I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t have been able to see him anyway.

Was it true that they closed several airports?
They closed National in Washington. But then there was a plane that landed before us and I saw it, so it makes me think that maybe they didn’t close National. There are many conflicting stories.

Did you think you might die?
Yes.

Have you ever been that scared before?
I wasn’t scared. I was pissed off because my wife and my child were in the back. When you do something like fly jets or skydive or skin-dive or ski, you know what you’re dealing with. These are all dangerous things in certain situations. If you’re well educated, you’re prepared for the danger. But you’d be an ostrich if you pretended they weren’t potentially life-threatening. I know that. But I don’t always think about people I love being there. I’d rather it would be just me.

Then what happened?
We were about 1000 feet above Washington, and I was looking for an airport, hoping it was Washington and not Baltimore or something, where the buildings are taller. I noticed the Washington Monument on my second turn around the area, and I knew National Airport was near.

The way you’re telling it, you make it sound as if it wasn’t really a critical situation.
Well, there are very few scenarios that could be worse, other than an actual crash. But when you get out of an emergency, there’s no incident. You landed safely and that’s the end of the story. You were up there, you potentially could have crashed, but you landed safely. So all your schooling, all your knowledge as an aviator, paid off.

How did you feel once you’d landed?
I thought, I can’t believe we made it through this.

What happened once you were on the ground?
People came down from the offices at National to congratulate the pilot who brought that plane in safely. They had no idea it was John Travolta. [Laughs] Then I sent for my Learjet – it was in Florida – and we went on to Maine. Then I called all my friends who had planes like mine and said, “OK, now listen: You’ve got to get this done and that fixed.” It’s a great airplane, don’t get me wrong. It’s a terrific airplane. It’s just that there were certain aspects of it that needed to be modified.

One assumes that a star of your prominence has probably been to the White House often. Since Saturday Night Fever, how many of our presidents have you met?
Hmm. I met Carter, Reagan and Bush. I haven’t met Clinton.

Politics aside, what were your personal impressions?
This is very interesting. No one’s ever asked me my opinion of people I’ve met. Let’s see. Reagan had the most charm, maybe. I mean, these are just my impressions, one to one. Carter was the sweetest. I was very young when I met Carter. He invited me to the White House for a private dinner, because he wanted to please his daughter. I thought he was impressed with my ability, but also I thought that it was sweet that he went to that extent for his daughter. Reagan had the movie-star thing going. But I felt Nancy was more of what he was about. Meaning that Nancy held the PR front.

You connected more with Mrs. Reagan than with the president?
Totally. Nancy was the real item compared to Ronald.

Did you sense that with Reagan, maybe it just wasn’t that thrilling for him to meet film stars?
[Smiles] Yeah. I think that he’d had his fill of it.

And George Bush?
I was impressed with Bush because when I came up behind him, he put his hand out because he was talking to someone and he didn’t want anyone who was behind him to interrupt that conversation. I thought that was awesome, because he knew that was the well-mannered thing to do. I actually got to talk to him about some issues of education that I was interested in. I felt like I had a real exchange there. He danced with my wife, I danced with Barbara. I don’t know anything about politics really, so I wouldn’t begin to pontificate. But I liked Bush because I didn’t feel he was on autopilot. Which surprised me.

Do you find, in spite of your celebrity, that you’re easily awed by famous people?
I’m just a decent fan of people. Meaning, I don’t hold back my enthusiasm. I react to what they’ve achieved in life, and who they are to me. If you asked who I admire the most as a human being, I’d say Harry Belafonte. He has personal conviction as well as professional integrity. It’s real for him. He has no doubts or reservations about what he wants to accomplish for mankind. [Pauses] I told you about my call to Hugh Hefner, didn’t I?

