John Travolta had one thing in mind when John Gotti’s family asked him to play the infamous mob king in the film Gotti: Get it right.
“It was important for me to accurately portray the dad/husband to that family,” Travolta said during an interview at Grimaldi’s in Old Town Scottsdale.
“It took a long time to get it done. There were increments of different actors, increments of different directors and different scripts until we decided on the right one. It was important to get it right.”
Based on the book by John Gotti Jr., Shadow of My Father, the film Gotti shares the story of John V. Gotti’s rise to power to take the mantle of boss of the Gambino crime family. The film, which opened Friday, June 15, also focuses on the relationship between father and son, when John Jr. approaches his father for his blessing to leave the crime syndicate. While in prison, Gotti is forced to reexamine his life and priorities, and determine if, for the first time, he can put the needs of his family over those of his crime syndicate.
“I thought it was admirable of John Jr. to fight for getting out of the mob because that took a lot of courage to confront a powerhouse like his dad,” Travolta said.
“Then the RICO Act moved in and made the mob disassemble. There wasn’t a lot of future in it anyway. At the end of the day, his dad wanted him to be happy because he loved his son, so he let him leave the group with his permission.”
Travolta, who is joined in the film by his wife, Kelly Preston, and daughter, Ella Bleu, admitted there was a lot of pressure to play the “Teflon Don.”
“It was a good pressure, though,” he said. “I like a challenge. I knew I could challenge myself to really make them believe I was him and I did, for their criteria. I did my job.”
It proved to be a learning experience for the entire cast, as well. including Spencer Lofranco, who plays John Jr.
“I learned (John Gotti) was a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week gangster,” Travolta said about his experience. “They helped me understand ‘La Cosa Nostra,’ the integrity the original mob had, which had nothing to do with what evolved in this present day, the time in which the movie is based. “There was honor and integrity to it in its own moral envelope. I finally understood that. I don’t think I did hither to the film.”
But Gotti doesn’t set out to persuade audiences to see a lighter side of John Jr. or his father, who died in 2002 in prison of throat cancer at age 61. Instead, Travolta wants the audience to make their own judgment about the family.
“I’m not a message person, per se,” Travolta said. “I don’t tune into that. I tune into, ‘Did the audience enjoy the experience? Did they get something from it subjectively?’
“So far, the people who have seen it have gotten something different from it. That’s what I think is a good piece of art. I had a similar experience with Pulp Fiction. Everyone had a different take on it. That’s what you hope for in a good film or a good painting or a good piece of music.”