Actor's latest films, ''Get Shorty'' and ''Pulp Fiction,'' have increased his leverage in Hollywood

It’s been one of those weeks. A week crammed with doctors and lawyers, grave meetings and pressing phone calls, sleepless flights from one continent to another. A week where everything seems to blow up.

But here, on a quiet poolside patio tucked between two wings of John Travolta’s Brentwood hacienda, the only hint of combustion is the candles. While the star eases into a wrought-iron chair, a woman emerges from the kitchen with a box of matches. She lights each wick in a centerpiece; the colored glass blushes with blue and green and crimson. She arranges each setting with a place mat, an amber napkin, a bottle of Evian, a frosted glass with a slice of lemon bisected on the side. Travolta’s chef, Dara Crouch, announces that the first of tonight’s four courses is a mushroom-and-goat-cheese timbale with toast points and fried leeks in a mushroom demi-glaze.

Turmoil feels very far away.

Travolta sighs. ”Oh, man, what a week. But it’s going to be fine because I’ve tried to slow down. What I’ve learned over the years is that if you start to get anxious about a situation, inevitably you’ll make the wrong decision. So slow down. Investigate. And you’ll feel better about the outcome.”

Psychic equilibrium aside, John Travolta, 42, has many decisions to make. A week earlier he was in Paris, just three days into rehearsals on Roman Polanski’s The Double, a movie about a meek American accountant who falls under the sway of his own, more raffish doppelganger. Travolta had planned to shoot The Double all summer. He had even flown his private Gulfstream to France, hunkered down in a hotel suite in Versailles, and asked a friend to pilot the jet back to the United States for a few modifications. ”I sent it home,” Travolta says, ”not planning to be back so quickly.”

But after one week, he checked out of the hotel and hopped a commercial red-eye from Paris to L.A. What made him leave France on a dime was family, he says. What prevents him from returning is business.

While rehearsing in Paris, Travolta got a call from his wife, Kelly Preston. She’d taken their 4-year-old son, Jett, to a doctor. The diagnosis: Jett had water behind the eardrums, a fairly common childhood affliction that would nonetheless require the doctor to drain the fluid using two small tubes. ”It was all scheduled,” Travolta recalls, ”and then I came into the picture and said, ‘Wait a minute. I want to meet the doctor. And I want to find out if this is absolutely necessary.”’ So on May 31, Travolta postponed the medical procedure, caught the flight home, and began, as he puts it, ”shopping for the right doctor.”

”You want it to go right,” he explains. ”I would probably be laughed at because I’m so careful about who takes care of him. But I don’t care. He’s my son, and I want to make sure he’s properly taken care of.”

Back in Paris, however, Roman Polanski was taking care of something else. With cameras set to roll on June 10, The Double‘s director had suddenly lost his $17 million star; the trades reported that Travolta had stormed out after a dustup with the man behind such dark classics as Chinatown and Repulsion. Within hours, lawyers for Travolta and Peter Guber’s Mandalay Entertainment, the Sony-based company producing The Double, were gearing up for a legal skirmish, while a Polanski associate was steaming over Travolta’s hasty hegira. ”I don’t know how he could possibly spin this into anything other than he left, returned to L.A. to seek guidance and counsel from his advisers, and walked off the movie, leaving 250 people in Paris with their hands in their pants,” the associate says. ”And he’s never made any attempt to further communicate with the director. Even if there were a creative difference of opinion, in your experience, don’t people normally get together and talk?”