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John Travolta on the True Meaning of Success | Impact Theory | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "John Travolta on the True Meaning of Success | Impact Theory".
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If you always do good work from your standards, whether you're in a project that fails or succeeds, you can live with that. But if you're doing things on other people's criteria, standards, and you fail, you feel terrible. There's nothing worse than failing on somebody else's idea. Fail on your idea, or don't succeed on your idea. It hurts so much less.
John Travolta'S Career And Personal Philosophy
Introducing John Travolta (00:29)
You go, "Well, I did my best. I tried. I had a good time. I, at least this app, you could look at the glass half full. You know, you can do all these wonderful things if it's yours." - Everyone, welcome to Impact Theory. Today's guest is one of the most iconic actors to ever grace the silver screen. One of the youngest leading actors ever nominated for an Oscar, he's received an Emmy, two Academy Award nominations, and six Golden Globe Noms, including one win for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. And out of all the actors, they could have chosen Variety honored him with their inaugural Cinema Icon Award at the Cannes Film Festival. And given his storied career, it is no wonder. A triple threat who has had a top 10 song appeared on Broadway in Smash TV shows and era-defining films, he has had one of the most lauded and enduring careers of any actor in history. He starred in two of the most successful films of the 70s, including "Grease", which is the top grossing live action musical of all time. And he is so compelling on screen that culture literally changes in the wake of his movements. His career-launching dance moves in the big screen phenomenon, Saturday Night Fever tripled the sales of white suits and his starring role in the hit film "Urban Cowboy" inspired a country music craze that swept the nation. And that is, I assure you, just the tip of a very large body of work that spans decades and includes some of the most memorable films ever made, including seminal works like "Pulp Fiction", "Blow Out", "The Thin Red Line", "Get Shorty", "Primary Colors Face Off", "Broken Arrow" and dozens more. His list of credits reads like a list of the all-time great films across most every single genre. So please, help me in welcoming the star of "Fenatic", which is now available on VOD, the high school dropout who turned a deep passion for performance into one of the most astonishing careers in the history of cinema, "The Living Legend", John Travolta. - Wow, welcome to the show. Tommy Boy, what an introduction. What a career. - Jeez, man, I just, I thought I wanna meet that guy. That was beautiful, thank you very much.
What Fame Has Been Like for John Travolta (03:10)
And thank everybody who's here visiting for the show today. - The interesting thing, if I hadn't just spent the last 30 minutes with you, I would think that that was just sort of false humility. But you really do carry yourself like you don't realize you're John Travolta, which is amazing, it's beautiful and is actually really wonderful to see. - And has got me in trouble being that low key about it? - Yeah, because, you know, I'm from a working class family and we are humbled by nature and love the good things that we succeed in in life. However, you just become more of who you are when you get them because you can't forget your beginnings. So I literally forget any of that. You know, if I meet someone new, I don't think that they're clocking or registering that I'm anyone different than the guy they just met. So your perception of that is actually pretty correct. - Yeah, it is a fascinating thing. So for Lisa and I, my wife, while on a scale so much smaller than yours, we had a similar transition, right? So come from a working class family that teetered between blue color and white color and then generated real wealth, like the kind of wealth that changes my, not only my life, but my entire family's life. - Of course. - And you look at that and your whole world theoretically is different, but at the same time, money doesn't, like it doesn't change how you feel about yourself. And that's the thing that I found so interesting in my own journey and watching you all even go farther and say, the fame does not seem to have changed how you feel about yourself. And whenever you talk, you talk so much about the art. What has fame been like? How have you managed to keep art as the true north? - Born into that, because my mother was a drama coach. She was a director, she was an English teacher, a speech teacher, and she had a high integrity about theater and all of the arts. So all of us that got interested in her interest were held to a very high criteria of performance. So performance mattered, not fame, not money. How well did you do at something is what mattered to her and my father, who was an excellent athlete, he was a semi pro athlete and basketball baseball and football. And so they were more about achievement, not so much about superficial things. And the interesting thing is that when you are honorable to achievement, the wealth in that kind of thing comes automatically. You don't have to, it's when you invert that, when someone wants wealth, or if they wants want fame, it's harder for that to happen because it's not based on anything that has a being exchanged to it. If you're good at something-- - To find that being exchanged. - Well meaning that if I make something that's of high quality, you'll give me more beans for it. - Beans, beans got it got it. - It's just an old fashioned expression. But what's the quality of what you're having worth? If I make this cup really well, you'll pay maybe a little more for it than if I do a poor job of it. So your exchange has to be at a higher level and then it automatically comes. But it's not what you're going for. In my opinion, now people could have done it. I always say if you wanna be wealthy on just money, get into the money business, investments, banking. But if you're in the arts, I would do it for art's sake first and then hopefully others will follow, but not make it a prerequisite. But just keep doing the right thing and the good thing it'll happen. - I agree with that so aggressively.
