December 13, 2007 / 11:25 PM / 10 years ago

John Travolta cashed in male ego for "Hairspray"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He’s played stone cold killers, sexy leading men and military heroes, but John Travolta figures his best role yet may just be the woman he portrays in movie musical “Hairspray.”

Travolta on Thursday earned a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor in a musical or comedy as the overweight but always cheery mother, Edna Turnblad, of the overweight but totally cheery teen daughter, Tracy Turnblad, in the movie.

“It took a lot of cashing-in of male ego to do this,” Travolta said in an interview. “But I finally said, ‘You know John, acting is what you do best. You have to trust being an actor and not have this thing with the male ego get in the way.”

“Hairspray” tells of overweight Tracy, who longs to dance on a 1960s TV show, but encounters bias against her size and racism against her friends. Edna helps her overcome both.

“I love fun movies that also have something to say,” Travolta said. “They tend to stay with me, always.”

Film producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron spent 14 months talking Travolta into wearing a fat suit and dresses to sing and dance the role. Eventually they won him over with the challenge of getting in touch with his feminine self.

”They swore to me that if I committed and did it, it would be rewarding,“ Travolta said. ”I took a leap of faith.

Edna is a far removed from tough guy roles such as Danny Zuko in “Grease,” Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever” and Bud in “Urban Cowboy,” and it is nowhere near as raw as hit man Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.”

But judging by “Hairspray‘s” nearly $200 million global box office, generally good reviews and now awards, Travolta’s “leap of faith” paid off. The movie also earned Golden Globe nominations for best movie musical and best actress in a movie musical or comedy for Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad,

When “Hairspray” was released over the summer, some Travolta fans could not imagine seeing the handsome leading man, now 53 years old, as a woman. But Travolta said he thinks once most people watched the movie, they got past it.

He tells of an older man who told Travolta that Edna’s warm heart and compassion won him over.

“I thought, ‘There is the transition, and that was a person who just got it,”’ Travolta said.


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