NEW YORK, June 7 -- In his new action/thriller "Swordfish," John Travolta plays a spy bent on stealing billions of dollars in illegal government funds using a computer. But in real life, Travolta confesses, he barely knows how to turn one on.
"I'm just learning," admits the 47-year-old star of "Grease" and "Pulp Fiction."
"I'm not computer literate. I'm becoming more computer literate. I'm embarrassed. I got a computer for my birthday. At least I'm catching up. Leave me alone!"
"I'll get there. Just give me another month," he promises.
Travolta says the hardest part of preparing for the role was learning the computer lingo he and co-stars Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry bat around so casually in the film.
"I didn't know any of it at first," Travolta recalls. "I had to look it up. Had to learn the nomenclature. ... It was fun. I think Hugh had a tougher job of looking up all the hacker stuff. What it took to be a real hacker. He had to research all that. It was probably a much more intricate job."
Starring in Joel Silver's ("Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," "The Matrix") latest high-octane summer flick proves once again that Travolta is the come-back king of cinema, having successfully recovered from his outings in last year's disappointing comedy "Lucky Numbers" and universally panned sci-fi adventure "Battlefield Earth."
Although he built the foundation of his career playing dumb, but likable cool guys on TV's "Welcome Back, Kotter" and the memorable 1970s movies "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever," some of his biggest successes were in the 1990s playing likable bad guys in the dramas "Pulp Fiction" and "Get Shorty" as well as half of the action flick "Face/Off."
Travolta revisits the latter type of role in this month's "Swordfish." Set in the world of cyberspace, the film has the actor playing a charismatic spy looking for a way to finance his own brand of patriotism.
Asked to compare his character's motives to those of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the usually boisterous Travolta gets uncharacteristically quiet, then replies: "I don't want to correlate the two. I don't even want to go there. One's an entertainment piece and one's real life."
The film hits theaters Friday while McVeigh is scheduled to be executed on Monday (June 12) for killing 168 people in America's worst terrorist attack.
On a lighter note, Travolta says he is able to tap into his "inner meanness" when playing a villain, but insists that he rarely loses his temper in real life.
"There is meanness in me," reveals the actor who is reputed to be one of the nicest in Hollywood. "I don't get mad very often. But when I do, the roof goes off because it usually takes so much for me to finally explode. Usually, there are a bunch of injustices piling up and then, 'Bam!' But (those instances are) far and few between. Sorry to disappoint you. As an actor I can tap into that, but in my life I have no reason to."
Travolta went on to say that he never gets tired of being stopped by fans who beg for him to sign his name or take a photo with them.
"Twenty-six years I've been doing this stuff. But it's your job. You go out ... you make everybody happy and then you go home," he says simply.
Despite having done this job for more than half of his life, Travolta says he still enjoys it.
"There's still nothing like the satisfaction of a scene well-done, dialogue well-written. That opening scene (in 'Swordfish') ... that three, four or five pages was just so much fun to act," he notes.
Asked if he's ever played a character he'd like to revisit, Travolta paused for several moments before answering, 'No.'"
The answer is an interesting one given the fact that he vowed to do a sequel to the box-office bomb "Battlefield Earth" when he was promoting the film based on L. Ron Hubbard's best-selling novel last year. It is worth noting that Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology, of which Travolta is a devout member.
Travolta is still defending the movie despite the terrible reviews both he and the film received, stating that it has earned $100 million since being released almost a year ago. "It's doing fantastic (on video and overseas)," he adds.
He clarifies the sequel question by saying that whether filmmakers follow up their movies with second or third installments depends on "the nuts and bolts and profits of movies."
"I'll do a sequel," he says. "I've done a few ("Staying Alive," "Look Who's Talking, Too"). ut I always think the new project is what's happening. I like new creative ideas. It's more fun to do something different. So, although I could cash in on all of these things and do sequels, I have a tendency not to."
Travolta will be seen next this fall in the thriller "Domestic Disturbance," co-starring Steve Buscemi and Vince Vaughn.