Staying true to yourself and doing what makes you feel alive (07:00)
So I chased money for nearly a decade. That was like, I woke up every day just thinking about getting rich. I wanna get rich and that's it. And the punch line of that was I ended up being emotionally bankrupt and just really sad and not having fun. They did not enjoy my life. - Right. - We're the slightest. And so I went to my wife and I said, "Look, I know I promised I would make you rich "and I will, but I'm gonna need more time "because I need to do something "that makes me feel alive." - Sure. - And that was a, that was like eye opening, actually living the cliche of money camp by happiness and sort of finding myself in that conundrum. And then going back to what you're saying about the bean exchange, so I'm sure you're hyper aware of this one year, Instagram game is pretty strong and then having a daughter who's like prime Instagram age. - Yes. - So many kids now reach out to me and they aren't even asking me how I became successful as an entrepreneur. They wanna know how I built my following. And I'm like, dude, let me tell you, I built my following by putting my head down for 20 years and making a better cup. Like learning how to do something that intrinsically has value, right? And when I look at your performances, dude, your career is so fucking insane, dude. And the reason it's insane is you've never phoned a performance in in like, how long have you been acting? - Oh. - I mean, it's like, when I was 12 years old, but I would say professionally since I was 16. So it's been quite a while, but you're 100% correct because I always behave as though my performance that I'm doing is not only the best role I've ever had, but maybe the last role. And even though I don't mean that literally, I have to think in that frame of mind, just so I do my best work, you know? And I take every role as seriously as the next. So if I'm doing a light comedy, I make sure that I'm as invested in that as I am a very well-written drama, let's say. - It's interesting. So I came in, so when I saw "Pulp Fiction", I was at film school. So I was studying film when that landed. And I mean, Jesus, dude, like that blew up the film school. Like people were just freaking out. But I grew up on you in like the Lucas Talking Era. And then my mom who was sitting literally right there, which makes this so much more fun for me, was a psychopath for Greece. So I have seen that many, many times. So it was so interesting to sort of, as I grew, I got to dip into your films in different time periods where the tonality of that film matched where I was as a human. So like seeing "Saturday Night Fever", which is fucking gritty. And I think people forget how intense that movie really is. How do you go about the selection process? How have you thought about it maybe as it changes over the length of the career? - Well, just as a global perspective on choices, I've never planned the end result of what I was going to do. For instance, I didn't do "Saturday Night Fever" thinking that I would start trends, you know? Or "Herbing Cowboy" knowing that I would start a trend. You do it because it's a good piece of work. You love it. You're going to do the best job you can. You're going to invest in research. You're going to drill and practice and get it right. And then whatever result it is, I mean, "Saturday Night Fever", for instance, I thought was a little art film. The only film I ever did that I felt had any absolute commercial viability was Greece because I had done "The Broadway Show" and I saw the success with my own eyes. And I thought if we even execute this halfway as good as we did "Broadway and on the Road", we're in "Hicotten", but that's the only film. The others, who knows what will mean? I thought "Pulp Fiction" was going to be "Reservar Dogs". I thought "Saturday Night Fever" was going to be "Mean Streets". Honestly, so I didn't predict that. All I did was what we started this conversation with guaranteeing good work as best I could. Now, there's some of it that's out of your control. You have a director, you have a writer, you have designers on the movie that could alter your intent, but you are responsible for your aspect of it. And as much cheerleading as you can with all the other departments. But you must always show up whether the end result is a good one or not as good. You're going full throttle and delivering the best product you can. And otherwise, don't do it. Don't do it. It's not about one foot on the shore and one foot on a boat. You commit, just like today. I drove your beautiful crew, and they are beautiful. I'm a gorgeous people. But I drove them crazy 'cause I wanted the lighting right for this interview. But that's part of my responsibility. So I don't have any attention on it. I can talk to you, Tommy Boy, directly without wondering whether, boy, is that, I don't know about that. This doesn't feel right, but I can be here with you and have my attention not on other things.
How to have a balanced work ethic that won't burn you out (12:03)
- Yeah, so talk to me about work ethic, man. Your work ethic seems insane. Hearing some of the preparation that you did for like Saturday Night Fever, which of course I had to rewatch. And the dancing in that is crazy, man. You look like you're ready for the Olympics. Like it is, it is time. - I approach this. - And let me give, let me give another actor a bit of the credit for that spirit, because when I was starting out, Robert De Niro was with Scorsese doing very in-depth or raging bull and mean streets and that whole early lineup of films that, when he did New York, New York, we heard he practiced a year on the saxophone. We heard he became a real fighter and all this and then it suddenly gave permission, if you will, for us younger actors to commit at a new level. Not that we weren't doing that before, but it upped the game for everybody. So when I worked with him in the killing season, I said, I gotta, I flew to Serbia and Bosnia and did my research interview with soldiers. And I came back with a stack of research that fills this room with recordings and to deliver an authentic performance, 'cause I thought, well, here's, I'm gonna do a movie with a guy that believes in that. So there was an important moment where we were given permission as a lot of you to go to the distance, 'cause you had Baccino De Niro going the distance differently than earlier actors had other than, let's say, Marlon Brando, who always went the distance. - No question. How do you manage to sustain that over a career?
