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Cannes: John Travolta on Going Gangster for Gotti with Wife Kelly Preston

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Twenty-four years after Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or, John Travolta returned to the Cannes Film Festival for another film in which he plays a slick-suited criminal. This time, though, he’s bringing to life a real gangster: John Gotti, the charismatic Gambino crime boss who died in 2002.

“There have been no ultra-famous, beloved gangsters recently other than Gotti,” Travolta said on Monday, explaining why the role interested him. “You had Al Capone, you had John Dillinger, but they were around in the 1930s. Those other guys were glamorized, but Gotti really was glamorous and a dichotomy—a composite that was very intriguing because he loved style but was down-to-earth and could adjust to anybody he was talking to: the young people, the old people. He was essentially the most powerful person in New York. He was thoughtful, considerate, but tough as nails. He had a swagger and a style that was different than other characters I played.”

The film, directed by Entourage’s Kevin Connolly, co-stars Travolta’s real-life wife, Kelly Preston, as Gotti’s wife, Victoria, who stood by her husband through four decades, five children, multiple prison sentences, a family tragedy (in 1980, the couple’s 12-year-old son was killed after a neighbor’s car hit him), myriad colorfully worded fights (depicted in the film), and several separations. While speaking to press Monday, Preston said that Victoria Gotti invited her and her husband to the same home where the late “Teflon Don” lived, served them pasta, and shared stories of their marriage.

“We sat there for hours, just talking and eating [with] family coming in and out,” said Preston. “I spent the whole day with her family. I also had an e-mail relationship with her, and she would tell me everything. She’s an incredible woman . . . she’s tough and she’s very straightforward. She let me ask her anything. I would e-mail her in the middle of the night.”

“They were hilarious, adorable, articulate. John Jr. was a real revelation—lovely, aware, and smart as a whip and super rare,” added Travolta of his character’s son. “He is coming in for this screening tomorrow, I think.”

Preston did not think that Victoria Gotti, however, would be emotionally able to see the film—“because she misses [John] so much.”

To help Travolta transform, John Gotti Jr. offered the actor his father’s shirts, cufflinks, watches, pocket squares, and jewelry—which happened to fit him perfectly.

The independent film is being screened outside competition at Cannes, after a long and problematic production process. Seven years ago, director Barry Levinson came to this very festival to pitch the project with Travolta attached. By July 2016, after its budget shrunk, the project began filming with Connolly at the helm. Less than two weeks before the initial scheduled release last December, Lionsgate sold the film back to producers. Now, Gotti will be released June 15 by MoviePass, in conjunction with Vertical Entertainment.

While in Cannes this week, Travolta will be also be hosting a 40th anniversary screening of Grease on the beach and accepting Variety’s inaugural Cinema Icon Award. Reflecting on the hardest lesson he’s learned over the course of his career, he said, “My parents never taught me about cynicism. They didn’t tell me that there are people out there you shouldn’t trust. They didn’t tell me about the dark side of life . . . I just, like, dove off a [metaphorical] diving board like, ‘Everybody is going to love me as much as my parents do . . . and wait until they see me do this.’ Then you get knocked around. It doesn’t ruin you but it is highly disappointing. Highly disappointing.”

“I’m an eternal optimist,” he added. “I always see the glass as half full. Although life tries to knock it out of you, with that cynicism.”

For someone so wary about cynicism, Travolta has made an interesting recent decision—to join social media, which he will do in two months with a new Instagram account. Warned about the potential danger lurking in the social platform’s comments sections, he explained, “I am trepidatious. It is territory I do not know about, but I am going to play it by ear because I have never done it, and I will see how it goes. If it is something that is not comfortable enough for me, I won’t do it, especially because I know how you can get attacked on social media. I think there are methods to divert a majority of that. But I have no idea of what will happen.”

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