A sequel has to be better’n the original or it’s not gonna work,” says Chili Palmer in Elmore Leonard’s 1999 novel Be Cool. But such pressures didn’t deter John Travolta from reprising his role as the Hollywood-obsessed gangster, who strong-arms his way into the music biz and takes a ballroom spin with a familiar partner in the movie sequel to Get Shorty.
How was it getting back into the character of Chili Palmer? He’s fun to play because I know what he’s about … [I] understand where the cool comes from. He is an icon in his mind; he has the illusion of what he should be like — and it’s like a James Bond character.
You have reprised the same screen persona twice before — in Staying Alive and in the Look Who’s Talking sequels. Normally I’m not a fan of sequels because I like to do something new.
So why this? Because it’s Elmore Leonard, and Chili is a character everybody loves. If he hadn’t written the book, I wouldn’t have done the sequel.
Did he write it for you? Yes, based on my interpretation of Get Shorty. So I like the idea of doing this. But we even make fun of that: There are scenes where we’ll be [ridiculing] sequels.
Where does Chili rank among all the characters that you’ve reprised? Oh, he’s my favorite.
More than Saturday Night Fever’s dancing fool, Tony Manero? Yeah, there is something about a book establishing its own audience and success, and then moving into a script, and then moving into a movie — there’s something about that through-line that gives me a greater sense of certainty on what I’m doing.
Speaking of sequels, you and your Pulp Fiction costar Uma Thurman dance together again here, to a smoky Latin number by the Black Eyed Peas. Right now my favorite music is Brazilian — bossa nova, samba, things like that. That’s a commonality I feel with Chili. When they found this [song], it … pleased my Chili sensibilities. Because I’m always in a suit, I can’t go too wild. It’s got to be if you imagine James Bond dancing. It can’t be too out-there. It’s got to be coooool.