Show up every time like it's your first (13:54)
Like you do see people that they can do it once or twice, but man, to like even now with fanatic, it's so clear how much time and energy you put into that character, the mannerisms, that just really embodying it. And I think people will be shocked by the physical transformations. How do you, why are you so hungry? Like why do you keep doing this at this level? - Because at the end of the day, you know, that's what you have as evidence of a life well lived, a contribution to people. You know, you know, if let's say I have 70 movies and each one delivers a kind of joy to a certain audience, the collage or the mosaic of your career has this blanketed effect that suddenly you can go away with pride that it was a job well done. And you may be made a difference in a lot of people's lives. You know, when you see young fans with tattoo of Danny Zuko or Vincent Vega on their arm and you say, this somewhere I made a difference in their life, were they, was someone glad that you were alive, were you valuable to someone by being here? And you want to be valuable. You know, otherwise you're kind of wasting your time. If you don't find your niche to be valuable to something, I think. - You really wear like that, the love, the sort of raw connection to the art on your sleeve in a way that I find is fucking enthralling. Like even now, like I can see in your eyes, like you were really hit by what you were just saying.
Finding joy in creativity. (15:39)
How do you connect with that? Is that just, you've always just been connected or have you found through acting a way to like open yourself to that, to draw in that purpose? - Well, that's a fair question. But I believe that because of my family's commitment to the purity of the arts, we always, we just didn't ever want to be caught not being professional and not being good at what we were doing ever. That was more of a shame to our group as a family unit than it was anything else. Even in fooling around improvising at home or creating humorous skits or skits. And you either own that idea or you don't. And we just had to, that was our survival mechanism was to be as good as we could at what we were doing, or don't do it. - There's a side to you though, that it's gonna be hard to put into words when I'm gonna try. And then I will get to a question at the end of this bear with me. - Sure, go ahead. - So seeing you on Oprah, I've seen enough Oprah to get a sense of like where she is with you. And she was so effusive with how much she loved you and just felt like there was something special and she had a connection to you. Countless actors have said very similar things that you lift the setup, that you have this playfulness, the spirit about you. Dude, 40 plus years in the industry, I literally expect you to be cynical. And so the fact that you aren't, I don't buy is accidental. So I'm curious like what you've done, how you've stayed, you've had ups, you've had downs in your life outside of this, you've had loss, like heartbreaking loss. And yet literally sitting across from you where I like to think you couldn't fake me out, I can feel the like you actually love what you do. And I mean that in a big way, the way you were, you were kind, when you were changing the lighting, you were fucking up like holding signs and saying like is this working? It's not like you were just telling other people to do it. Like there's a, you're involved in your own life. I don't have to have better things work. - Well there's a joy of creating and that's free. Whether you write or play music or act, that's free. The joy and you can splurge on that joy. Everybody can, you just have to give yourself permission. It's like Wizard of Oz, you know, you click your heels, you always can go home when you can always create something. You know, if we were, if it was just the two of us and you know, we finished talking and I said, you know, let's draw some pictures, man. Or let's, you know, let's make a little movie. Or, you know, we could find something to do that might heighten the awareness of being alive. Cynicism is always going to try to get you. And it's your job to navigate around that cynicism. How? Because they're like nipping dogs at your feet. They're not important. Cynicism is value less. In my book, I have no time for it. I will be patient with it to a degree. And then I have no patience for it. And I would love for you to have actually witnessed me on phones trying to make something happen and eliminate all the naysayers on the phone. Let's say seven, you know this from being a business.
When you don't have time for cynicism. (19:01)
Seven people are on the phone and three of them are lawyers and two of them are manners and through agents. And I can like radar. Who are the people that are not for this? And I detected whatever the person's name is. Could you please remove yourself from this phone conversation? Because if you stay on, we're not going to make this deal. You get down to the people that want the show to go on the road, you got a deal. You have to get rid of the people who don't want to play the same game as you do. - Dude, go harder on that. So one of the number one questions I get asked is, okay, so in sort of my space, whatever that is, you hear a lot that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Okay, so you say that enough, which I actually really believe, I also think it extends to ideas, but you get people saying, okay, but there's people in my life, they're not lucky enough that it's an attorney or an a manager or somebody. It's their mom, it's their cousin, it's whatever. They're boss, they're manager. And they have that person in their life and they can't just get rid of them. Do you have methods for dealing with-- - Yes, you handle them. And you have to go, if you love brother, sister, mother, father, friend, business associate, whatever degree you are committed to them and you don't want to do that, they're different than just a professional person that's assumed a beingness in your group, then it's easy to eliminate if they're not wanting you to survive. But if you have people that you deep love and you can't feel comfortable about that, you find a way and it's artful. You have to find a way of handling each of them. So everybody goes away feeling happy and not antagonized about your displeasure with them. So I could make up examples, but if you have someone who, let's say I'm creating this idea, but some parent that doesn't want their kid to play violin, okay, and they're antagonistic, you've gotta be an accountant, you've gotta be an accountant. You go, okay, dad, I love you, but if I become an accountant, I'm becoming what you want me to be and I have a good chance at having a not so happy life. Even if I fail at being a violinist, at least I failed on my own terms and I failed doing something I loved. So you gotta let up on me, dad or brother or sister or whatever that character is that has a counter intention to you.
