John Travolta cries foul over ‘fake news’ reports on mafia movie ‘Gotti’

EXCLUSIVE: John Travolta told Deadline he is upset over fast spreading news reports twisted the truth as Lionsgate pulled his upcoming film Gotti off its release calendar 10 days before it bowed. He worried the reports marginalized what he considers one of his better performances as the iconic Gambino crime family head John Gotti in the Kevin Connolly-directed film. Given how the subject matter lends itself to phrases from mob movies, it’s easy to see how the blogosphere might speculate this film would, well, sleep with the fishes. The truth is far different, Travolta said.

Underwhelmed with the tiny release that Lionsgate planned for the film through its multi-platform arm Lionsgate Premiere, which is devoted primarily to genre fare that finds its audience through ancillary lanes. Looking to protect what he believes is a worthy theatrical film, and his own performance, Travolta sought out a financier to change that fate. He found one in Edward Walson. The producer of five Broadway plays and eight films that include the Woody Allen-directed Café Society and upcoming Wonder Wheel, Walson and cohorts found the money to buy Lionsgate out of the equation. A new distribution deal is close with another theatrical distributor that will make Gotti a wide release, they said.

“Unfortunately, the reports were speculation bordering on fake news,” Travolta told Deadline. “Lionsgate was planning on a minimal release and I did an investigation into people who might have the interest and financial wherewithal to better release it. Ed is a fan of mine and of the Gotti story, and really wanted to see the movie. I invited his group, they saw it and bought it. That is the simple explanation for this. It wasn’t dropped. It wasn’t easy to get Lionsgate to give it up. They said no, twice, and I literally begged them to reconsider and they finally and generously let it go. We signed this deal about three weeks ago, to purchase back the film from Lionsgate. Our mistake was we should have said something right then, and discussed our plan for the film. We didn’t anticipate this speculation that is so grossly wrong.”

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John Travolta through the years
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John Travolta through the years
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of John Travolta Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of John Travolta Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
American actor John Travolta wearing a black shirt, mid 1970s. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Getty Images)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 01, 1978: Olivia Newton John and John Travolta at the Grease party at Paramount Studios circa 1978 in Los Angeles, California. **EXCLUSIVE** (Photos by Brad Elterman/FilmMagic)
American actor John Travolta kissing the Telegatto award he won. 1978 (Photo by Angelo Deligio/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 1974: Informal of actor John Travolta taken on the street. (Photo by Joe Schilling/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
American actor John Travolta poses with his date, actor Lisa Farringer at the Foreign Press Club Christmas Party, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Hollywood, California, December 1975. (Photo by Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images)
WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - 'Basket Case' - Airdate September 16, 1975. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JOHN TRAVOLTA
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 09: WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - John Travolta - Pilot - 9/9/75, John Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino, the leader and ladies' man of the Sweathogs, a class of delinquents in a Brooklyn high school., (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - 'Gallery' - Shoot date July 1, 1975. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JOHN TRAVOLTA
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 09: WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - John Travolta Portrait - Pilot -, 9/9/75, John Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino, the leader and ladies' man of the Sweathogs, a class of delinquents in a Brooklyn high school., (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
Actor John Travolta attends Operation California Presents 'Because We Care' A Benefit Concert to Aid the Starving People of Cambodia on January 29, 1980 at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - OCTOBER 12: John Travolta attends the premiere party for 'The Last Metro' on October 12, 1980 at the Rock Lounge in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 01: Actor John Travolta (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Guest, John Travolta, and Natalie Cole during 'Because We Care' Benefit for Cambodia at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
CIRCA 1980: Actor John Travolta looks on in a scene during the Paramount Pictures movie 'Urban Cowboy' circa 1980. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 09: Diana, Princess Of Wales, watched by President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, dances with John Travolta at the White House, USA on November 9, 1985. Diana is wearing a midnight blue velvet dress by designer Victor Edelstein. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Actor John Travolta on a visit to Dublin, 18/07/1985. (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection). (Photo by Independent News and Media/Getty Images)
Actress Kirstie Alley and actor John Travolta attend the Third Annual Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards on April 21, 1990 at Universal Studios in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
John Travolta and Kelly Preston during Cinematheque Tribute to Robert Altman - November 11, 1990 at Director's Guild of America in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
CENTURY CITY, CA - DECEMBER 13: Actress Kelly Preston, actor John Travolta and actor Lorne Sussman attend the 'Look Who's Talking Too' Century City Premiere on December 13, 1990 at Plitt's Century Plaza Theatres in Century City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
John Travolta and Kelly Preston during 21st Annual AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards Honors Liz Taylor at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Actor John Travolta and actress Kelly Preston attend the 47th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards on March 11, 1995 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor John Travolta attends the BAFTA/LA's Eighth Annual Brittania Award Salute to John Travolta on October 15, 1998 at Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor John Travolta and actress Kelly Preston attend the 'Primary Colors' Universal City Premiere on March 12, 1998 at Cineplex Odeon Universal City Cinemas in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actress John Travolta and actress Kelly Preston attend the 'Lucky Numbers' Hollywood Premiere on October 24, 2000 at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
John Travolta during 2003 Stella Adler School of Acting Awards at Thr Rainbow Room in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
John Travolta and Kelly Preston during 'The Cat In The Hat' World Premiere at Universal Studios Cinema in Universal City, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
John Travolta during World Premiere of 'The Cat In The Hat' at Universal Studios Cinemas in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
SYDNEY, NSW - NOVEMBER 16: Actor John Travolta and his wife Actress Kelly Preston attend the second leg of the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying match between Australia and Uruguay at Telstra Stadium November 16, 2005 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
�2008 credit NCNA only Actor John Travolta, who provides the voice work of the character Bolt in the animated film 'Bolt', attends the premiere of the film at the El Capitan Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on November 17, 2008. XYZ (Photo by Philip Ramey/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Miley Cyrus and actor John Travolta arrive at the world premiere of 'Bolt' held at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
US actor John Travolta arrives on stage during the awardings of the Goldene Kamera 2011 (golden camera media prize) of the Axel Springer Verlag publishing house on February 5, 2010 in Berlin. AFP PHOTO POOL TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reunite on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, airing MONDAY, DEC. 17 (7-9am, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images) OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, JOHN TRAVOLTA
John Travolta attends the photocall of movie Savages in Rome. (Photo by Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 16: Actor John Travolta speaks onstage during 'The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story' panel discussion at the FX portion of the 2015 Winter TCA Tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel on January 16, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07: Actor John Travolta visits the SiriusXM Studios on December 7, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED, UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: Kelly Preston and John Travolta attend the Ambi Gala In Honor of the Movie 'Trading Paint' on September 1, 2017 at an unspecified location in the United States. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Ambi)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Actor John Travolta speaks onstage during 'Stayin' Alive: A GRAMMY Salute To The Music Of The Bee Gees' on February 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)
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Walson was initially drawn in by his fascination for the larger than life Gotti legend. “When I heard John was doing it, I wished that the project had been brought to me and that I could have been a producer,” he said. “I know one of the writers, Leo Rossi [who wrote the script with Lem Dobbs], and John and I first connected on an airport tarmac last year and developed a friendship. Not knowing anything about the release plans, I saw the film and loved it, especially John’s portrayal as Gotti. It’s a supreme piece of work I thought deserves proper recognition. Having produced eight films, I’ve seen the frustration that sometimes happens when distributors don’t think of out of the box ways to promote a movie, let alone spend any P&A money. I thought, here is an opportunity to take a magnificent movie, and get it seen.

