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John Travolta on Hairspray

Published July 9, 2007 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of New Line Cinema.
Hairspray Hairspray

Pretty much every movie John Travolta does finds a way to work a dance scene into it. When you've got Hollywood's greatest modern dancer, you try to use it. But Hairspray didn't want the same old Travolta. They wanted him to play Edna Turnblad, the character traditionally played by a male actor after being originated by Divine. Travolta had specific ideas for how he wanted to play a woman.

Travolta Talks Hairspray


"They let me play it," said Travolta. "That was the difference between it being delightful or not fun to play. They allowed me to play that Baltimore accent, they allowed me to make her curvaceous and more woman-like. Then, when I can do that, I was all over it because I didn't know how to play a man in a dress. That's more Vaudeville. It works. It's fun, but for me, I like going all the way with it, so if I could be that, like all that and a bag of chips in her day."

That was the plan, but it was no easy task. "There's an added level of weight to carry around, but more than that it was very hot inside. Martin Lawrence had warned me that it was not going to be easy and others had warned me it was not going to be easy. So I was sweating a lot. A lot of air needed. High heels were difficult to dance in but I committed too."

After a few traditional song and dance numbers, Edna gets her big showcase at the end of the movie. Expect it to earn a place in the John Travolta highlight reel. "It was my homage to Tina Turner. In the play, the character doesn't really dance and doesn't really sing too much either. But because they hired me, they wanted me to do both those things. I said, 'Yeah, but that last number, it's got to be different than just grandma coming out doing it.' They said, 'Well, like what?' I said, 'Tina Turner. She really kicks ass at the end in "I Am Woman."' In that shimmering dress and really attack that. And they said okay."



Hairspray is Travolta's return to the full on musical after decades since Grease. He's always felt he missed a chance with Chicago. "We made a mistake with Chicago because Chicago was presented to me three times but nobody did the explaining of what the movie was going to [be]. As a stage show, I said, 'I don't think it's going to work.' But the concept of the movie was so much different, bigger and better, that if I had heard those and had several meetings with those people and got convinced, but no one was convincing me. They were just offering it. They kept re-offering it, re-offering it. But that wasn't enough. So when Hairspray came around, they did the same thing but they said, 'We're not going to let you get away this time without meeting. We're going to have lots of meetings on it.' I said, 'Okay. I have to trust you because I made a mistake last time. Let's have the meetings.' So for a year and two months we had meetings."

That's a long time. Travolta is no easy sell. "After several times of asking what the vision was, the steadfast answers were being said. And who they were hiring to get to do certain things. Wardrobe, sets, the actors they had in mind for each of these parts. I said, 'Okay, They're going for an A+ attack on this.' Then most importantly for me it was, 'Am I going to be free to interpret this role the way I see it, or do I have to stick with like a drag queen concept?' Because that's not interesting to me. It's been done, A, and B, a lot on screen, and C, I would have more fun really trying to fool you, make you believe I was a woman than not. So those things allowed me to do it."

Hairspray opens to theatres on July 20th.

For the trailers, stills and more movie info, go to the Hairspray Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of New Line Cinema.
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