John Travolta will soon be back on the big screen, but weeks of negative headlines have focused on his personal life and not on the return of one of Hollywood’s top stars.
Travolta plays a corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Savages, an Oliver Stone film about a war between marijuana growers and a Mexican drug cartel. It’s the charismatic bad guy role that has kept Travolta popular in his later career, although he is not considered one of the film’s lead actors.
The film’s other stars, include Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek.
Travolta’s first film since 2010 comes less than two months after the actor was accused in a lawsuit of groping two masseurs. The case quickly unravelled after Travolta’s attorney discredited one of the anonymous accusers by showing the actor was across the country on the day of one of the alleged incidents.
Yet the suit was widely reported and subsequent stories have focused on Travolta’s sexuality. The actor hasn’t directly addressed the claims, but his representatives have steadfastly denied them.
Whether any of this affects Savages remains to be seen, but several experts said the allegations were unlikely to hurt the film or Travolta’s career.
Robert Marich, author of Marketing to Moviegoers, said the murky nature of the allegations against Travolta meant he would probably get the benefit of the doubt. “In those situations the public is very forgiving to stars.”
He said the film’s publicity may be fragmented as a result of the allegations, which didn’t benefit the studio, but he noted that publicity was a film’s most unpredictable element. Savages is being distributed by Universal Pictures, which, like most studios, seeks to manage closely media coverage of its debuting films.
The Travolta Savages situation isn’t unique in Hollywood. Mel Gibson’s last film, The Beaver, was released while he was battling domestic violence allegations and embroiled in a bitter custody battle. In 2010, Lindsay Lohan missed the publicity period – and red carpet – for her supporting role in the film Machete due to problems with her probation.
Hugh Grant’s arrest for lewd conduct with a prostitute a couple weeks before the release of the 1995 film, Nine Months, was especially dicey. Grant surprised many by keeping his previously scheduled appearances, apologising and appearing humbled. It preserved his fledgling career in the US.
Travolta’s career has seen its share of struggles, including the 2009 death of his son Jett, as well as comebacks. He has two other film projects in the works after Savages, making it unlikely he’ll disappear from the public eye or from venues where uncomfortable questions will be asked.
“Moviegoers think they have their personal relationship with the talent that’s based on what’s on screen,” said Marich, adding that they held movie stars in a different esteem.
“They don’t expect Hollywood figures to be saints.”
Oliver Stone agreed. “He’s fun to watch, and he enjoyed it,” the director said of his star. “To me, a movie is about the fun you have. It doesn’t matter, your personal history. Somebody can be a son of a bitch, and I know a few, but if you enjoy the movie, you enjoy the movie.” – Sapa-AP