No, but go ahead.
I was in Monterey at a house I rented for a year on a fairway at Pebble Beach. I’m watching TV, and I see this documentary about Hugh Hefner called Once Upon a Time. It was so good. At the end of it I thought, Wow, what a life! What a guy. I have to call him. So the next day I got a number and called him. His wife, Kimberley, answered, and didn’t believe it was me, and therefore said something very polite but ended the call. Then, after a series of calls, they realized it was me. The next morning, I wake up to this phone call [imitating Hefner]: “Hello, John? Hugh Hefner.” And I said, “Hugh! Oh my God, you called me back!” He says, “I’m sorry about last night. My wife didn’t believe it was you. And, you know, we get a lot of people who call. Anyway, I’m, uh, very thrilled and honored that you called. I’ve been reading all about you – you won the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme D'Or. Very exciting. Congratulations. Can’t wait to see the film.”

I said, “The reason I called is because I’m so impressed with your documentary. I admire that you’ve come full circle. You’ve gone this whole interesting route in your life and you’ve come back to the basics again. I love it. I’d like to meet you one of these days.” He said, “Well, any time you want to, come to the mansion. Every Sunday we have a brunch and a few people over. You’d be more than welcome to come.” Anyway, it was about a 20-minute conversation, with Hugh Hefner!

Now it’s easy for you to get someone like Hugh Hefner on the telephone. What about back in the Seventies? Did you have any memorable encounters then?
I was in New York City, and I was going to move into this apartment building on Central Park West for the duration of Saturday Night Fever. James Taylor and Carly Simon were living in the apartment. Prior to James and Carly, it was Mick Jagger’s apartment. Prior to Jagger, one of the Beatles. When I came in, Carly was in the hospital having a baby, and James answered the door. At that point he was my favorite singer. He said, “I love your TV show so much, I can recite the last soliloquy of Welcome Back, Kotter.” I tested him, and he did it. I was impressed. He said, “You’ve got me on the happiest day of my life, because my wife just gave birth to our son, Ben.” He showed me the apartment and said, “You’ll be really happy here. It’s a great place to live. We’re moving upstairs, so we’ll get to visit with you.” Meanwhile, I can’t believe I’m in the same apartment as James Taylor, and he’s reciting my last scene. A week later, Carly Simon came down with their new baby boy. I was dazzled by her. I’m dazzled by both of them, to be perfectly frank. Shortly after I got there, my girlfriend, Diana Hyland, whom I was very much in love with, passed away from cancer. I was very sad. I went up to visit with them, and Carly and James sang to me in their kitchen.

What did they sing?
They sang a duet they were putting on an album. Then James wrote me a little song called My Name Is Barbarino But My Good Friends Call Me John. And because I was having trouble sleeping, Carly wrote me a lullaby and put it on tape, to put me to sleep. If someone had said, “What’s your ultimate dream?” in the Seventies, it would have been to be befriended by these two people, sung to by them, and have songs written for me by them. I could have died, joined Diana, and it would have been just fine.

One of our definitive memories of the Seventies is the white suit you wore in Saturday Night Fever. How did you feel when you heard that Gene Siskel sold it for $145,500?
It was his suit and he could do whatever he wanted with it. I never owned it.

But that suit was a part of you. Surely you must have felt something.
At the Golden Globes, Gene pulled me aside and said, “Look, I’m having a real moral dilemma. I have an opportunity to make a lot of money on your white suit. But if you feel that it would hurt your feelings, I won’t sell it.” I said, “Gene, it’s not my suit. It’s your suit.” Then I said, “What are you going to do with the money?” He said, “Well, there’s a little cottage I want to buy in the country,” and I’m thinking, How much can he make from this suit that he’s going to buy a cottage? I said to him, “I think you should have the cottage in the country. And besides, it’s not my suit.” Later on, I found out he knew how much the suit was worth.

You have a reputation for being generous toward your friends. Is it true that you frequently pull together a group of people and fly them off for a vacation in some exotic locale?
I’ve done that. We went to Africa. Went to the Caribbean twice, to Mexico three times. The truth is, I wouldn’t have any life with my friends if I didn’t do that, because my life and their lives go in separate ways. If I didn’t grab everybody together, I wouldn’t see them. And it doesn’t happen very often.

