Last night at the 2015 Oscars, John Travolta won a lifetime achievement award for “Non-Human Struggling to be Human,” a role he has been playing for the past 15 years. The apex of his performance took place at last night’s ceremony when he grab-and-kissed Scarlett Johansson without her permission and then manhandled Idina Menzel’s chin so creepily that it made everyone feel nauseous.
Travolta took on this role 15 years ago, inspired by the idea that acting doesn’t have to be relegated to movies. He dove into the part by immediately making Battlefield Earth, an insane film that a non-human would come up with if asked to make a movie it thinks humans would like. “In every single thing John does, you can clearly see the actions of a non-human being trying to be a human being.” Says Tom Cruise, the previous winner of this award. “The subtle way he would sometimes paint on a little soul patch and then go out in public, as if his character thinks humans do that? It’s inspired.”
By looking at his early career one can see that Travolta is, clearly, a normal human, making this transformation that much more impressive. “It took years of method acting to get him to where he is now.” said legendary acting coach Raife Divitsky (who has trained stars from Björk to Kelsey Grammer), and began working with Travolta in 2000: “We were talking about physical development and I told him, ‘John you’re bald and everyone has seen pictures of it, there’s nothing we can do.’ But John, to his credit, took that as fuel for his character. He wore a very unconvincing wig that a non-human would definitely think is hair. Like, as if he just picked something up and put it on his head. I won’t lie, I teared up.”
Travolta’s commitment to the role has indeed been astonishing. His religion, his hobbies, and even his website have been carefully curated to appear like a monster from another planet is giving it his best shot here on Earth. Says Divitsky, “He wanted a challenge. He was sick of playing humans who knew how to talk to and touch people appropriately.”
However, Kelly Preston (Travolta’s wife of 24 years) admits it hasn’t been all smooth sailing: “It’s been hard on the kids, to see their father disappear into a role like that for so long. Daniel Day Lewis’ wife and I would get coffee sometimes to vent about how hard it is being married to a genius. And I don’t feel braggy saying ‘genius.’ Not even a little.”
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs would agree. “The nomination was unanimous. It’s a performance no one will forget. Really, if you put a dog in a human costume and tell him to just go for it, that’s John Travolta. We’re unlikely to see another triumph like this in our lifetime.”