Allow yourself to go with what fits the best. (21:24)
You have to get with them and get real and say, look, it's my life, it's not your life and this is how I need to do it, you see? So there's ways of handling. I gave, the first example I gave you was a high end example because you're trying to close a deal, but there's many examples whether someone wants to be a baseball player, but their parents want them to be a football player, it doesn't even matter if it's the wrong sport. You see, it's not your sport, you know? And I've watched people do this my whole life. I've watched them, you know, wow, you got to be a professional football player for six months, why didn't that work out? Because I never liked, I wanted to be a baseball player. Well, what happened? They said, well, my dad wanted me to become football player and I was really going on his wishes, where you go, hmm. So if you had to read, do history, you'd say, what I have told dad at that time, look, you know, I'm just enjoying this more than that, can you let up on me? So there's all these interesting increments of how you give yourself permission and navigate around people that are counter your intentions, you know? And then sometimes it doesn't matter. Sometimes you go, I don't really care which way I do this or that. And you acquiesce to just keeping peace and good roads, goodwill, and it doesn't matter so much. Other times it matters a lot 'cause it's your personal destiny. - Speaking of people being contrary to your wishes, was anybody weird about you dropping out of high school to pursue acting? - Only my dad for a minute. And then when he saw that I could make a living in it, he let it go like a hot potato. - Really? - All he cared about was that I could survive in life. And he wasn't sure without a diploma that I could. And I was saying, in my mind, I was saying, I'm not a scholar, so therefore, I'm gonna do luggage handling at LaGuardia or I'm gonna become what I do best, acts sing and dance. So dad, let me get, I'm 16, I'm chomping at the bit, let me out of the stable. My mother, she had no problem with it. She said, let him go, thank God he's got a target. What he wants to achieve, he's already got a manager and agent, let him go. And finally, I made a deal with him and I said, well, again, keeping the peace. I said, what if I just took the year off and possibly even did homeschool, so I didn't miss any credit. He said, you have that last at about a month, I send him my assignments. And then I started to make money and then he started to see how well I could do. So he was more, he's six kids, working class, he wanted to make sure I was gonna be okay. So his was much more pragmatic, mine was much more no. I wanna put my bets on my abilities that you guys have let me so beautifully have and nurtured since I was born. My parents would sit there in those days, everybody smoked. He had a cigar, my mother had a cigarette, a glass of wine and they would watch me for three hours, lip sync records and improvise and imitate people and whatever. And they would look, he's something, isn't he boo? You know, look, can you believe how they made me feel like I was God's gift to the arts. So it's like really dad, you encouraged all this love of my performing and now I wanna do it. He just wanted me to be protected by a diploma. I don't know how much that diploma was gonna protect me. You know, when you're auditioning for the Terrence Malick film. - All right. He seemed to have done okay without it. - Yeah. - I would say the jury's in, it worked out. - You embody characters with Swagger. - So well, it's crazy from obviously Saturday Night Fever to Greece, but even like Vincent Vega and Pulp Fiction or in Get Shorty, what were you like when you left high school? Did you have a Swagger like that? Because there are people that have an it factor. And I really think that is, it's the hardest thing to talk about and maybe the most important thing in somebody when you're thinking about casting them. Did you have that?
Swagger comes from a few different places. (26:02)
Were you able to convey it? Or did you step in to meet people in a character? - Well, there's a few angles that you're approaching there. So the first one I'll address with the only Swagger I ever had as a child and as a teenager is that I liked to dress well. And that was unusual, meaning I wanted to look like a beetle. I wanted to look like George Chacarris and West Side Story. I wanted to look like Warren Beatty in A Bonnie and Clyde. So I would save up very little money that I had to look pretty swift, but it wasn't necessarily like I was acting that way. I just liked how that illusion looked, you see. Now, as far as the Swagger, my generation was at the tail end of the beginning of what cool was. You had Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty creating cool. These illusions, the beetles, they were cool. So as a child, you're absorbing what you think cool is. It's not necessarily that you're behaving like them, but you're registering somewhere what cool might be. So you get a role like Danny Zuko and Griston, you're gonna apply all that, whether you are that or not. No, I'm not, but I grew up with a family of artists. So I can apply it very easily when I observed in what was seemingly the effect of what cool was. So it's an affectation within the confines of a character, if that makes sense. Just like with the fanatic, he's anything but cool. You see, because I understand that character.
