John Travolta is probably the actor who first influenced me as a mop-headed pup in the Greenwood Lake area of New York. Grease was huge. So was Saturday Night Fever. So were so many that followed, and I hung around even during the lean years until the man had his big comeback.

That said, a lot of his post Pulp Fiction work has left a little to be desired. In Ladder 49 he gets a nice role as the big brother/father figure who looks over an ensemble of talented young firemen. I had a blast getting the chance to talk to John, though I must admit that the text that is to follow does not accurately convey such. Most of the fun stuff was in casual conversation and our time was short. He did take me aside and give me some advice about my white knuckle tendencies, which was cool.

Overall, I was really impressed. What follows is a collection of what he had to say to myself and a few other Southeastern reporters from places like Asheville, Memphis, and Midian…

When asked about his motivation for the film…

John Travolta: Since this this you’re the first interview after lunch I need to reacclimate my head. Trying to give you a fresh idea of what it is. [his tea arrives] Thanks you. The appeal is pretty straightforward. It’s a very specific piece of Americana that I’m attracted to. I love the firefighter idea for the main reason of the selflessness of their profession. It’s so clear that that’s what they’re about. You can’t throw a caveat to that idea. It’s pretty clear cut. They put their life on the line for me or you or their fellow firefighters and it’s very admirable to say the least, the quality. I love the fact that a movie is trying to get that right, especially in light of September 11th, where it was pointed out in such a big way. It moved me, this scenario and I like the idea that I would be the backdrop to it. The gravity to it. It appealed to me to be the captain, the chief. I like that the actors had to drop their egos at the door and just be "not a star turn". It’s refreshing, you just be honest to the characters as you can.

When asked about being the lead…

John Travolta: Oh no. I’ve done that before. I did it The Punisher. I did it in She’s So Lovely. It’s not anything new to me. I really go with what’s interesting to me. The next movie, Bobby Long, I’m Bobby Long and in the Chili Palmer I’m Chili Palmer. Like what maybe Gene Hackman or Robert Duvall. It’s a refreshing seat to be in at some times.

On the positive nature of his film…

John Travolta: I like the idea of doing a movie where America’s better self is explored because, let’s face it, so often we’re exploring the not so good side of human nature and I do it in my own movies. I’m guilty of it. More than most, even. The Punisher. Basic. Take your pick. I like looking at the better self of mankind and I think Bobby Long does and that Chili always does that but I’ve been known. It’s kind of like being in Apollo 13.

Nick Nunziata: You seem to be having a lot of fun in your acting choices of late. This movie has you playing the patriarch, a new direction and I wanted to get your take on your approach to playing the father figure in a film like this.

John Travolta: I love it. It’s you guys that write and create parts and scenarios that is my fate. If you told me that there was a young girl out there writing a scenario about an alcoholic professor that was in the middle of crisis in his life like Bobby Long, that’d be a part I’d play. Throughout the movie I’d be like "Wow, that’s cool. Something new to play!". It’s the adventure of an actor’s life. Since I was twelve years old. Joaquin and I were both child actors. He was film child actor and I was more of a stage child actor.

On what role is most like the real John Travolta…

John Travolta: Probably bits of Look Who’s Talking where I’m playful and fun but not fully. Some of it. I don’t even know. I’ll give you an example. Nic Cage, when I portrayed him in was a cinch. He’s so specific… his lull… his legs do this thing, they kind pigeon toe in and then bow out. He’s kind of [adapting a perfect Cage voice] specific. He said "you’re fucking hard to do. I didn’t know where to go." So he went for moments from Phenomenon, moments from this film and that film where he could he try to get some semblance of what my essence was. He said it was tough. He had a much harder job. There’s an example of how it can work. You know that old adage about how the actor is soulless? I assure you I’m not soulless, but I think there’s some staple factor of that which I hold onto. I find it fun.

On sequels, beginning with Be Cool

John Travolta: No, for one reason. Elmore Leonard wrote this wonderful book called Be Cool. If he had not done, I’d never have done it. But Elmore is a really great writer and he has a lot of integrity. Get Shorty is is favorite book, his favorite movie and he wanted to revisit it. It’s like if Quentin wants to do a prequel to Pulp Fiction, fine. If anyone else does, forget it. It’d be like doing the second Bond film without Connery or Ian Fleming. I’m not a very big sequel person. Not to see them, and not to do them. I’ve done three in my life but Chili Palmer’s the most legitimate one because the audiences loved him the most and Elmore has such a big influence.

On sequels, beginning with Be Cool

John Travolta: I had the good fortune of working them right off the bat and I realized it was my fate. I’m a character man, not a leading man. Well, a leading man character actor. However the verbiage goes on that. But so are they. Gene Hackman has starred in a lot of movies but he’s a character actor.

Nick Nunziata: Probably why you’re still around and still good at what you do.

John Travolta: Thank you, and I agree. I think it is the key to longevity. Character actors diversify. Playing yourself will work for a while but I don’t know anyone that is that captivating. It’s not just art of acting but the craft of acting where you create a new illusion for an audience each time, you’ll have a chance at sticking around but short of that…

Ladder 49 opens today all across this flame non-retardent nation.