John Travolta Had More Say Behind The Scenes Of Face/Off's Plane Chase Than You Realized

Like us regular folk, celebrities often have surprising hobbies and hidden talents beyond their day job. Witness Angelina Jolie awkwardly flicking around a butterfly knife on Conan O'Brien, or Pierce Brosnan demonstrating his fire-eating skills on "The Muppet Show." You can enjoy Mike Tyson, the world's most unlikely pigeon-fancier, talking about his favorite birds on Youtube, or Christopher Walken revealing his previous occupation as a Lion Tamer in a circus when he was younger. "It was more like a dog," he nonchalantly states.

Earlier this year, John Travolta proudly announced to the world that he had received his 737 license, meaning he could legitimately fly you to your destination on one of Boeing's best-selling passenger jets. In his brief video message, he said:

"Okay, so very proud moment in my aviation history. To add to my 747 and 707 licenses, I just received my 737 license. It went very well, just sharing my moment with you."

The actor has had a passion for aviation since his teens and became a licensed pilot over 40 years ago, his Hollywood star status enabling him to indulge in his hobby well beyond a few flying lessons at the weekends. He has purchased an entire hangar full of jets and other aircraft, and just check out his property in Jumbolair, FA, where he can pull up his planes in the driveway like regular citizens park their cars.

With that kind of experience and knowledge, Travolta certainly had a few pieces of advice when it came to choosing a jet plane for the bombastic opening scene in "Face/Off."

The set up

"Face/Off" opens with a prologue where prolific international terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), sporting a villainous mustache, is preparing to sniper his nemesis, FBI Agent Sean Archer (Travolta). Archer is enjoying a nice merry-go-round ride with his young son when Troy pulls the trigger, and the bullet passes straight through Archer's back, killing the lad.

Six years later, the intensely driven Archer lives only for catching Troy, neglecting his wife and daughter. His desire for bringing in his son's murderer means he takes things a little too personally, berating his team for having no leads on the madman's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Troy, dressed as a priest and puffing on a joint, plants a bomb in a Los Angeles conference center that will release a deadly nerve agent in a few days' time. He celebrates by rocking out to the "Hallelujah Chorus," dissing its composer, and groping a young choir girl.

Finally, the case breaks: Archer's team receives a tip-off that a getaway plane was chartered at a remote airfield, paid in cash by Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola), Castor's younger brother, who is great at building WMDs but struggles with day-to-day tasks like tying his shoelaces.

Castor arrives at the airstrip with his coat flying in slow-mo that would make Michael Bay envious, revealing his flashy dual gold pistols. He warns his goons to stay away from downtown in a few days and the brothers board the private jet, where Castor prepares to enjoy the in-flight entertainment of a very friendly stewardess.

Just as the plane taxis for take-off, Archer arrives in a Humvee with a bunch of cop cars and a police helicopter in support and plays chicken with Castor's jet. That's when the stewardess reveals she is also an FBI agent.

The scene

Archer seems hellbent on either ramming the jet or forcing it off the runway until he realizes the agent onboard has been grabbed by Castor (it's never explained how she on the plane in such short notice, but hey-ho, this is "Face/Off"). After Castor kills her and throws her body onto the tarmac Archer goes even more gung-ho, commandeering the police chopper and trying to stop Castor's ride from taking off by using the landing skids to force down the plane's wing flaps.

Castor is enraged and takes a few pot shots at Archer with his pistols, and Archer responds in kind by shooting out one of the aircraft's engines. Now unable to take off, Castor callously murders the pilot and grabs the controls, but can't stop the plane veering off the runway into a hangar which, judging by the sparkly pyrotechnics and whistling sound effects, also doubles as a fireworks factory.

A desperate firefight ensues inside the hangar, with Castor reveling in a little trademark John Woo double-fisted pistol action, diving through the air with both guns blazing. Pollux is captured during the mayhem and Castor and Archer end up in a face-off (see what they did there?). When Castor realizes he's out of bullets, he tries distracting Archer with a little bad singing before pulling a knife. Archer is ready for him, and kicks him in front of a jet engine, sending Castor hurtling down a wind tunnel and knocking him into a coma.

This all sets the scene for the outrageous central conceit of "Face/Off:" With the clock ticking, Archer must undergo a face-swap transplant with Castor and infiltrate a maximum security prison to extract the location of the bomb from Pollux.

How Travolta used his knowledge of aircraft for the choice of jet

John Woo, the Hong Kong action auteur who made his name with over-the-top shooters like "Hard Boiled" and "Bullet in the Head," had already made the leap to big American action movies with "Hard Target" and also directing Travolta in another delicious bad guy role in "Broken Arrow." Those films were just a warm-up for "Face/Off," which remains his Hollywood masterpiece.

It's big, loud, glossy, and extremely silly, and the best bit is that the high concept allows Cage and Travolta to mimic each other's mannerisms once their characters swapped faces. It's a film that barely pauses for breath and pays only the occasional nod to reality, which is where Travolta's expertise in aircraft came in handy for Castor's thwarted getaway vehicle. He said in an interview:

"I chose the jet that was used, it was a JetStar and I chose it for many different reasons, but I thought that for the purposes in this film, they needed to use that one ... It's sinister-looking and they're easy to duplicate in a mock-up, and you'd be smart to use it."

To a layman like me, the choice of plane doesn't make a huge amount of difference to the opening set piece of the most flamboyantly goofy action movie of the '90s, but since Travolta once owned a Lockheed JetStar like the one featured, I'm not going to argue. I guess it does appear a little sinister: if you squint hard enough, it kind of looks like it's wearing a cool pair of wraparound shades.