Who is John? (28:00)
So I'm gonna be honorable to the attributes of that character only. I don't cross collateralize characters. You have an obligation to be that guy. If it includes cool, like let's say, Senator Fever, Griste, Pope Fiction, or Get Shorty, it includes cool, but that doesn't mean every character. It just happened to be that those needed that. You see? - Yeah, definitely. You've said that the characters that come closest to you are from phenomenon or Michael, and you specifically said it's some of the things that they say and stand for. What are those things that they say and stand for? - Well, phenomenon, his emotional life is very much like mine. I don't wanna break anyone's heart. I believe in not doing anything that someone else can't handle very easily. If in the love world of loving your children, loving your wife, loving your friends, I am respectful of the effect I have on them like that character was respectful of the effect that separate from business, this is personal. Business I'm much different about, but personal, to some degree, and it's hurt me, war in my heart and my sleeve, but I won't take it off my sleeve. I don't believe in that. So there's that. And as far as just behavior, let's say the character in the book was talking, it was kind of like how I talk and how I, my humor and that kind of thing. So there's only a few roles that I've actually felt that were kind of like me, but the rest is just my obligation to the attributes of that character. - What is one of your defining characteristics? Like in your own mind, the thing maybe you're most proud of or that you think is the core of who you really are? - Probably that I deeply care at an unusual level for another human being. And I have the ability to take responsibility for them completely, even if they're not able to take responsibility for themselves. And not that I'm not artful about who I choose to do that with, but I do have an uncanny ability to look at every angle to make sure something is completely taken care of. And I've had moments where people have done that for me, but I think that's probably what my stable concept of myself is that I'm willing to, to the greatest degree, I'm capable of take responsibility for others. - That's very interesting. It triggers the notions in my mind about empathy and what makes human so uniquely capable of the level of empathy that we have. And then sort of playing that out in my mind about what makes you such a great actor, the ability to sort of understand where they're coming from, relate to them, feel connected to them.
The Acting Process (30:53)
Is that sort of all part and parcel of? - Yes, I think so. And even when I'm playing an evil character, like I did in Broken Arrow or Aspects of Pulp Fiction or well you name it, there must be a dozen guys that I played that have that aspect to them. I don't have to even like those characters. I just have to like playing them. I have to be entertained by them. So if I think I can get a kick out of playing a bad guy and you'll find it humorous and insightful to an entertained by it, then I will gravitate toward it. So sometimes I, you know, there's a dichotomy there where my empathy doesn't go for the evil in a person but goes for what's entertaining about their evil? You know, what makes me laugh about their evil face off. You know, it was so much fun because the evil part that both Nick and I shared was hilarious at the same time it was evil. Genosy, you don't get the impact on, the audience isn't appalled by you as much as they're entertained by you. And I think it's important to balance the impact of an evil character when you're doing that. You know, good guys are good guys. Unless they're falsely good, it's more of a pretense of some sort.
Being a dad (32:32)
- I wanna go back to what you were saying about taking responsibility for people. So recently heard an interview with your daughter who is also an actor, late teens if I'm not mistaken. - 19 now. - 19. And when asked about you and if you ever embarrass her or anything like that, she was effusive in her praise of you. Like it's very clear that you guys have a phenomenal relationship. Normally a child at that age is really trying to distance themselves from their parents' rebel back a little bit but she really seemed like, no, no, no, like this has been wonderful. How have you accomplished that? What are some values that you carry into that dynamic? - Well, look, I'd love to take a lot of credit for Ella and Ben but I can't because I think, truly they are innately incredibly wonderful human beings. And whether Kelly and I set examples here or there, that's fine or whether the people that were around her set good examples possibly but the innate quality of a human being is their quality as a human being. And she's just a sterling human being as has been. An incredibly understanding, incredibly tolerant patient, ethical and gorgeous people. I'm so proud of them. And I really give them the credit more than I give myself anything. I'm there and I take full responsibility for them but they're responsible for their own personalities. I mean, I'm sure your mama, she's sitting there might agree that my mama would violently disagree with you. I'm telling you right now, that woman is like - Are you taking full credit for everything I've ever done? She's like, I raised you right. And in her defense, I actually do come at it that way 'cause I think that going back to Ella, I think that it's very different to be a good person than to have a fuse of praise for your father. So you're not a neutral force in her life. So while I'm happy to grant that she is just, a wonderful person for a great position. - Okay, well then, if I had to give myself any credit for her gorgeous being, it would be my patience, tolerance and understanding of both my children as children. I've never hit them, I've never made them feel bad and salted them nothing, never nullified them ever. I just treat them like my parents treated me, which was an enormous heart, enormous tolerance and enormous patience. And trust me, they're nothing like I was. I was something to be dealt with 'cause I was demanding, and I was everything I am now, but in a little body. And you see me running around here, fixing the lighting, well imagine what my parents went through. - With a little body telling and orchestrating what they're gonna do and-- - How much of do you think that's helped you? Like there's, so in my life, the lesson I had to learn was to toughen up.
