I would be the first to admit that this job comes with some pretty great built-in perks.
For the most part, those perks mean nothing to me. When it comes to meeting people, there’s a momentary pleasure if their work is important to me, but I’ve met so many people at this point that I can’t really claim that it’s a thrill. But for my sons, there is still something magical about getting to meet the people they watch on a movie screen, especially if it’s a movie that means something special to them.
I’ve written at length in my Film Nerd 2.0 series about the movies that have become signposts in the relationship I’m building with my sons and in the relationship that they’re building with the outside world. These movies we screen are more than just a way to pass a few hours at a time. These movies are their cultural education, and the movies they really love end up getting spun over and over.
I’m not the only one who can pass along a movie to the boys, of course. Their mother has her own list of significant films that she wants to share with them. In one case, there’s a film that she has probably seen a hundred times that she has very successfully passed along, and I think it is safe to say that Toshi is a full-blown fan of the movie “Grease.” When he had just learned to walk and he was still months away from anything resembling real conversational speech, his mom would turn on “Grease,” and Toshi would spend the entire movie up in front of the TV, dancing along to every musical number.
Now that he’s older, he doesn’t really dance as much (he’s so much more self-conscious now as a nearly-seven-year-old boy) but he still watches the film on a semi-regular basis, and if you ask him to list his favorite movies, “Grease” is right there with “Star Wars” and “The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad” and “The Avengers.” He loves the film, and he loves the people in it. He thinks of Sandy and Danny as old friends at this point.
As a result, when I went to recent press day for “Savages,” Toshi came with me with one goal in mind, and when I walked into the first interview room, he was right there by my side as I first greeted Aaron Johnson, then Taylor Kitsch, and then, finally, John Travolta.
“Mr. Travolta, I have a pretty big ‘Grease’ fan with me today…” I began.
That’s all it took. Travolta smiled immediately, and Toshi stepped forward. “You like ‘Grease,’ buddy?”
Toshi nodded, and Travolta put out his hand for Toshi to shake. “That’s great. What’s your name?”
Toshi shook Travolta’s hand and answered, in shy mode completely at this point, “Toshi.”
“Well, ‘Grease’ was a special film for me. I’m glad to hear that you’re watching it and that you like it.”
“I like it a lot,” Toshi said, still shy but smiling broadly now.
“What do you think? Can I get a hug?” Toshi nodded, and Travolta stepped in and gave Toshi a hug.
“Thanks, Toshi,” he said. “Once we’re done, if you want, I can sign that for you,” indicating the Blu-ray of “Grease” that Toshi had tucked under one arm. That was it, the big thing Toshi wanted to ask, and when Travolta did it for him, he ended up with a smile on his face as big as I’ve ever seen.
Here’s how big a deal it was to him. At the end of the press day, as we went to leave, Toshi stopped me. “Dad, you said I was going to meet John Carter today. Aren’t we still going to do that?”
“Toshi, John Carter was the guy sitting next to Danny when you met him.”
For my son at least, Danny Zuko eclipses John Carter completely.
It is fitting that they put Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, and John Travolta together for the interviews that day. In “Savages,” almost all of Travolta’s scenes are played with the two younger guys playing Ben and Chon, and their chemistry in the film is a pleasure. I haven’t seen Aaron since the set of “Kick-Ass,” and he’s really changed in just a few years. He has a different level of confidence about him now, and he’s become a dad in the meantime, something that will change anyone of any age. I spoke to Kitsch just before “John Carter” was released, when 2012 was nothing but potential for him, and it was interesting to sit down with him after taking a few public body blows. I liked all three of them in the film, and I think we were able to have a relaxed, easy chat about working with Stone and making this film.
If you’re as big a “Grease” fan as Toshi, it might be worth heading to the theater for “Katy Perry: Part Of Me” when it arrives in theaters, since they’ve got a 3D sing-along version of “The One That I Want” playing in front of the film. It may be 72 years old (don’t double-check my math), but “Grease” definitely still has a hold on audiences, and at the end of the day, as Travolta walked by us en route to the elevators, he stopped to tell me that it meant a lot to him to see very young fans of that film, to know that it’s still being handed down.
“Savages” opens Friday in theaters everywhere.