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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March 2005, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Actor Travolta still flying high
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Hollywood star John Travolta explains why he returned to the role of Chili Palmer in Get Shorty sequel Be Cool.

John Travolta in Be Cool
Travolta first played loan shark Chili Palmer in 1995's Get Shorty
John Travolta's screen career bears marked similarities with his luxury Boeing 707, which he personally flew to Britain earlier this month.

Either he is soaring high with box-office hits like Face/Off and Look Who's Talking, or he is plummeting in costly disasters like Battlefield Earth.

This year finds him very much in the ascendant, though, after the US box office success of his new comedy Be Cool.

Cool is something Travolta knows a lot about, having earned his stripes as the disco-dancing Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever and Danny Zuko, the swaggering 'T-Bird' from Grease.

During his recent visit to London, however, he took time to pay homage to an icon from an earlier era - namely, former 007 Sean Connery.

Adopting a passable Scottish accent, Travolta recalls a phone call he received from the veteran actor praising his portrayal of unflappable loan shark Chili Palmer in 1995's Get Shorty.

"I said, 'Sean, I think you like it because it reminds you of you!'

"Chili is all the things James Bond is - fearless, dapper, elegant and romantic. That was the connection I made in my mind, so I thought: 'Why not give the American answer to it?'"

Music business

Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, the latest film, Be Cool, finds Palmer swapping the movie business for the music game.

But trouble follows him wherever he goes, and soon he finds himself facing Russian gangsters, gun-toting rappers and scheming record producers.

Director F Gary Gray and John Travolta on the Be Cool set
Director F Gary Gray (left) with Travolta on the Be Cool set
"Chili always takes advantage of an opportunity," says Travolta. "He never really worries about anything.

"Even if he's not particularly confident you'd never know it. He's always analysing how to get in and out of situations in a very cool way."

So how does Travolta define cool himself? The 50-year-old gives a thoughtful and considered response.

"Cool initially meant to be fearless, and was associated with early music and film icons - Marlon Brando, James Dean and people like that.

"Then it evolved into meaning 'hip', and from there it evolved into being comfortable with yourself. I'm probably more of the last definition."

Fancy footwork

No father can be cool to his children, though. "My daughter tells me to stop if I ever sing or dance," he says ruefully.

Dancing forms a key part of Be Cool, which sees Travolta taking to the dancefloor once more with his Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman.

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Be Cool
The film reunites Travolta with Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman
The duo enjoyed a memorable twist ten years ago in Quentin Tarantino's film and jumped at the chance to pair up again.

"We were going to do it anyway because I wanted Chili to dance, but Uma being there was a bonus," says Travolta.

"We mixed up some of the traditional dances from the 50s and 60s - the cha-cha, samba and foxtrot."

No amount of fancy footwork could impress some US critics, with the New York Times attacking the sequel's "unmotivated cast" and "conceptually anaemic plot".

But this will hardly trouble Travolta, who is considering spending some of his $20 million (10.5m) salary on the illuminated dance floor he cavorted on in Saturday Night Fever, currently up for auction.

"If I were smart I'd buy it - I gave everything else away," he says. "But it would depend on how much they would take me for."

Be Cool is on release in London now. It goes nationwide on Friday.



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