Life Lessons And Perspectives
Kindness vs. weakness (35:42)
So I grew up very soft. I would hit in the leg with a soccer ball and I grew up in Tacoma, so it's cold. But I would cry and walk off the field and nobody ever said, hey, get the fuck back on the field or like paint something you lean into. Like, and I get it and I know when people hear that, they're like, oh, you should never say that. But literally, I couldn't be successful until I faced that stuff and could push through pain and learn how to deal with it and all that stuff. So I'm gonna guess that one, to say on a phone call, I'm gonna need you to excuse yourself from this phone call. No matter how much control you have in the relationship, dude you're an empathetic person. Like everything about you exudes empathy. So I know you know what that feels like, even if he's being a dick, even if he is the problem, being willing to say you have to get off the phone is powerful. So while I'm sure it may have been at times troubling for your parents, do you think that's been useful as a tool in your arsenal? Yes, because one should never confuse kindness with weakness, ever. Because just because a person's kind or wonderful or loving or patient or tolerant doesn't mean their cup not runeth over at the right time. And when my cup runeth over, especially when it's so clearly cut that what I'm trying to do is keep a boat floating and they're trying to sink it. I have no tolerance for that. So that's what I'm talking about. Is more about that subtlety. Is that I'm all that in a bag of chips when it comes to empathy and tolerance of patience. But if you are trying to bring, to sink a boat that has a lot of people that have good intentions and are good, or are of good will, and now you're trying to take that away from all of them, I will fight you on it. You see, because you're not doing the survival thing for that particular group. So you can keep your sentient, if you will, concepts about yourself, but at the same time, you have to be strong enough to, otherwise you will fold. You can't do this like a bull in a china shop. That doesn't work either. You can't just be unthinking about every movie, mate. You have to, you don't pull those moves of extremity until you see the real intent of something that someone's really trying to destroy something. And you have every right to handle that, I think.
The only advice I'd give my daughter (38:21)
- What do you hope your daughter learns from your career? Are there certain missteps that you'll point or two and say, hey, here's how to better handle this? There are certain things you did that set you up for wonderful things and say, hey, make sure you do this? - I've only instilled one idea. Always commit to your work at a deep level and do all the homework and research that you need to do to portray a great role. Don't do material, you have luxury. You're not where I was. You don't have to do material that's not up to your abilities. You know, I've had to do jobs sometimes where I had to rise above the material in order to make it a good performance. But my goal was still to make it a good performance. She may not have to do that so she could be discerning and luxurious about what she chooses. And, you know, if you always do good work from your standards, whether you're in a project that fails or succeeds, you can live with that. But if you're doing things on other people's criteria or standards and you fail, you feel terrible. There's nothing worse than failing on somebody else's idea. Fail on your idea or don't succeed on your idea. It hurts so much less. You go, well, I did my best, I tried, I had a good time, at least this happened. You could look at the glass half full. You know, you can do all these wonderful things if it's yours. But man, you start playing someone else's chess game and you feel terrible and it says, oh man, I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't have let them influence me at that level.
How do people like Oprah stay focused? (40:01)
- When things get hard for you, when you're having one of the difficult times, when you're trying to get in shape, when you're learning the dance moves for a Saturday night fever, when you're doing something that's really hard it's really taxing you, what do you do mentally to stay focused, stay strong and get through it? - The global view of the end product, what's your valuable final product on anything, keeps you going, you know, what's the end result? I'm gonna get this routine, I'm gonna get that accent down, I'm going to under, I wonder, really grasp the behavior of that character and your end game keeps you going 'cause you have a goal. - You've accomplished some pretty extraordinary things outside of filmmaking. It's very interesting when you were talking just now, I was thinking about, you know, one of the ways I know that you've dealt with challenging times in your career anyway, has been to live life, as you said, to just go and embrace, take adventures and go do other things. - 'Cause life is an art, you can't forget that life is an art, this is why Oprah and I connected immediately because, you know, we did a whole episode one time on enlightening people that didn't have money on how they can live art for that. I said, very easy. I said, can the average fellow go to Walmart and afford, it's like a tray? Yes, it might be $3. Can you afford a cup instead of a paper cup? Might be a dollar, it's fine. Now, can you put your favorite coffee in that cup? Can you go to a market or something and get a nice blueberry muffin? Can you make that look pretty, put a flower on that tray? Now, can you go give it to your husband or your wife? They'll think they're at the four seasons, getting room service and you have minimal money. It's how you approach shit. You know, it's the art of life. If you wanna look a certain way, it doesn't take money. I remember, I had a couple of friends that were in a bind. They needed a suit for a wedding. They didn't have one. I said, let's go to Walmart. I said, I can get you a suit for $46. It's gonna look great on you. And it did because the designer of the Walmart thing had a better tailoring than some of the top designers. And everybody complimented and met the wedding man.
