John Travolta: From Being a Fan to playing a Fanatic

On this edition of the INTERVUE, legendary actor John Travolta takes us on the dark side of being a fan in the upcoming thriller, The Fanatic. Directed by Fred Durst, the film tells the tale of a celebrity-obsessed man named Moose who felt slighted by his favorite movie star, Hunter Dunbar, and embarks on a quest to get a response from the actor. I sat down with John to discuss all sides of being a fan – who he idolized growing up and playing a fanatic whose willing to do anything to meet his idol.

John, you have an amazing career of forty plus years. I’ve followed you from The Sweathogs to Saturday Night Fever to Look Who’s Talking.

Oh, fantastic.

I want to know how did you come across the script for The Fanatic?

Ok, so Fred Durst, who was the creator of Limp Bizkit. He met with me, I think about fifteen years ago. It could be less, and he was interested in getting into film, being a filmmaker. He had very interesting ideas and he was very bright. I liked him and I didn’t hear much, but he did make a few small films that had a big impact, shorts and things like that. And finally, years ago, I think I found something. He said, “please read this, because I have a friend of mine I’ve loosely based this film on.” The “Moose” character was his buddy. “And I think you’ll find it interesting,” and he submitted it to me, and I was so surprised and excited with how much I liked it, because I understood it, because I am an ultimate fan of artists, and I’m also a film actor. So, I could see both sides in this scenario, you know?


I know Hollywood really well, I know cynicism, I know all of that super well, so I felt it was a film I should do, so I helped him raise the money to get it done. And we did, we got it done.

Around here, it’s coming out August 30th, and it really kept me on the edge of my seat, especially, I’m also a fan of photography and travel, and I wanted to know was it difficult, especially since you’ve been an actor for forty-plus years, being on the opposite side of playing a man obsessed with this one actor that you want?

No, because, I’ve been a fan my whole life. I’ve never given up the point of being a fan, ever. From the time I adored Jimmy Cagney as a little boy until now when I adore someone like Pitbull, you know what I mean? I don’t give up that ability to admire at all, because if I don’t have that ability, then how can someone admire what I do? You know, I feel there’s some exchange in the world that has to happen, or that admiration. So, I felt it so refreshing, almost a relief to be what I originally was, before I was a performer. I was a fan. I had to be effected by something. And when I could build up my fantasies of how I was going to affect others. So, if Jimmy Cagney and other influences inspired me, then now I can go and do that for other people, you see?

Exactly. Since you mentioned plenty of actors you are fans of, have you met them in person and what was your interaction with them?

Jimmy Cagney. We were friends for five years, I did meet him. We were friends for five years, last five years of his life.


And we were very emotional together because I was very honest with him about how I felt about him and deeply moved him. So that was an immediate connection. I met Paul McCartney about ten years ago, fifteen years ago, and he was awesome and said, “I own the sixties, you own the seventies.”


We sang together, and that was a coming of age for me. Barbara Streisand, who I loved growing up. Brando, I was friends with him for five years prior to his passing. So, I really got to explore the—anyone I truly admired, I got to meet and spend time with, and was utterly satisfying and not disappointing at all.

Absolutely, like I’m meeting you and it’s satisfying right now.

See, that’s what I mean. That’s wonderful.

(laughs) So how did you approach to playing “Moose”? Did you do any type of research or was it also based on a script provided by Fred Durst based on his friend?

It was loosely based on his friend. I increased the spectrum of him because he clearly was—only because he wasn’t talking when he did things that were over the line.

Like hurting of the maid, breaking into the house, tying up the movie star. And I thought, if he’s not really seeing that, there’s something wrong, and I should fully increase the spectrum of him as a—to justify it with sympathy and empathy, so you could think with the character and understand it. I wanted everyone to understand Moose, more than I wanted them to be distant from him. And the one thing I know that everyone understands is love of someone you admire.


So, I went and put that on steroids, you know?

You did.

When he’s looking at him through the—you know, I cry when I think about it. When he looks at him I go, “oh my God, it’s really you.” And he’s so filled with life and love, but he can’t stand it. And then luck has it where he gets taken away at his term. The tragedy at that and he does something about it. He goes outside and the guy’s in a bad mood, I mean the movie star. And then doesn’t like his fan’s timing. He’s mean spirited to him and he dies with it. He’s ok being bullied by the guys at work when he does his British cop—


He’s so used to being bullied, it’s like ok. He’s got a shell about that. He’s teased and bullied and built up a resistance to that. He doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like that they steal, they do drugs. So then bullying him, of course people like that would bully him because…they’re not the movie star would never bully.

No, no, no.

So, that is the tragedy for him and said, “oh, no. Everyone’s turning into the people that don’t like me,” you know? He wants to utterly understand why this is wrong, that he’s been treated this way. So, he writes him a letter about that, “it wasn’t ok, I’m your fan, the reason your” –he’s thinking, “I can reason with a movie star.”

