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John Travolta on 'Battlefield', NASA
By Robert Peterson
Special to
posted: 10:30 am ET
03 May 2000

NASA, rest easy. You matter to John Travolta.

"They're in my will, and that's a fact," he said while discussing his new film Battlefield Earth, based on L. Ron Hubbard's novel. "I set aside a portion for NASA because I believe in aviation. We have to do this."

We have to do this? Do you think there's other life out there?

"Personally, yeah," he said. "Why not? I don't have all the details, but yes."

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Battlefield Earth (movie)

Battlefield Earth (book)

Space on the brain

Fair enough, as Travolta has had space and science fiction on his brain ever since he first read and fell in love with Hubbard's 1982 novel, which follows a lone hero's fight to restore freedom to an enslaved Earth in the year 3000.

"It's a page-turner," he said, adding, "It's great for how realistic a sci-fi movie it is, how funny it is and how innovative it is to do as a movie."

Travolta has been in many novel-to-film adaptations before, but not one he's fought for years to produce. During filming Travolta said he and the film's director trusted Hubbard's text to get them through rough parts.

Travolta mentioned two scenes -- one with his wife, Kelly Preston, and one where hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler gives a key speech on the ground with cattle -- as examples of where Hubbard's novel will march off the page onto the screen.

"It was just like other movies from books, like [The] General's Daughter, [A] Civil Action, or Primary [Colors]," he said. "When we had a problem, we went back to the book."

Farewell to the hero

Travolta said he originally saw himself as Tyler, but as he waited to earn the Hollywood clout to make the film, he changed his mind.

"As I got older and not right for Jonnie and more known for playing villains, we thought we'd let someone young and a genuine outdoorsman play the part," he said.

That "outdoorsman" is Saving Private Ryan's master sniper, Barry Pepper.

Travolta snagged the part of Terl, Earth's security chief and a nine-foot tall member of the evil Psychlo alien race.

Originally cast as the hero in John Woo's Broken Arrow, Travolta chose to switch roles with eventual hero Christian Slater, and critics said Travolta wound up with the better part.

But does he regret missing the chance to play the hero of one of his favorite novels?

"No," he said. "There was no part I didn't enjoy. I loved every moment. He was so funny because he's a comic villain. I loved the intricacies of the blackmail the double jeopardy of it all."

Terl is a "comic" villain -- in the mode of a classic playwright?

"Yes, it's a ride you get on," he said. "It's almost Shakespearean."

Just a movie

Controversy has followed Battlefield Earth because of author L. Ron Hubbard's role in creating the Church of Scientology, of which Travolta is a member.

Some anti-scientology groups claim the film is a recruiting poster for the church and has subliminal messages. The church -- with Travolta -- flatly denies this.

"The truth of why I'm doing it is because it's a great piece of science fiction," Travolta said. "This is not about Hubbard ... I'm very interested in Scientology, but that's personal. This is different. This has nothing to do with Scientology."

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