Despite having been working in the industry for nearly forty years, actor John Travolta has been laying low in the past few years, his last major movie being Oliver Stone’s Savages in 2012. (Since then, he did a movie with Robert De Niro called Killing Season, which very few people had a chance to see.)
This Friday, Travolta can be seen in the drama The Forger playing Raymond Cutter, an art forger who has spent the last few years in jail but whom makes a deal with a local drug boss to be released early when he learns his teenage son (Tye Sheridan) has cancer. With the help of his father (Christopher Plummer), Ray tries to reconnect with his son until he’s called upon to repay his debt by forging a famous Monet painting as part of an elaborate art heist.
The film had a fairly low-key premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it got lost in the shuffle of higher profile movies, but it’s a very touching film that proves Travolta is more than capable as a dramatic actor as he continues into his 60s.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Travolta for a very rare exclusive interview, which was far too short, although we did get to talk briefly about his upcoming turn as Robert Shapiro in Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story” which will focus on the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, as well as ask him whether he may ever do another movie with Tarantino since there had been talk of a follow-up to Pulp Fiction for many years.
ComingSoon.net: Hi John. How are you doing? I missed this movie at Toronto and was expecting a very different movie, but it was quite touching. I liked it a lot.
John Travolta: Yeah, thank you. I’m very proud of this film. It’s a real piece of art itself, I think, and the sentiment is good. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. You know, it’s honest to itself and that’s what I like about it, you know?
CS: I get the impression you’ve been far more selective in recent years, so what was it about Ray Cutter and his story that interested you in particular?
Travolta: Well, I was challenged by him being a painter and a forger, and I was challenged by the situation that he’s in. It’s different than a story glamorizing some guy who knows how to imitate the masters. I loved that he bribes his way out of prison in order to be with his son. Then, the payback, much to his surprise, he thought it was just going to be finding money to pay back, but it was having to forge a masterpiece. That was such an interesting kind of dilemma and interesting situation that felt original to me. You know, it felt new, like something I hadn’t seen in film before, you know?
CS: A forger is a different kind of criminal and not the type we normally see in these kinds of movies. He’s more of an artist who uses his artistic abilities to commit crime.
Travolta: Yeah, and the back story to this character, which was not in the film, but the back story was that he was encouraged by his dad, Christopher Plummer, to do this, because he has a talent, and his dad being a crook to begin with, an old Irish gangster type, encourages him. So he takes this beautiful ability to be an original artist and then, because he was really a savant, if you will. So it shows you the different ways you can use art, but this is one that put him in prison. I did find out through my research that a lot of these so-called originals are actually forged, and that they’re not original. I hear 50 percent of the actual paintings in the world are forged, which is fascinating to me.
CS: Did you happen to catch the documentary “Art and Craft,” by any chance?
Travolta: I haven’t. I haven’t.
CS: You should try and check it out. It’s all about a guy who basically spends all his years making fake paintings and sneaking them into museums, not to make money, but just to show that he can. He’s a strange guy.
Travolta: Wow. I have to see that. I’ll have to see that.
CS: So what other preparation did you have do to be convincing doing those paintings? Do you do any painting or art yourself?
Travolta: I do, and I did. My grandfather was a painter and my father painted a bit and my brother does, but what I did was, 30 years ago, I studied some water colors, and I did a lot of Edward Hopper stuff. But recently, I went to Hong Kong and studied with one of the masters there, to get a feel for this character in oils, to do oils, and learned a lot of interesting techniques, which helped me tremendously. Then I had an assistant on the film that was also a real pro, and he was assisting me as well. I went to my hotel room every night and I did my own Monet, and just to feel what it would be like, you know? It turned out pretty well. It actually turned out to be something that was relatively pretty good. So I went into the film with the confidence that I could at least portray in the zone of accuracy of this guy and technique wise, it appeared to be what I needed to be, so it was good that way.
CS: That’s impressive because if I look at a Monet painting, there are so many layers, and I’m not sure I’d know where to begin to forge one. Let’s talk about Tye Sheridan, because he’s really an impressive young actor in what we’ve seen him do so far. What does working with a younger actor like that give to you as an actor?
Travolta: Well, Tye is really unusual for being so young and so gifted and has such gravitas. His instincts are excellent. I mean, he just knows when to underplay. He knows when he needs a little more. He knows when to play emotion, he knows when to not play it. I mean, he’s very sharp and way beyond his years in sophistication in acting. I think you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg with him.
CS: The director, Philip Martin, has done a lot of TV but this is his first movie I believe, so what made you know that he could handle this material and make it work?
Travolta: Well, he flew in to meet me from Europe, and he just told me what his vision was. He’s a very elegant and gracious man, but he’s also an elegant filmmaker, and he has a great feel. He loves the story so specifically and so much for his own reasons. I think when a director has such an at oneness with the material, you know, when you just feel like, “You know what? You’re going to be well taken care of, this guy knows what he’s doing and he’s going to guide you correctly.” I like that.
CS: I was surprised you see you returning to television, which is obviously very different now from when you did it earlier in your career. I was curious about your decision to return to television and if you’ve noticed a lot of differences?
Travolta: Well, I haven’t done it yet.
CS: Oh, you haven’t shot it yet, okay.
Travolta: No, we shoot next month. I’m looking forward to it. It’s excellent writing and Ryan Murphy’s a terrific producer and director, so I’m looking forward to seeing what that adventure’s like. It’s just one of those isolated things, where I am going to investigate it and experience it. I think it’ll be popular in its interest level. I think you’ll see things that you didn’t know, but will be more like a docudrama, I think, than it will be anything.
CS: You achieved much of your early fame during the ‘70s around the same time O.J. Simpson was popular, so did you ever meet him during those years? It would probably be odd if you knew him back then that you’d be doing a movie based on his trial.
Travolta: You know, I think I did, but you know, sometimes I think I met someone, and then I saw them on television, so I’m not sure if I did. I think I did. But there’s so much film and research that it’s easy to access that it will be the same, I think.
CS: Do you think you’ll work with Quentin Tarantino again? I know for a while he wanted to do something more with Vincent Vega. Do you think that’s a possibility still?
Travolta: I would love it. I would love it, but really, you know, he’s the captain of his own destiny and when he’s ready, he’ll come to me just like he did the first time. I don’t know whether it will be the sequel to that film or some other journey he might want to take with me, but I know it’ll happen, I just don’t know when.
The Forger opens in select cities and will be available On Demand including iTunes starting Friday, April 24.