How long was the trip to Africa?
Three weeks. Two weeks in Africa, then a week in Switzerland for Christmas. It was a great trip. The next year was the Caribbean; the year after that was Mexico. The trips get shorter and smaller.

Was this something you were more apt to do before you got married and started a family?
No, I still do it. But it’s like weekends instead of a whole week. I took the guys down to Cabo San Lucas one weekend. That’s real close, you see – like an hour-and-a-half flight.

Your life sounds like the conventional idea of a movie star’s lifestyle.
No one can argue that I don’t have somewhat of a clichéd movie star’s life. I don’t mind having it. I like certain things about it. And it’s not like I have a choice, if I like to do things.

What’s the story behind your friendship with Tom Hanks?
Ten years ago I called him for a recommendation of a director. His manager at that time told him never to divulge information about people he worked with. He didn’t agree with it, yet he acted aloof with me. But he also felt bad for not just giving it over. Then I saw him in 1991 at a George Bush party at Jerry Weintraub’s house, and he said, “Do you want to have dinner?” I said, “Yeah, I’d love to,” but we never got in touch. Cut to three years later. We’re at the Golden Globes and I wrote him a note that said, “What about that dinner we were supposed to have three years ago?” Then I saw him a week later and he said, “Well, do you want to do this dinner before the Oscars or after?” I said, “Before, because right now we’re even-steven and I like that.” I was kind of rooting for him in an odd way, because I loved him in Forrest Gump and he broke my heart. Besides, it’s hard for me to root for myself. I was just banking on everyone else rooting for me. [Laughs]

Was it tough to attend all those award shows – the Golden Globes, People’s Choice, the Oscars – and see Hanks win every one, right down the line?
Hey! I won some. I won the Los Angeles Film Critics, the London Film Critics Circle, the Stockholm Film Festival.

But Hanks won the televised awards.
Yes, that is true. I won the nontelevised ones, and he won all the televised ones.

So eventually you had dinner and became friends.
I love spending time with Tom Hanks. I love every minute of it. I don’t get to see him a lot, but since our January dinner, I must have seen him half a dozen times – which, by Hollywood standards, is a lot. I think our hearts are in similar places as far as life is concerned. And he’s fun to be with. He’s a funny guy, and I think he finds me entertaining. It’s difficult to make Tom laugh, and I can make him laugh with certain characters I do. That gives me an enormous charge.

Let’s move on. You seem content with married life. Is that something you always wanted?
Yeah. I was ready to get married and have kids when I was 14.

Once the megastar thing happened and I left the nonfamous world, it took many years to get back to where I was emotionally at the age of 19.

But you didn’t marry until you were 37. What took you so long?
I was with a girl from 14 until I was 19. We were engaged at one point, theoretically. Then we broke up – she broke up with me, actually, when I was on the road with Grease. From 19 until 22 I was still in that mode. The right girl could have grabbed me and married me, and I would have had kids. But once the megastar thing happened, and I left the nonfamous world, it took many years to get back to where I was emotionally at the age of 19.

Did you put your career ahead of your personal life?
I was married to my career for a while. And I didn’t take the other stuff too seriously. I took my relationship with Diana Hyland pretty seriously, and I probably would have married her if she had lived. But after she died, I went into shock for a few years. Nothing seemed the way it used to be. It became about trying to keep an enormous career going, and juggling family and friends. I moved out of town, and I was living in a mansion by myself in Santa Barbara. Life changed. My mother died. All sorts of things happened that kind of took the bloom off the rose of those teenage “want to get married and have kids” years.

It must have been a bittersweet time for you. On the one hand, you were 24, wealthy and a huge star. But on the other hand, the two most important women in your life died within a two-year period.
It always seems to have been that way for me, though. My mother died shortly after my first Oscar nomination. My dad died shortly after the second Oscar nomination. It just seems that when something good happens to me, well, I never get the good without penalties.

