How to sing A Love Song For Bobby Long. The cast speaks!
Hollywood mega stars do indie films for a number of reasons. Sometimes, indies offer them better roles than studio blockbusters. Other times, it gives the star a chance to help an up and coming filmmaker take their first step. John Travolta likes to do indie films like A Love Song for Bobby Long for both reasons.
"As an artist, I prefer it," Travolta said. "Less pressure, you really get the idea that you're free to act, and vanity doesn't matter. You can be the character and you can take risks that maybe the studio won't let you take or a director, under the influence of the studio, won't allow you to take. So independent films, by nature, that's why a lot of big stars are attracted to independent films is because they can do what they want. They can do their craft. In all fairness, if you don't jockey it with the other, they won't want you in the independent film because you're the one that gets it made. So you have to have a certain value in the studio system in order to be valuable in the independent system, to a certain degree. Let's say if no one wants to do a movie that's very interesting in the big studios and they want it to be done in the smaller, then someone like myself will go on and get it greenlit. At the same time, you have opportunity to do some wonderful work."
This feature film debut from Shainee Gabel compared favorably to other outings on which Travolta has embarked with first timers. "I've worked about five times with first-time directors. Twice it was awful and once it was okay. And twice it was great. So this was one of the great ones. Shainee rivals all others. When people have greatness in their abilities, you'll find it in other people too, there's a commonality, there's a throughline. And she definitely has certain qualities of greatness that was a relief to me because she did a great scenario. You don't know really if it's going to move on to a great experience, and it did. The throughline I've seen is trust in the actors, vision, and an innate know-how, a knowledge of how a film should be put together, and sense of value. Knowing what they want out of each scene and knowing if they've gotten it. Not arbitrarily but very specifically. Like, 'I got what I wanted. Now what would you like to do? I have what I need to make the movie in my mind, but now if you have something else to offer, I'd love to see that too.' Those are some of the things. There's many, many things. A confidence in your choices is a very big one. I often like writers that direct too because they have a throughline to their material that I like. They are the source so you don't necessarily have to improvise or rewrite when they're right there to help you do it."
Travolta came to the film at the suggestion of costar Scarlett Johansson, who was the first attached. Costar Gabriel Macht had to work a bit for his role of Lawson, the drunken companion to Travolta's Bobby Long. "I was the last ingredient in this big soup," Macht said. "I auditioned for the role and the casting director sent my tape on to Shainee Gabel, our writer and director. And the word that got back to me was she responded well to the tape, but wanted to meet me. I said, 'Great.' She was in New Orleans and she couldn't meet me in person. So I flew out to meet her and I had lunch with her. And she said, 'Look, we really enjoyed your audition. We just didn't see the scene in front of the fireplace. We'd like for you to go off for a couple of hours, read the monologue for us, and come back in a couple of hours and read for us.' I said, 'You know what? I'm just going to get all nervous and get in my head. It's just not the right time for me to go do that. But I'll do it for you right here in the restaurant.' And so she was like, 'Okay.' I read for her there and a week later I got a call saying they wanted me to play Lawson. So I was back in New Orleans and at the table for the read-through. That's how I got involved. I was the last person." Macht looks pretty much like himself in the film, but Travolta sports grey hair and a gangrenous foot, in addition to regular weight and stubble. He was game to look so terrible for the role.
"I was frightened that if I didn't look the way I did, you wouldn't believe it," Travolta said. "And that's more frightening to an actor than looking good. And that's the truth. Actors that are serious about what they do want to get it right for you. They want you to be lured into the reality of that scenario and that character. So there's almost a panic if you don't look correct."
Macht simply worried about not overdoing it as a drunk. "I'm sure you'd find some great, great performances of people who are just completely over-the-top drunk and just slurring their words and the whole thing," he said. "And when they film it and if the writing is really good, it's like, 'Oh wow, I love seeing that,' because that does exist. But I wanted to make this character more of a guy who is constantly drinking. Anything that has liquid in it that he's putting into his body will have some alcohol in it, a percentage of alcohol. I really wanted the actual image of hand to glass, glass to mouth. You see that once and you hear people talk about him drinking too much [and] I think that tells the story, so I don't think you need to overplay it. That's what I tried to do is just undercut that. If you see me drinking enough in the film, you realize this guy has a problem."
The New Orleans setting is also a character in the film. The heat alone helped the actors get into character. "It was such a benefit to us to be in that environment," Macht said. "To have the quality of the air, which was heavy, and enormously hot and entirely uncomfortable, but there was a real sweet, languid, sexy feel about the climate down there that became a character for us. And I think it only helped all of us that we were down in New Orleans."
Travolta added, "We dealt with [the heat] by using it. And it's the oldest trick in the book but if you can use something that's in your environment, and I don't care what it is, use it to your advantage. I feel that it was exciting to have something so ever-present to use. The only time it was difficult is when we were playing it cold. We were playing it winter and we had no heat, and we were boiling. That was acting."
The film has already earned a Golden Globe nomination for Scarlett Johansson, which Travolta feels is vital to the film's survival. "I'm thrilled that she got it because without that, we don't live very long," he said. "And I mean that. We have a dollar to make it and a dollar to release it. And without the support of you guys and critics and nominations or awards of some sort, these little independent films tend to move off quickly. That doesn't mean that they're not worth making. It just means that they don't have any kind of life to them. So it was a great relief to be nominated. It could have been any one of us. I was kind of lead to believe that it might happen. And the first piece of news is that it didn't, and I was disappointed. Then the second piece of news is but Scarlett did. I was thrilled for her and relieved at once because the film had a shot now of getting some specific attention. And I'm sure you guys have been on the other end of many small movies. Imagine Monster or Monster's Ball if it didn't have what it had behind it. They're, by nature, not supported. That's why they're independent. That's why they need you guys."
Macht is hopeful that the film will be a breakout piece for him as well, but he is happy just to have had the experience. "Every time I get an opportunity to work I feel like it's a big break," Macht said. "Hopefully it created success, and hopefully it means something in someone's eyes. I guess people are responding to this film and to my performance. I feel really fortunate to be a part of it, to share the screen with John and Scarlett."
Dont't forget to also check out: A Love Song for Bobby Long