John Travolta sat at the center of the table looking dapper and cracking jokes. If he seemed like a mafia don, that’s because he was there to announce he would be playing one. Travolta was the headliner at a press conference Tuesday morning at a hotel conference room in midtown Manhattan to announce his next starring role in Gotti: Three Generations. The independently-financed film will star Travolta as John Gotti Sr.
Also on hand were director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook), producer Marc Fiore, and John Gotti Jr. But perhaps the biggest head-turner for the assembled press corps was a platinum-blonde sitting near the front of the room, Lindsay Lohan. The actress has been rumored to be up for the part of the late mob kingpin’s daughter, Victoria Gotti. When asked about her odd presence at the press conference, Fiore said, “Lindsay is a terrific actress. I’m glad to have her here today. We’re in talks. Nothing’s finalized.”
Sitting a few feet away from Lohan were Chazz Palminteri, lending some outer-borough street cred, the tanned and tweezed Gotti boys of reality-TV fame, Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston, Jay Leno-sidekick John Melendez, and, for what it’s worth, Miss Teen New Jersey.
Ostensibly, the press conference was held to announce that Travolta would star in the Gotti biopic, which traces the relationship between the late Dapper Don and his son. But other casting news was announced as well. Fiore announced that Joe Pesci had signed on to play Gotti deputy, Angelo Ruggiero, and that Travolta’s 11-year-old daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta, who previously appeared in her father’s 2009 film Old Dogs, would also have a part in the film. From Lohan’s presence, it’s assumed that she will play Victoria. Which left open the question of who would play the high-profile role of John Gotti Jr. When asked who he thought should play him, Gotti Jr. joked, “Eddie Murphy!”
Gotti Jr. said that he finally felt comfortable with Travolta and Cassavetes after sharing a five-hour lunch with them. He added that he was eager to see his family’s story told “correctly.” Said Gotti Jr., “My father was an icon. He was a man larger than life. When he walked into a room, he owned the room.” Aside from being raised, as he said, in the waiting rooms of federal prisons, Gotti Jr. said that his life story was much like any one else’s. “We’re a pretty normal family.”
Gotti Jr. added that his father may have been a gangster who ordered people killed, but he was also a man’s man who made a choice and lived by his convictions. He chose his course, he said, and “he paid for his sins.” When asked if his infamous father was a Travolta fan, Gotti Jr. said, “Absolutely! In the ’70s and ’80s, who wasn’t a John Travolta fan?”
Travolta, whose last film was 2010’s From Paris With Love, added, “This is probably the most interesting untold story in this country. What a character to approach and understand!” Travolta also admitted that he’d been a huge fan of the reality-TV show Growing Up Gotti. Travolta said that he was drawn to the film because of Gotti Sr.’s glamour and humor. He also alluded to the recent loss of his son Jett as a reason why he empathized with his character, whose 12-year-old son was killed in a neighborhood traffic accident in 1980. “This father lost a son and I lost a son. We discussed how painful that is.”
When Travolta was asked about the blonde elephant in the room, he joked, “Lindsay happens to be a very big fan of mine — of Danny Zuko and Vinny Barbarino. I always thought she was gorgeous and talented and filled with a lot of depth.”
Gotti: Three Generations is scheduled to go into production in October. It will be shot in New York and is expected to open in theaters in late 2012.