“I may not be able to reason with a drug addict, or guy that beats me up, but I can reason with a movie star.” So, finally, I’m gonna tie this sucker up and make him understand that, understand fully every movie this guy’s making to a grander or lesser degree. The kind of degree where the guy would say, “oh God, I wish you weren’t this way,” but I know he wants to make his point and there’s no other way to make the point then to do this so it’s very, almost Shakespearean dichotomy or something.

Since you’ve known Fred for about fifteen years, what was it like to work with him as a director, with him as the director giving you the pace of setting the character up and setting up the situations in this film?

Well, he’s a great actor too, so what he would do is he would improvise with me prior to any scene. So, it became our little niche before we shot. He’d say, “hey, how’re you doing, Moose?” And I’d talk to him and  these stars and you know I’d make up some star that I met and talk about that star and we’d had discussion over lunch and then I’d go and leave him in the middle of the conversation and go talk to the lighting department as Moose.


And the lighting department—everyone couldn’t wait ‘til Moose got onstage, because I never was me. I was Moose. And that was because I knew that they were enjoying it. So, “hey, Moose! How are ya, buddy?”


And then I’d talk to him and I’d talk to props and I talked to—and then Fred would be observing this and I’d go right into scene and I could hear him say “roll it!”


And I was in the zone, so he’d help me get in the zone all the time. He’s wonderful that way.

Excellent. Well, I’ve heard that you actually did a L.L. Cool J song–

Oh, yes!

–and the people love it. Can you tell us about that experience onset?

Well, what happened is the only rap song that I ever knew the lyrics to, that I was going to use in the movie was “when I’m alone in my room, sometimes I stare at my walls, and in the back of my mind, I hear my conscience call, telling me I need a girl who’s as sweet as a dove…” So anyway, I decided that that was Moose’s favorite song.


So, he’s up in the bedroom and he’s alone because they’re gone. He’s got the whole house to run around, so I started excitement and saying, “when I’m alone in my room” and I started dancing and doing it while Fred just freaked, so much.

But then, we’re on a budget, man. They wouldn’t lower the price for the song.

Oh, wow.

So, I called him myself, and I said, “this is a very special movie, and if you could find it in your heart to just kind of lower the price,” and for whatever reason, I know they have their thing. So, he couldn’t lower it. So we couldn’t use that section. It was a funny bit, and it should be, if ever it appears as an outtake, you know?

Yeah, I would definitely like to see it. I think we have one more question. You played several roles; Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter, and Robert Shapiro in American Crime Story. Is there a role out there that you would love to play one day yet?

Well, ok. All the great roles that I’ve ever received and been offered have all been in the writer’s imaginations. And I’ve always dared to find one on my own, because I like so much better what the writer’s come up with. Like, I would never have imagined my playing Edna Turnblad. I would never have imagined playing Robert Shapiro. I wouldn’t have even imagined playing Pulp Fiction, Vince Vaughn. So, all these roles that have come up were much more exciting something than I can think of. I’d rather be someone’s muse; you know? I bet I could come up with a couple of stories that were fun to have created, but as far as characters are concerned, I think I’ve always, like even Get Shorty.

You know, that Leonard book and script. It was his gift to me, you know? It’s just so interesting, and I just kind of like right out there, these brilliant writers are writing these things and I love challenging myself and thinking, “I will do my best to make your character come alive. So thank you for this gift, you gave me a present I’m going to open it up and I’m going to help you by making this character, how can I make it? That’s my fun part.

You’ve given me the clay; you’ve given me the pieces of the puzzle. Now it’s my job, as a professional actor, to put this together and give back to you something even better than you imagined. That’s what happened with Saturday Night Fever. Norman Webster said, “I thought that this character was—what you brought to it was the biggest gift I can even imagine, so I can’t even know how you did that, but you made him become something bigger than I imagined.” So, if I can be a muse and improve on a character someone’s written or just take it somewhere different, that’s my job. I don’t mind having that job.

With The Fanatic, what would like to say to your fans who followed you from your Band-Aid commercial, all the way to present day? What would you like to say to them?

Well, you know, I think I have something in common with them in my life in that in all the right moments in The Fanatic, my mutual ability to be a fan and all the wrong moments are just there for dramatic’s sake. They’re there for to make it a fun movie to watch, but all the genuine moments of admiration and love is all of what I share, because if you and I together love someone, we can sit in that love fest about that person, discuss the details on that, and I wanted to at least capture that authenticity of being a fan, because you can’t be a fan unless you understand being a fan. And I really understand it, and that’s my message to them.

And you pulled it off so well.

Oh, thank you.

John, thank you so much. See John’s performance in The Fanatic – IN LIMITED THEATRES THIS FRIDAY!