18th June, 2012
John Travolta will soon be back on the big screen, but weeks of negative headlines have focused on his
personal life and not on his return.
Travolta plays a corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration agent in “Savages,” an Oliver Stone film about a war between marijuana growers and a Mexican drug cartel. It’s the charismatic bad guy role that has kept Travolta popular in his later career, although he is not considered one of the film’s lead actors.
Travolta’s first film since 2010 comes less than two months after the actor was accused in a lawsuit of groping two masseurs. The case quickly unraveled after Travolta’s attorney discredited one of the anonymous accusers by showing the actor was across the country on the day of one of the alleged incidents.
Several experts said the allegations are unlikely to hurt the film or Travolta’s career.
Robert Marich, author of “Marketing to Moviegoers,” said the murky nature of the allegations against Travolta means he’ll probably get the benefit of the doubt. “In those situations, the public is very forgiving to stars,” Marich said. “I don’t see any negative reaction.”
The situation is not unique in Hollywood. Mel Gibson’s last film, “The Beaver,” was released while he was battling domestic violence allegations and embroiled in a bitter custody battle. In 2010, Lindsay Lohan missed the publicity period for her supporting role in the film “Machete” due to problems with her probation.
Hugh Grant’s arrest for lewd conduct with a prostitute a couple weeks before the release of the 1995 film “Nine Months” was especially dicey. Grant surprised many by keeping his previously scheduled publicity appearances, apologizing and appearing humbled. It preserved his fledgling career in the United States.
Veteran Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman said Travolta’s supporting role provides him some cover. “You let other people do more of the heavy lifting,” Bragman said.
The nature of the allegations about Travolta puts him in a better position than Gibson, said Matthew Le Veque, an associate professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Gibson, who was caught on leaked recordings engaging in racist and sexist rants, had offended a lot of moviegoers by the time “The Beaver” was released, Le Veque said. The legal fight limited Gibson’s ability to do press for the film, but Travolta’s situation hasn’t gotten to that point, he said.
“John Travolta’s side is doing a very good job of casting doubt on the accusers’ story,” he said.
Travolta has two other film projects in the works after “Savages,” making it unlikely he’ll disappear from the public eye or from venues where uncomfortable questions will be asked.
“Moviegoers think they have their personal relationship with the talent that’s based on what’s on screen,” said Marich. “They don’t expect Hollywood figures to be saints.”