Your wife, actress Kelly Preston, seems to be an out-and-out good thing. How did you meet?
During a screen test for The Experts. Shortly after she was cast in the part, we went to Canada on location and spent three months together.

That was in 1988. Was the attraction immediate?
We started rehearsals and got intimate right away because we had to do this erotic dance. I hardly knew her.

And what were your first impressions?
I thought she was quite beautiful and very sexy. When I got to know her, I realized her heart was in the right place. However – big however – she was married at the time. I asked her if she liked being married, and she said she did. She liked it and she was happy.

And it was several years before you saw her again, at a party at Kirstie Alley’s house, correct?
I was living in Florida and was only coming out to Los Angeles once in a while for business. Kelly was engaged to Charlie Sheen at the time. Kirstie said, “I don’t know why you and Kelly aren’t together,” and I said, “Frankly, neither do I, but it’s too late now.” Kelly came over to say hi, and it seemed she was very much in love with Charlie. That was at Christmas.

So how did you finally manage to get together?
Well, the following summer, she was filming a movie called Run and I was filming Look Who’s Talking Too, and we were in the same hotel the whole summer. I was unattached and she was unattached. We went out to dinner a few times. After probably the third dinner, I said, “What do you think about trying to create something here?” We kind of played it by ear and tried not to make anything too heavy. That whole summer was nice.

So you were consciously trying not to let it get too intense too fast?
That’s exactly it: If it gets intense fast, then it’s nowhere after a while. And I knew that hadn’t worked for either of us in the past. I thought we had real potential for a long-run type thing. She’s not going anywhere, and I’m not going anywhere. We were both in a place where it seemed like we could give it time to evolve, and we did. It’s nice not feeling frantic about a relationship. Not feeling like if I don’t do something now, it’s going to go away.

[Travolta’s wife, Kelly, enters the room.]

[To Kelly] We were discussing your courtship. May we ask you a question? Is it true you had a premonition when you were a teenager in Australia that you were going to marry John?
PRESTON: Yeah. I was about 15. I went to a theater that had the Grease poster outside the door, with Olivia Newton-John and John. I stopped by it, and I had this feeling. I didn’t say I was going to marry him. I said, “I’m going to be with him – be with him forever.” I wasn’t even an actress then. Years and years later, we screen-tested together, and the rest is history. [They hug and kiss.]

TRAVOLTA: You know, if you were a Sixties wife, you’d get us something.

PRESTON: I would get you some what? Some fucking what?

TRAVOLTA: Something cool to drink.

PRESTON: Don’t you love how he asks? Instead of saying, “Darling, would you get me some ice tea?” he says, “If you were a loving wife–”

TRAVOLTA: No, I said, “a Sixties wife,” because there was a lot of chauvinism going on then.

PRESTON: Lovey, what would you like? Ice tea? Perrier? White wine?

TRAVOLTA: Ice tea is fine.

PRESTON: OK.

[Kelly leaves.]

Getting back to your courtship, we heard you flew Kelly to Switzerland and proposed on New Year’s Eve. That sounds romantic.
I wasn’t there to propose. Switzerland was based on an urge to have Christmas there. I took 25 people with me. I was planning to propose, but I was giving myself six more months. Then I thought, Why do I think it’s going to be any different six months from now? It’s not. You’ve made your decision. Ask her tonight. So I went to a jewelry shop, and they had the most exquisite ring. I bought it. On New Year’s I proposed to her. Sally Kellerman was with us. She didn’t know that I was proposing, and she kept tapping me on the shoulder in the middle of my proposal. I’d say, “I have something to ask you, Kelly,” and then I’d get this tap on my shoulder, every time I was about to do it. It was like an I Love Lucy episode. She kept on tapping me: “John, I’ve been meaning to tell you how great this evening is.” She interrupted me like four times. I finally said, “Shut up! I’m trying to propose to Kelly!” [Laughs]

Your father passed away recently. Describe his impact on your life.
He had a big impact. From the time I was about six years old until I was 15, he would do projects with me. He really did them all the way. Every Sunday we worked on some project together, whether it was a go-cart, an airplane, building a new basement, a new attic, a new fence, building a deck around the pool, building a barbecue. We always had a project to do. We were partners in creating a better atmosphere in our house. It normally had to do on some level with carpentry, because that was his hobby. Some of these projects would take a year, because we’d only get to work on them one day a week – his day off. Mom would kind of get mad because I would take him away from her on the day off.

