By Rick Bentley
The actor’s career has become rather eclectic.
BURBANK, Calif. — John Travolta agreed to provide the voice of the heroic canine Bolt in the Disney feature film of the same name because of Tom Hanks and Robin Williams.
“What led me to the piece was that my good friends have done great animated features. Tom Hanks did ‘Toy Story.’ Robin Williams did ‘Aladdin.’ I was competitive in a certain way. If I am going to do an animated feature, I am going to do a great one,” Travolta says during an interview at the Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Over the years, Travolta was offered a variety of voice roles in animated movies. Nothing appealed to him until “Bolt.” Travolta knew it was the high-end animated film he had been waiting for as soon as he read the script.
“I thought I could play a dog with my eyes closed,” Travolta says. “People often compared me to a dog when I was growing up. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or not.”
“Bolt,” which opens Friday, is just the latest film credit in what has become an eclectic career for Travolta. He has appeared in such diverse works as the action film “The Punisher,” the road trip comedy “Wild Hogs” and the musical “Hairspray.”
His credits are diverse by nature but share one common bond. Travolta takes a lot of time deciding which roles he will do. It is not until he is completely convinced he can handle it and knows how he will play the part that he agrees to be in a production.
In this case, that meant getting into the head of a four-footed critter.
“Fortunately I am already in touch with my inner dog,” Travolta says with a big smile. “It was a new process for me. I had done radio and television voice work when I was a kid and I was completely comfortable with the microphone. But I had not yet gone on the journey of how animated features are put together.”
Travolta learned that being part of an animated movie requires a leap of faith. Directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard had Travolta do what he calls a “Chinese menu” of different ways of saying a line. He trusted the animators would use the best voice work to fit the scene.
Executive producer John Lasseter stresses that voice work for an animated feature is one of the toughest jobs for actors. They are stripped of facial, hand and body movements that can help deliver proper emotion. With animation, it all comes down to voices.
Travolta found the friendship part of the story was a snap. He just looked at some of his own relationships over the years. As for the action-hero aspect of the character, he called upon past projects such as “Face/Off” and “Broken Arrow.”
“I wasn’t sure how much of a reality to put in it. Am I Clint Eastwood at some points? Maybe a little bit. Am I John Travolta in ‘Broken Arrow?’ Then I thought, it’s an animated feature geared mostly toward young people. So I can’t do the edgier stuff. But I could do a modified version of that and balance it with all the naivete and guilelessness.”
“Bolt” will add to Travolta’s status as one of the most recognizable stars in Hollywood. But even this superstar earned a few bonus points with his daughter Ella Bleu thanks to his co-star, Miley Cyrus.
Travolta and Cyrus did not work together while recording their dialogue. Those sessions are generally done separately with each actor. But they did record an original song together, “I Thought I Lost You,” for the film’s soundtrack.