LOS ANGELES—John Travolta is perhaps one of the most beloved actors of our time. From singing show tunes in Grease to playing a ruthless hitman in Pulp Fiction, Travolta’s talent has transcended many decades as he continues to take on A-list roles in blockbuster films.
How does someone like Travolta keep his drive and stamina going after all these years? While he says there’s no one real reason, he attributes a lot of his success to being persistent, charitable and fiscally responsible. I was recently able to interview Travolta on the red carpet of the City Gala, an Entrepreneur-sponsored event that’s all about entrepreneurship and creating a brighter future through charity. I asked him about taking risk, his success and charitable giving.
Here’s what he had to say:
Entrepreneur: When it comes to business, what would you tell entrepreneurs about taking risks?
Travolta: I don’t take much risk. This is my own personal vulnerability, but it’s also a strength in itself. I work hard for my money; I don’t like to waste it, and I don’t like to lose it. I am not a very good example of clever business ventures.
I am a good example of conservative ones, though. Something in my DNA will not let me take the risk. I am not a gambler type. I don’t get the jaunt out of it. I know where every cent I’ve ever spent has gone. It’s hard when you’re not risking things, but that’s the way I like it.
Entrepreneur: At what point in your acting career did you start to have such a passion for philanthropy?
Travolta: It was organic. When hurricane Katrina hit, I thought, “well, why wouldn’t you do that?” It’s simple. It’s always been a natural feeling for me to help others.
Entrepreneur: In working with the press for your charitable interests, are there any words of advice or mistakes you would tell businesses to avoid?
Travolta: Whatever the structure of your charity or business, make it clear exactly where the money is going so that no one can ever or will ever question it. You need to exercise a lot of integrity in displaying where these funds are going. If you are to participate in charitable giving, it should not be from the perspective of spinning the press, but from a natural, effortless, and organic origin.
Entrepreneur: Yours is an amazingly sustained career. What are characteristics of someone who can go the distance?
Travolta: Stick-to-it-iveness. My personal success can be attributed to a conservative sense on money, but utilizing a riskier approach with creative ideas.
You can take risks with your imagination, but I don’t think it’s smart to risk your money. There are really two things to consider: You are free to think up any new idea, but the bottom line is ascertaining the most valuable product for someone to have. It is imperative to define that.
In my case, the valuable product would be to participate in an entertaining film that delivers to an audience at a high level. If you can define what that thing is, you have half the job done. But just going in for the money is the hardest thing to convince people of.