In what ways do you take after your father?
I’m fairly even-tempered like my dad. When I was a kid he thought I had a temper, but it was because I could vent my temper only on him. My parents had a high tolerance for their children. They didn’t get mad easily at us – they just were true mensch in that way.

You’re one of six siblings. Your parents must have loved kids.
My dad said that his life didn’t start until he had us. He couldn’t even remember his life before us, because it didn’t seem that important to him.

To which parent did you feel closest?
Emotionally I felt closer to my mother, but intellectually I felt closer to my father. I could discuss things with him on an analytical level. The good thing about my dad was that whatever his responses were, they always made me feel secure and confident. My mother made me feel loved in a kind of tactile way. She just adored me.

What made you want to become an actor?
I felt good when I performed. My whole family was in the business, so I was kind of set up for it. It felt good to express myself and it felt good to be genuinely received.

Were you able to support yourself by acting once you left home?
Yes. I knew I had to in order to prove to the folks that it was viable. And to myself. I didn’t want to be fooling myself, either.

Fortunately, you were successful right away in musical theater, joining the national road company of Grease when you were 18. What was it like to be so young and on the road for months at a time?
At first it was exciting. But just prior to getting that first road show, it looked like I would be cast in The Last Detail – it was between Randy Quaid and me for that role. Then I got cast in Grease on the road, so it was kind of anticlimactic. I enjoyed it, but–

It wasn’t co-starring in a film with Jack Nicholson.
Right. My manager didn’t want me to do Grease. He said, “I would rather you stay in California and become a film star.” That was unreal. Just because I almost got in The Last Detail didn’t mean I was going to be a movie star. So I was going to go back and do what I knew best, the stage. I did that for two years, and it drove him nuts.

Was this Bob LeMond?
Yeah. He had a much keener insight into where I was going as a film actor than I did.

How long were you together?
Twelve years.

Then you abruptly fired him.
If I had that to do over again, I wouldn’t have. I was asked to do An Officer and a Gentleman, and I opted to go to American Airlines’ jet pilot school instead. That upset him.

That’s understandable. Were you still under obligation to Paramount Studios at the time?
Yes. That was the movie that would have paid them back, and I didn’t do it. What Michael Eisner [then president of Paramount] was saying was, “If he’s not going to do An Officer and a Gentleman, then we’re going to have him do a sequel to Saturday Night Fever.” Well, I didn’t necessarily want to do that either. Nine months went by and I couldn’t do a movie at another studio because I was under contract to Paramount. And Paramount wouldn’t let me do anything except the sequel to Saturday Night Fever.

But Eisner had already let you out of American Gigolo, hadn’t he?
Yes. It went like this: American Gigolo was replaced by Urban Cowboy plus one more movie – that was the deal – which would have been Officer and a Gentleman. That turned into Staying Alive because I kept on postponing it to live my life. So it wasn’t my manager’s fault that all this happened, it was mine.

You personally were making decisions that fostered the decline of your career?
I’m the one who was saying no and then wanting him to fix it. There came a point where he called me and said, “There’s nothing I can do. He won’t let you out of doing the sequel.” And I said, “Well, if you can’t fix this, then why am I paying you 15 percent? This is something I need you to fix.” He said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” I got really mad, didn’t think and let him go. It wasn’t fair, because I had made every move to get myself in that predicament.

