It Took A Call From Quentin Tarantino For John Travolta To Join Get Shorty

In the mid-'90s, John Travolta saw a resurgence in his movie career after a yearslong dry spell. The revival was ignited by the "Grease" actor's outstanding performance in Quentin Tarantino's cult classic "Pulp Fiction," which earned Travolta an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a leading role. He followed up the performance with another classic showing in 1995's gangster comedy "Get Shorty," where he plays Chili Palmer, a Miami loan shark trying to muscle his way into the movie industry.

In an interview with The Guardian, "Get Shorty" director Barry Sonnenfeld revealed that the film had to overcome hurdles from the very start. First, the project was turned down by every studio Sonnenfeld pitched it to for two reasons. One, the movie is based on a book by novelist Elmore Leonard, and past films based on Leonard's work had bombed at the box office. Two, Hollywood wasn't thrilled to pull back the curtain and make an "inside Hollywood" film.

The project was eventually picked up by MGM Studios, but casting became another hurdle. Sonnenfeld originally wanted Danny DeVito to play the lead role of Chili Palmer. That didn't work out, and DeVito was recast as Martin Weir, the A-list actor pursued by Chili Palmer to star in his new movie. But when Sonnenfeld turned his sights to Travolta to take over the lead role, he was turned down not once, but twice.

John Travolta had developed a bad habit for turning down big roles

Apparently when John Travolta turned down the lead role in "Get Shorty," it wasn't the first time he turned down a big part. In fact, Travolta said it was a bad habit he had developed that led to his professional dry spell. He told Rolling Stone in 1995:

"Imagine you finish 'Blow Out' and the studio wants you to do 'An Officer and a Gentleman,' and you say, 'No, I'm going to become a pilot,' and they say they'll wait. Well, that happened all the time. Big movies were offered to me, and I said no. You can't blame others for your saying no to things."

Travolta was the first choice to play the titular character in 1994's "Forrest Gump," which he infamously turned down. He chose to play Vincent Vega in "Pulp Fiction" instead. Yes, "Pulp Fiction" resuscitated Travolta's career, but he regretted turning down "Forrest Gump." That regret may stem from how Travolta lost the Oscar for Best Actor to Tom Hanks, the actor who was ultimately cast as the beloved titular character.

This is not the movie you pass on

It appeared that John Travolta had made another regrettable mistake by turning down the lead role in Barry Sonnenfeld's "Get Shorty." According to Sonnenfeld's account in The Guardian, Quentin Tarantino had dated a "Get Shorty" producer. He got word that Travolta wasn't interested in the movie and called him up and said, "This is not the movie you pass on," and after Travolta expressed that he didn't understand the script, the "Pulp Fiction" director responded with, "Trust me and do it."

Travolta backed up Sonnenfeld's account in his 1995 Rolling Stone interview. Not only did he credit Tarantino for saving him from turning down another big movie role, he also credited the director for reviving his career beyond casting him as Vincent Vega. "And because he knew my bad habit, Quentin told me, 'Get Shorty' is not the thing you say no to.' That was the cue that finally started me saying yes to things," Travolta said.