John Travolta on The Punisher !

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As the villain of The Punisher, John Travolta isn’t involved in most of the action. He’s usually sitting behind a desk or relaxing in his mansion while all his underlings bear the brunt of Frank Castle’s rampage. Only in the end does Travolta’s character, Howard Saint, get physical. Dragged behind car, Travolta said he did much of his own stunt work for the sequence.

“Part of it was [me],” Travolta said. “I was on a roller type thing.”

Since the film was shot in Tampa, Travolta was able to remain close to his Ocala home, where he flew to and from the set. “I wish I could always have it that way. This was a lucky break. Basic was shot in Jacksonville and I got to do the same thing there. It was just a lucky coincidence but I did love that. Flying in to work.”

Howard Saint is not a character in the “Punisher” comic books, so Travolta had to create him from scratch. “I had to ask a lot of questions about him because there wasn’t anything to base him on. I had to come up with an original. I thought, ‘Well, if I play it over the top, how do I do it?’ And I kind of had this idea of kind of a Spidery villain that was really funny and almost grotesque in a way. Then it was whittled away. The way I was playing it was not where we were going with it. I’m just showing up for a very serious performance here.”

Once he solved that, Travolta enjoyed his villainry. “The lateral movement you have on this is tremendous. It frees you up completely. Not at first, because it has to kind of controlled. But by the time he starts getting paranoid, then the fun begins. Because, since Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, honestly, nobody has been able to walk down staircases like I get to in this movie. Let’s face it. In the first one, I come down to kill my best friend; it’s down a staircase talking about some historic character and the second one is throwing all her luggageÂ…boom! And then that big staircase and I’m saying all these mean things. It’s a blast.”

Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh strove to make a ’70s style action movie, and star Thomas Jane embraced the antihero quality of that. Travolta felt they were both successful, though he personally relates to different genres of film. “I think [Jane] did, in this film, what Clint Eastwood and Bronson and McQueen really wanted to do. He just played it to the best of his acting ability and it’s the culmination of all those films that he ended up with that performance I think. I was more of an art film guy. ‘She’s So Lovely’ probably represents the closest thing to the kind of films I liked growing up. Other than your ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ or something like that which I just thought you can’t deny, I liked ‘La Strada’ and ‘A Man and a Woman’ and ‘Going Places’. That was our era too.”

Finally, Travolta regrets that The Punisher will compete with pal Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2 on opening weekend. “I would rather it had been separated. We were there first in all fairness to us. However, we didn’t know ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 2′ would be ready and they didn’t know. Then, because we are kind of the same audience in some ways. I feel bad that there is that built-in competition. Probably what will happen is we’ll both do fine and we’ll share the audience or something.”

The Punisher opens this Friday, April 16.

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