- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

John Travoltas charisma is a phenomenon that needs to be experienced in the flesh to be fully appreciated. While promoting his latest action thriller, "Swordfish," Mr. Travolta was running several hours behind schedule, leaving a Manhattan hotel suite full of irked journalists with little to do except to complain, catnap or plunder the mini-bar.
With evening about to fall, Mr. Travolta, entourage in tow, literally dances in, glad-handing everyone and letting his considerable charm erase any residue of irritability. And suddenly, it becomes obvious why he was tapped to play a Clinton-esque figure in 1998s "Primary Colors." The guy is a force of nature: cool, smooth and impossible to resist.
In the Joel Silver-produced "Swordfish," Mr. Travolta plays a hip, wealthy and utterly ruthless criminal genius, who may not be what he appears.
The film is a glitzy, breathless joy ride through a world of state-of-the-art computers, gadgets and weaponry, fabulous women and eye-boggling stunts and pyrotechnics. That the film makes zero sense is of little consequence to ones actual enjoyment of "Swordfish."
Mr. Travoltas co-stars are Halle Berry (who reportedly pocketed an easy half-million dollars for a brief breast-baring scene) and Hugh Jackman, the rising Aussie star, best known as Wolverine from 2000s "X-Men." Mr. Travolta says he and Mr. Jackman devised a way to pass time on the set. They sang.
"Youre bored, sitting around between takes," recalls Mr. Travolta. "And then you discover that youve got a singer on your hands. So you start singing, improvising and having a good time."
Since "Saturday Night Fever," Mr. Travoltas name has been synonymous with music and dance at the movies. After all, very few actors have chalked up hit singles. So it figures that the techno-heavy soundtrack to "Swordfish," mixed by the DJ extraordinaire, Paul Oakenfold, might be right up his alley. Or maybe not.
"I dont keep up with new music," he admits. "The last album I heard was by Jill Scott. Im so busy doing my thing that Ill only hear theres a new this or that, and maybe someones generous enough to play it for me."
The middle-aged actor also found himself behind the curve on the specialized computer jargon of "Swordfish."
"I didnt understand any of it," he reveals. "I had to look it up. I learned all the nomenclature. It was fun, but Hugh had it tougher. He played a real hacker and had to research that and that was a more intricate job."
Mr. Travolta volunteers the surprising admission that, unlike so many of his fellow Americans, he is not remotely computer savvy. His wife, actress Kelly Preston, is a frequent Internet visitor, but Mr. Travolta, who received a computer for his 47th birthday last February, is slowly becoming computer literate.
The trajectory of Mr. Travoltas meteoric career dipped decisively in the decade following the debacle that was 1985s "Perfect." With "Pulp Fiction," in 1994, Mr. Travolta caught a creative second wind, as a dozen or so of his films were fairly popular.
Then came the millennium. It was as if the Y2K bug struck John Travolta alone. His 2000 films, "Battlefield Earth" and "Lucky Numbers," reaped the scorn of the critics and audiences alike. But "Battlefield Earth," based on a sci-fi novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, was received with astonishing hostility. Mr. Travolta not only defends that notorious failure, but also refuses to rule out a sequel.
Despite the occasional big screen embarrassment, the Englewood, N.J.-born star says that acting remains a thrill.
"Theres still nothing like the satisfaction of a scene well done and well-written dialogue," he says. "The opening scene in 'Swordfish was five straight pages of dialogue and it was so well written. And its still fun to watch myself if I like the character. Its the joy of creating."
Asked how he deals with both fame and fans at age 47, Mr. Travolta confesses that he cant imagine why audiences continue to love him.
"No, I dont get it," he shrugs. "My mother couldve answered that better. Anything I say will seem real self-serving, but after 26 years, you get used to it. Its a job. I love people. You go out there. You make everybody happy. And you go home."


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