He died a few years later. Did you have an opportunity to reconcile your differences?
I felt so bad. He had given me 12 of the best years of his life as a mentor and manager. When he got ill I felt guilty. I wanted at least to end it with words of appreciation and care. I never did admit to the goof-up, but I think by my presence I kind of admitted it.

Besides An Officer and a Gentleman, there were a number of other hit films you turned down. One of them was Splash.
That was the opposite situation. I backed out of that on advice from an agent.

Was that when Mike Ovitz represented you?
Yeah.

Let’s talk about some of the pictures you did choose, and how your expectations jibed with the outcomes.
Sure.

Urban Cowboy.
The expectation was great and delivery was great. That one was easy to predict. Great director, great concept, great script and great studio. You knew with that one.

The Brian DePalma thriller Blow Out.
My expectations were great but the outcome was disappointing, yet it was acknowledged as a great film. Barry Diller said, “If this had been at Paramount it would have done $60 million.” It was Filmways’ last hurrah. They didn’t even have enough money to promote it. The company was already going under. It would have taken Jurassic Park to save that company.

What about Staying Alive?
That was more along the lines of a predictable box-office success. It was a pretty big hit.

What did Paramount think of Sylvester Stallone directing the sequel to one of the biggest movies in the studio’s history?
They loved it, because Rocky III had such success as a sequel. At the time, it looked like a cool idea.

What kind of a director was he?
He’s a funny man. He’s funnier than anyone ever knows. And he’s very creative. Overall it was a good experience. It was territory I knew, territory he knew. It was more about making a chapter in your life: about getting in shape, doing a kind of dance you’ve never done before and working with someone who is also a big star. What we set out to do, we did. It made exactly the money we thought it would make and entertained at the level we thought it would. It didn’t pretend to do anything else. We weren’t going for Oscars.

Would you have preferred not to have made it?
The idea that I was forced to do it didn’t please me. It’s more fun to do something when you’re not forced.

You were in the best physical shape of your life for that film. Afterward, how long did it take you to get completely out of shape?
[Laughs] Three years.

Did you enjoy the rigors of Stallone’s fitness regime?
Because of where I was at that time, with nothing better to do, I enjoyed it. But I got tired of it quickly. By the end of that movie I had had it. I was finished with the body trip. Stallone’s view of the human body is different from mine. I’m basically a spiritualist. I feel that we’re spirits who use the body to function – to eat, to sleep, to have sex and to perform various duties. He thinks of the body as art. He puts more significance on it than I do.

Which brings us to Perfect, a messy flop that struck a blow to your career.
Everyone held high expectations for that film, because it was from the same director and writer as Urban Cowboy. I took it because of the people involved, even though there were problems with the script. I still thought it was going to be pretty good.

Do you have any thoughts about our culture’s current obsession with celebrity?
I think people were just as crazy about Clark Gable when he was popular. Whoever’s the star of the day. You’re talking to a guy who worshiped the Beatles when they came out. Maybe I wasn’t a ten on the Nutty Fan Richter scale, but I was a solid eight, baby. I had every album, every magazine. I tried to get to see them. Artists – writers, painters, singers, sports figures, musicians – have always been the ones who have changed the culture and led the way. They put life into the culture, more than politicians, more than a lot of others. But at what level you get excited about it is another thing. I think I liked the Beatles on an irrational level. But the idea that they got me through two years of childhood is rational. They gave me something to look forward to, something to feel good about. So did Jimmy Cagney. So did a lot of other artists I grew up loving.

That’s interesting. Your history suggests that you were so overwhelmed by your popularity in the late Seventies that you left Hollywood and sought refuge in Santa Barbara.
As much as I’d like this to sound like I was pulling a Jay Gatsby on people, I wasn’t. I’m in love with aviation, and I moved to Santa Barbara so I’d have a reason to fly somewhere. I moved to Florida so I could live at an airport. It was that simple, yet it looked cool and convenient to say I was escaping Hollywood. The truth is, I wasn’t. Now, mind you, I always liked parts of California better than Los Angeles, and parts of the East Coast better than New York. But those places didn’t pull me away from Los Angeles because of stress or pressure. I just like the lifestyle where I live: Santa Barbara, Carmel, Florida or Maine. I didn’t want to live the lifestyle of a protected film star. I wanted to live an unguarded life. I still do. I have seven different jet licenses, and I’ve traveled the world. I got married and had a child. I found ways outside the business to broaden my horizons.

