LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - John Travolta has played a sympathetic hit man, a teenage rebel, a middle-aged biker, a presidential candidate, a disco king and an overweight housewife.
Now, with his first venture into animation for new movie “Bolt” opening across the United States on Friday, Travolta sees his career go to the dogs.
Travolta, 54, is the voice of Bolt, an eager-to-please puppy and Hollywood action hero, and the actor concedes there are some canine aspects to his own personality.
“Growing up, people always compared me to a dog in those games about what kind of animal you’d be,” Travolta said.
“I thought it was true more than I thought it was cool. As a person, I’m probably a dog — I’m big on loyalty,” he told Reuters.
“But on screen I’m more of a cool cat. If you think of my roles in ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ‘Saturday Night Fever’ or ‘Grease’ — he’s more of cat. But in life, I’m more of a cuddler.”
When audiences meet Bolt, he is a an adorable little dog with superpowers and is the star of a kids action series on TV. He can do no wrong and is at the top of his game.
But when Bolt becomes separated from his beloved “person” (voiced by teen star Miley Cyrus), he discovers that his superbark and laser vision are mere Hollywood magic and he must get by in the real world like any other four-legged creature.
Director Chris Williams said Travolta had the perfect combination of tough and endearing qualities for the role.
“He’s someone who’s had a lot of success playing tough characters,” Williams said. “One of the reasons he’s so good at that is because there is an innate sweet quality in him.”
After 35 years in show business, “Bolt” is Travolta’s first animated work, despite several offers in the past.
“My good friends have done great animated features — Tom Hanks did ‘Toy Story’ and Robin Williams did ‘Aladdin’ and I didn’t want to do an average movie,” he said. “I thought if I was going to do an animated feature, I’m going to do a great one.
“I knew they needed this guy that’s in action movies and I also knew how to do the heartbreaking side ... It is a leap of faith because you don’t have the other actors with you. You don’t really know what the animators are conjuring up.
“You do 15, 25 versions of one sentence and you are hoping that the animators like one of them,” he said.
Travolta also duets with Cyrus on the “I Thought I Lost You” theme tune to “Bolt” in a rare reminder of the singing talents he showed as Danny in “Grease” in 1978.
Apart from the movie version of “Hairspray,” where Travolta squeaked out a couple of numbers as housewife Edna Turnblad, it’s the first new song Travolta has done for years despite getting his start in musical theater.
“Because I’ve had such great success in film, I haven’t ventured out separately in music in a very long time,” he said. “I like peppering my career with successful music as opposed to going out in a very highly competitive field and missing a lot to get the occasional hit.”
Travolta, who has four new movies due for release in 2009, says that quality — in musicals, movies or animation — is now his paramount concern.
“It’s all what I am about,” he said. “The money has been made. I just need to do good work.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte