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A weatherman whose life gets stormy

Travolta addresses fame in 'Lucky Numbers'

graphic
John Travolta recalls that the first time he was recognized in public was at a mall after appearing in a few episodes of "Welcome Back, Kotter"  

HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- Fame is the name of the game in "Lucky Numbers." The feature, opening nationwide Friday, October 27, stars John Travolta as a local tv weatherman who is so desperate to hold onto his small town celebrity that he rigs the Pennsylvania state lottery with the help of the official lotto lady Lisa Kudrow. A multi-million dollar jackpot is just what he needs to keep his lavish home, Jaguar, and status in the community. This comedy of errors spirals out of control, and Travolta's character must decide how far he will go to save face.

Director Nora Ephron first collaborated with Travolta on the film "Michael" (1996) and offers him another opportunity to explore a less-than-perfect protagonist. This time, she says, she was interested in exploring the issues of fame and the kind of instant recognition that television can bring. On the first day of filming "Lucky Numbers," she asked each cast member to tell the story of how they came to realize that they were famous.

The actor's fame goes back to 1975, when he played the character Vinnie Barbarino in the television sit-com "Welcome Back, Kotter." Twenty-five years later, John Travolta talks to CNN's Sherri Sylvester about how he played the game and won the lottery of a lifetime.

CNN: When was the first time you realized you were famous?

Travolta: I was at a Palm Springs shopping mall. My sister lived down there. It was after the second or third show of "Welcome Back, Kotter." I couldn't get out of the mall without being stopped and asked for an autograph. I thought "ok I must have done something here." That was my first moment of knowing it. There is another story which is much too personal to tell...

graphic
"Lucky Numbers" stars John Travolta as a local TV weatherman who is so desperate to hold onto his small town celebrity that he rigs the state lottery  

CNN: Nora said it was hilarious...

Travolta: It has to do with going to the bathroom and being stopped in the middle--let your imagination take over.

CNN: Did someone actually want an autograph?

Travolta: Yeah, I said, "could I please finish!"

CNN: When you were shooting in Pennsylvania, fans brought things to you like the first album you ever recorded. Are you amazed at the kinds of collectibles people save?

Travolta: Well because I span a few generations now, often the mothers will collect memorabilia, and they either keep it for themselves or give it to their kids. And their kids bring it to me.

CNN: Are there any items that you would like to bury?

Travolta: No, I am proud of all that stuff...whether it was a clock or a blanket, a sleeping bag or lunch boxes--it was all part of the game.

CNN: Did you save any of it?

Travolta: I have a little collection that my wife (actress Kelly Preston) likes to keep for me. I just know there is so much out there, it was made in such mass...that I don't worry too much about it being extinct.

CNN: How did you capture the essence of this character?

Travolta: I had about a hundred different weathermen on tape. At person number 50 I got it--it's big fish, little pond...the court jester of the evening having to make the audience laugh. That is their job because the news is heavy, and the weather should be light. They are the comic relief of the evening news program.

CNN: What was it like to collaborate with Nora Ephron again?

Travolta: Nora and I just have a chemistry with comedy. If I can make Nora laugh, I know we are home free. She knows I have to put my own spin on my characters in order to feel comfortable. She allows me to write them with her. My base is comedy, I did four or five years on television...(so) I have some confidence in that area. She knows that and allows me to expand on character attributes.

CNN: In terms of what you added to "Russ Richards," was there any one thing that helped make his personality?

Travolta: The running theme that I kept was his local pride of his celebrity...that is why he never wanted to be seen with the gangsters, and he never wanted to be seen in the strip club. If he lost his car or his house, he would be demoted in the public's eyes.

CNN: He had a little bit of a moral center that way...

Travolta: He was the moral center, there is no doubt about that. Everyone was so corrupt around him.

CNN: How did you and Lisa (Kudrow) work together, do you act in similar ways?

Travolta: We do actually. She became famous in a similar way that I did, on television with a dim-witted character. We would always make each other laugh because we knew the right attack to do on those kinds of characters.

CNN: What did you do with your first big paycheck?

Travolta: Ready for this? With my first big paycheck, I hired a publicist because I was on "Kotter," and I didn't know if it was going to last. In those days, we didn't make a whole lot, so hiring another employee took most of my paycheck...the big investments were for the career.

CNN: You have hit the jackpot in your life, what do you dream about doing?

Travolta: I pretty much have fulfilled a lot of my dreams. Mostly, I like the position I am in where I can entertain people and inspire them in movies. If I can keep that going, I have kept the lottery.



RELATED STORIES:
John Travolta brings Hubbard's 'Battlefield Earth' to the big screen
May 9, 2000
'A Civil Action' keeps Travolta in the game
December 29, 1998

RELATED SITES:
Lucky Numbers
The Official John Travolta Website
Fan site: The Official Julie Tango John Travolta Website
Fan site: My John Travolta Page
Fan site: Angela's John Travolta Site

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