You should never, ever listen to this mans advice... (42:28)
Yeah, you look great, you look great. Never told them it was from Walmart, $46, but he upstaged everybody with all their designer suits. I did that with my sister's ones. I never told, I was used to buying them expensive clothes. I went to mom and bought a cocktail dress for one sister and a kind of other type of cocktail where they wore them out. They love them so much. And I never told them how much they cost, $19 each. And I never told them where I got it from 'cause I did not want it to influence them. But I wanted to show that you can experience life if you're clever with money and still be as artful. - It's interesting. I am so in agreement with you. And I think that people get hung up on the money and don't realize what you're saying about doing it artfully. One thing that I found really interesting in researching you specifically for Fanatic is you were talking a lot about that, so Fanatic, the main character that you play is an obsessed fan. And you said to play an obsessed fan, "I need only think about how I have been obsessed "with other people in my own life." And there's something about your ability to be inspired by other people. Who are some people that have really inspired you, especially if it's somebody that we might have heard of? And how do you capture that and not have like a professional jealousy about it? - Well, my earlier inspirations were, for instance, Jimmy Kagnie. And I was five years old watching Yankee Doodledandy and he just rocked my world, you know, to the degree where my mother, if she pretended Jimmy Kagnie was on the phone, she'd get me to do anything. And I bought it 'cause we're a show business family. My sister was on Broadway with, doing the Broadway tour with Ethel Merman and Gypsy. It's like, my mother could very well know Jimmy Kagnie, you know, she didn't. So what I'm saying is that that affected me. The Beatles affected me deeply. There's certain movies I grew up with that La Strada, Felini's La Strada, where Julieta Messina's character affected me deeply 'cause she died of a broken heart and I couldn't comprehend that someone could die from something non-physical. And I decided then at four or five that I had never won a racial man's heart. You know, those are the kinds of impacts. So from an early age, you know, watching Jean Kelly in American Paris, you know, watching "West Side Story," all these films that had great impact, you collect these inspirations and you start and they stand on their shoulders and then you perform with all of them in you to a greater or lesser degree. You have to be a fan. You won't make it if you're not a fan. I will put money on any great artist or great ballplayer or great business person had a secret obsession with someone they were admiring in that profession and just wanted to, wanted to them to love them. They would love them.
How to be BOMB if you're just a little bit poor... (45:43)
They'd be trans by everything they did. And, you know, but it's limited in your ability to express it. Unless you're a girl that watching the Beatles and you're screaming, nobody was inhibited then. But for most average guys, let's say, they would have lead lives of quiet desperation over their admiration of Mickey Man or, you know, or Jimmy Kagnie. I was in a theater family so I could express it a little more freely. But you have to be a fan in order to, I think, have the jolt of life in you to expand on it and give to others what they gave to you. - Dude, that to me is one of the things that has served me so well in my life is I can let awe in. I can allow myself to be in awe.
And there's something to, I think people, you said it really well when you talk about guys with quiet desperation over Mickey Mantle, you know, in today's language, A-Rod or somebody like that. You know, it's like, they want to say something, they want to have that connection. And I think it speaks to why fandom has become such a thing. It's people having this relationship with something that allows them to sink into, like you said, the people who get the tattoos, right? You affected them in some way. But what's interesting is some people then really make it a part of who they are so that they can continually get that impact. - Absolutely. I find that really interesting. - And they need to, to keep it going. It's 100% accurate. The grease in the frying pan, that that is a really interesting thing. And I think if, when people can open up and when I look at the trajectory of your career, and I think this is somebody who has continually kept the grease in the frying pan, whether it was, hey, I've had enough of acting for the moment, I'm gonna go get my pilot's license, right? - Yes, yes. - And that I find so interesting. And how much is having multiple passions, a protection emotionally against something going wrong in acting, which is traditionally, I have a hypothesis, I'll ask it another way. My hypothesis is this. Your career is the extraordinary thing that it is precisely because you have a stable home life and you have a passion for flying. So you have these other things that would fulfill you. And so there's, you're never walking into a situation with any air of desperation. - Absolutely. You have to balance the playing field within your own thing. So when I was on Broadway and I wasn't enjoying the experience my second year and I was done with doing that same show over and I was kinda depressed over it, having a brochure about an airplane that I could build got me through that year. You see-- - You actually built the airplane? - No, I wanted to. My mother called at a flying coffin and she said, And I said, "Mom, that's not your spirit." 'Cause she'd always love, she'd love flying and so that, but she didn't want me to build my own flying. What's I understand? But it got me through, even though I didn't do it, it got me through that year because I was in the doldrums. - And it gave you something to dream about. This feels important. It gave you something to dream about, something to do. I wore that brochure out, just imagining being in it, and as I'm flying, it just got me through. So yeah, that's always been a, you know, when I did got my jet license, it was because I'd been in four months or five months on blowout in the dead of winter in Philadelphia, and it was very brutal, and I needed a break, and an officer in gentleman was written for me by the same guy who'd done "Boy in the Plastic Bubble." And I turned it down twice, because if I can't be there at the level we've discussed earlier, I don't, you know, I don't do one step on the shore and one step on a boat. So I said, "I would be in a maybe, I'm not doing it." I'd rather go enjoy life, learn how to fly this jet, and accomplish something that way, get a little bit of respite from the stress of filming, and by the time I came back, which was Urban Cowboy, I was revitalized. It was great. - So as you look forward, I mean, look, you've had an insane career, you still look fantastic, even up close, man, I'm telling you, like it's crazy, I actually wanna punch you. Writing your intro, I was like, fuck this guy.