I like the idea of parties and clubs and nightlife—but I was never good at being in the middle of it.

But you’ll agree that it’s unusual for a young actor to shun the Hollywood scene: the meetings, dinners, premieres and parties.
You’re right. But I never correlated my success with parties or meetings. I always thought the reason I was successful was because I went in and did a good job at the audition. And this is the other thing: I was never part of the party scene. I never enjoyed it. I never drank, never did drugs. It was never a thing to me. Now, I like it from a distance. I like the idea of parties and clubs and nightlife – but I was never good at being in the middle of it, other than playing a character who liked being in the middle of it. That’s controllable. All sorts of things can happen, and that doesn’t appeal to me.

How did you avoid becoming bitter when you went from being a big star to not being able to get the parts you wanted?
I don’t know. I understand what you’re saying, but I have never blamed others for any situation I’m in. It’s just not my nature.

And that’s how you define bitterness – blaming other people?
I think so.

Was there ever a moment when you considered going back to work on a television series?
No. But after Look Who’s Talking Now my career was in the kind of shape that I started getting those calls from the networks. The money was awfully appealing, but I was still getting paid well as an actor in movies, and I always thought I was one film away from getting back. And I was right. The only person who could have gotten me to do a series was Kirstie Alley. She’s such a great friend, and she’s so brilliant. If you put us in a Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz situation, we’d be hilarious. I thought if she seduced me back to television, I would probably go for it.

When they make the movie version of Welcome Back, Kotter, who’ll play Barbarino?
Joey Lawrence.

You’ve already given this some thought, haven’t you?
Well, I know his whole family. His little brother Andy plays my son in White Man’s Burden.

You’ve made 24 films in 21 years. Do you have a favorite?
Right now, it would have to be Pulp Fiction.

And your favorite character?
The same. I got the biggest kick out of Vincent Vega. He gave me a lot to do in terms of levels to play and different zones to be in.

Your character in Pulp Fiction is supposedly the brother of Michael Madsen’s character in Reservoir Dogs. Is it true that Tarantino is planning a movie called The Vega Brothers?
I thought that was theoretical. If we ever did a prequel, he’d put us together as brothers.

Are you ready to do a prequel?
Not necessarily. I never really wanted to do a sequel to Saturday Night Fever. I like when characters are little gems that stay that way. They’re never quite the same when you try to bring them back.

Is there perhaps another Tarantino project down the road?
Yes. Quentin has a lot of dreams to fulfill, and I think I’m definitely part of the scenario. But he’s been such an enormous influence in my life, that I want him to experience other great actors. Even though, in my private thoughts, I’d like to keep him all to myself. Just the other day, I said to him, “I want us to be like Scorsese and De Niro. Don’t desert me now. [Laughs] We’re on a roll.”

You ended our interview 18 years ago by saying you felt like yourself only when you were acting, and that one’s work is what makes one alive. Does that opinion still hold true?
My morale is up the most when I’m working, so to that degree, it’s still true. But here’s how I’d update that 24-year-old guy: If you don’t go off and experience life, you’ll soon have nothing left to contribute to your art. Shortly after I said that, I needed to go out and feel my way through life a bit, in order to come back with something new. In about three years, you’re probably going to see me check out again, because I’ll have given as much as I know for this stage. I’ll need a break to do some more living. I’ll give something else later.

And when you come back, do you feel you’ll have to prove yourself all over again?
I think so, yeah. You can’t rest on old laurels. You have to create and recreate yourself constantly, and not try to get away with anything. It would be fun to think you could, but you can’t. You have to keep on being a great actor to remind people that you are one.


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