“I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks with John, and Phil Glasser, to put this deal together with Lionsgate, which wasn’t initially ready to give it up,” Walson said. “This is a big movie star film, with a multi-dimensional iconic character portrayed by one of the great multi-talented actors. We are hoping to take this movie to Cannes; it’s a movie star film that deserves the glitter of Cannes, and then a wide release shortly thereafter.”

Travolta and Walson said they are near a deal with a significant distributor they wouldn’t divulge, to facilitate that. They will submit to Cannes as an official submission, but they hope the film will premiere on the Croisette one way or another.

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The Gotti movie has been a years-long struggle to mount, with financiers falling in an out. Initially conceived with John Gotti Jr’s rights, the film’s focus has not surprisingly swung around to his father, called the Dapper Don for his sartorial splendor, and the Teflon Don for his long record of evading prosecution. That luck ended when his enforcer Sammy “The Bull” Gravano became a star witness against him and Gotti was convicted and sent to prison, convicted of five murders, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, extortion, tax evasion, and loansharking. Gotti died in prison in 2002. Travolta said he had the time to dig deeply into solving the mystery of how a leader in an inherently violent business emerged as something of a folk hero to the masses.

Said Travolta: “My style as an actor is to research and observe the behavior of a character and my goal was to accurately portray him to where you thought you were watching John Gotti, as I tried to do with Robert Shapiro [in the series American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson]. I learned quite a bit about the family, the mafia and how things worked in that world. What I needed to know was why the public loved John Gotti so much. I was aware of it, because his fame paralleled when I became famous, but why was he so adored?”

Mobsters have driven many rags to riches stories where villains inherently become anti-heroes who get the audience rooting interest as underdogs, despite the violent crimes they commit. Travolta said Gotti was more complicated than that; there was an empathy to him that kept him from being simply a ruthless criminal.

“I found there were a lot of good will gestures on his part, like how if a local business was in the red, he would help make deals that put it into the black,” Travolta said. “The social events, helping people out, the fireworks shows. There was a very humane part of him. But this movie focuses on the truth of how you behave when you are head of a group that is set up to behave notoriously. There is a balancing act that I loved being able to play, this smart, clever genius mafia guy who at the same time had this strong sense of family, where he cared deeply about his wife and children. I think it’s the first time you really see that true dichotomy and I believe it helps you understand how his world worked and why he became such an iconic part of gangster history.”

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