John Travolta'S Legacy And Filmography
Like, sings, dances, acts, has a crazy career. Obviously at this point, you never have to work again. So when you think about that you've got so much, you know, juice left in the tank, like it's pretty clear, like you're showing up to your latest film, fucking On Fire, doing your thing. What's it about? Like, what do you want to achieve? Is there a genre you wanna tackle? Is there just, no, just more, keep doing it more very-- - Yeah, 'cause I can, you know, half the things I've ever done, I couldn't imagine that I would've done them. You, if, I don't know, 30 years ago, if you said to me, they're one day, they're gonna want you to play the president of the United States, primary cause. One day they're gonna want you to play a very large woman in a musical, not even identifiable, and you're gonna help it make it big hit. And I like being amused for, I love, I love people shopping for their performance in their writing, like in other words, like, you know, what actor can I shop for that would fulfill, as amused, my writing, and pull it off, I love that I'm ambidextious enough to say, okay, yeah, yeah, I got a lawyer here somewhere, I got a, I got a hit man here, I've got a president in the back of my pocket, oh, even got a very large woman in the back of my thing. I love having that ability to service that. - I don't normally ask people about legacy, I don't think a lot about legacy in my own life. Do you think about legacy? - Only in the terms of simplicity, I don't do, were people glad that you're alive? Did you help them? Did you contribute to life? Did you, was it worth your stay here, you know? Can you say that? What level it's at, or how people interpret it is really up to them. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to say to yourself, did you achieve those things? And with me, I have the good fortune of people showing me right there in present time what I've done for them, you see? So like Jimmy and Kagnemus have felt when I met him and I said, I just love you. And he started to cry, he was 80 years old and he started to cry and I thought, he's crying over my telling him I love them. And we were friends for five years until his death. I get that a lot, you know, where people are telling me what I mean to them. So I'll be a little bit of a fool if I didn't take it to heart to some degree and say I mattered to them. And I'd like to continue to matter to them. That keeps me going, you know? 'Cause being relevant is a subjective thing. You know, you're always relevant. It's how you connect those points to continue to be relevant. And maybe you're relevant in your own way. Maybe you're relevant in only a certain audiences where it doesn't matter. You're connecting and you're continuing. Got it blabbered a lot. This is nice. No man, it's been nice. I don't wanna lose you yet because there's, and I'm asking this question in absolutes and serials. May I first compliment you on, you're a very interested and lovely person.
Films with Travolta (53:49)
And you have very good questions and they're very well thought out, they're very smart. And they're thoughtful and I appreciate it a lot. Man, that's so meaningful and so kind. And as a student of filmmaking, which is my first love by the way is film. I can see that. Yeah, I have been moved by your work. It's astonished me, it's inspired me. I mean, it's really incredible, man. Like we were, look, it is hysterical. I wish we had a camera here pointing out. People can see how many fucking people are here watching this. We've never had this many people sit in on an episode before. Thank you. All right, man. Where can people see fanatic? Where can they find out more about you? Where do you want them to join you? Well, I mean, the fanatics, my latest project, they're very proud of it.
Where You can Watch "Fanatic" (54:40)
I think it's one of the roles that I disappear in the most that I've ever done. I disappeared as an Edna in pairs pretty good. And primary colors, I disappeared pretty good, but I really feel like this is a very complete performance. And I think it's also entertaining. It's a very entertaining movie. It's very original and unusual. And I like the idea that in this day and age of film, we've had 100 plus years of it. It's hard to find something different to watch. This is really different. This is an original movie like Pulp Fiction was. It won't have ever have the commercial value of Pulp Fiction, but neither did I think that would when I did it. You know, so, but anyway, I'm really, really proud of it. And I was very, I got the best actor award in Rome for the performance. And I was very proud of that out of the blue that it was recognized. And I thought, wow, this is so random that this beautiful and a very important film festival, by the way, acknowledged that performance. So it equaled what I put into it. The Beanie Stinger is beautiful there, you know? - Definitely. And that's available on video on demand right now so people can stream it.
Impact on the World (56:09)
What is the impact that you wanna have on the world? - I want it to have been valuable that I was here for people that I actually, they're glad I was alive, that I helped somehow. I was valuable to them, whether it got them through a day, a week, a year, a month. Whatever I did, I just want to, my legacy was that I made a difference. And that's really it, you know? And entertained at a big level, which is what I, my intention always from a child was to entertain. That's why I had no problem with arguing my dad about leaving to do it. I knew that was my destiny, was to entertain people. And I had the tools. So that's probably, you know, all that encapsulation. - I'll take it. - Tavi, you did such a good job. - Thank you so much for coming on the show. - Yeah, that was absolutely wonderful. - Thank all of you for being here, guys. Basically anything this man touches, you should be diving into his Instagram is on point, by the way, watch his entire film catalog, you will not be let down. This is somebody who always shows up, performs with their best, absolutely amazing. There's a reason that this guy is an icon. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe, and until next time, my friends, be legendary. Take care. - Yay, sorry. - Good. - That was amazing. - Thank you so much. - Thank you so much. - There's always another race truck. There's always another game. So take your game and ratchet it down just to drop. And you're gonna have another game. - But he was right. - I didn't listen to that. To me winning was everything.