Actor John Travolta returned to television decades after his breakout role in the TV sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. But his decision to revisit the small screen was heavily inspired by a conversation he had with two moguls in the entertainment industry.
John Travolta wrestled with being on this hit Ryan Murphy show
Travolta was cast in Ryan Murphy’s hit FX television series People vs. O.J. Simpson. The American Crime story was a dramatic retelling of the O.J. Simpson trial with Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the titular figure. Travolta would portray American attorney Robert Shapiro in the mini-series.
The series’ creator Ryan Murphy wanted to use inspired casting for his show, which landed him Travolta. The pair would eventually meet to discuss the show.
“I was trying to do the unexpected piece of casting,” Murphy recalled in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “We never in that meeting talked that much about the project. I think he wanted to feel us out. I just talked to him about the movies I loved that he did.”
At first, the Pulp Fiction star wasn’t too sure about doing the show. Speaking to GQ, the actor explained that he sat on the idea for months before consulting with top professionals of the entertainment industry.
“It was Spielberg. It was Oprah. It was Rita Hanks and Tom Hanks. And it was [former Disney magnate] Michael Eisner,” Travolta said.
Travolta added that Spielberg and Eisner were the most excited to see him play Shapiro. The actor was also fascinated with the message the show was trying to convey.
“The thing that sold me finally was not the sensationalism of the piece but more that it was going to be an echo of how it changed society,” he said.
John Travolta felt ‘People vs. O.J. Simpson’ was as big as some of the biggest movies he’s done
Although this wasn’t Travolta’s first time being on a television show, O.J. was a completely different experience than Welcome Back Kotter. The hit crime drama was not unlike being on a film set for Travolta.
“My whole memory of television didn’t really come back to me. It was more like working on a movie,” Travolta once told The Hollywood Reporter.
The Grease star even believed the series drew as much attention as some of his biggest movie hits. People vs. O.J. generated mostly positive reviews during its time on air, drawing in millions of viewers. It also earned and won several Emmy and Golden Globe wins. Travolta shared he was more than proud to see so much interest in the show.
“Because it’s been a positive reaction to the quality of the communication, I’ve been pleased with everyone I’ve spoken with about it. It’s been a pleasure because it’s an agreeable subject, meaning that there are so many that are pleased with the result of it that it’s easier to experience the big reaction it’s getting,” he once told Cinemovie.
John Travolta told Ryan Murphy he wanted to return for ‘American Crime Story’ season 2
After being on People Vs. O.J., Travolta wouldn’t have minded going back to the small screen again. But it would’ve had to be in the same limited capacity as it was on the popular FX show.
“I don’t know if I could do it full time, and I also enjoy doing movies so I wouldn’t want to eliminate my time for that,” Travolta said.
Travolta even told Murphy himself that he was interested in working with him again on another American Crime. This was back when American Crime Story was going to focus on Hurricane Katrina.
“I told them I was interested and that it was up to them,” Travolta said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
He was especially interested in season 2 since Katrina hit so close to home for him and his wife Kelly Preston.
“I’m very interested in the Katrina story because Kelly and I were actually a part of that in real life. We went with a plane-load of medics and supplies and went deep into the parishes to help people, so I have a personal feeling about that. It touches me deeply,” he said.
However, the Katrina storyline was eventually canceled. Instead, the second season would focus on iconic fashion designer Gianni Versace.