John Travolta has been around long enough to know how to have a good time with the press. Though our chat was all too brief, we managed to cover a lot of ground, from the resurgance of the musical, to why BASIC’s director, John McTiernan called him sparky, to religious tolerance. We started, though, with how he plays a character whose motivations and allegiance are never clear and yet have the performance ring true from beginning to end.
The first words we hear Tom Hardy say in BASIC is in a conversation this ex-Army and currently DEA agent in Panama is having with a colleague, the gist of which is that if he doesnt have the trust of those around him, he cant function. Those are words that will figure greatly in the twists and turns that writers Cathy Rabin and James Vanderbilt have given this mostly solid script. The shades of meaning will change precipitously, but in the end, it will all come down to trust.
Hardy, played by John Travolta, is called in by an old pal and Army base commander (Timothy Daly), to investigate exactly what went wrong during an Army Ranger training mission in the Panamanian jungle. A squad went out during a hurricane, but only two of them came back, one, Kendall, the son of a member of the joint chiefs of staff, is gravely wounded, and Dunbar, who saved Kendalls life and refuses to talk to anyone except another Ranger, but only one that isnt stationed at his base. During the course of the interrogations, we see the often conflicting stories the two men tell. Both agree that the sergeant, played with perfect wickedness by Samuel L. Jackson, was murdered by one of the squad. Who, how, and, crucially, why, is open for debate as each of the men spin increasingly different stories of what happened, each setting the other up for a death sentence that maybe neither of them deserves. There is also the underlying tug of conscience we feel watching events play out, that though killing ones commanding officer is wrong, this guy deserved it for being the meanest mother in Army, never mind a potential assassin himself.
I interviewed John Travolta on February 20, 2003.