John Travolta: Robert De Niro Inspired Disco King's Stylish Moves in 'Saturday Night Fever'

John Travolta at Karlovy Vary - H 2013
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John Travolta at Karlovy Vary - H 2013

The Hollywood star also shared his memories in Karlovy Vary about his friend James Gandolfini after his sudden passing earlier this month.

KARLOVY VARY -- John Travolta says he owed his success as disco king Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever to Robert De Niro, his co-star 37 years later in the action flick Killing Season.

During a press conference in Karlovy Vary, the Hollywood star said that De Niro taking his method acting to the extreme by learning to play the saxophone for real in the 1977 musical drama New York, New York had him soon after training to become a real dancer for Saturday Night Fever.

“[De Niro] was setting a trend in the United States for a kind of acting that was, if you were going to portray a part, you needed to become that role by studying and actually gaining the knowledge and ability of the character,” Travolta recalled.

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The veteran actor said he worked nonstop for nine months to perfect his stylish moves on the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever.

Nearly four decades later, Travolta was in Karlovy Vary to introduce Killing Season, the action movie that pairs him with De Niro and comes from Avi Lerner’s Millenium Films and Corsan Pictures.

Also Saturday, Travolta, who starred opposite James Gandolfini in five movies, including Get Shorty, recalled his longtime friend after Gandolfini's untimely death earlier this month.

He recalled how his father sold car tires to Gandolfini’s father, and how Travolta’s movie fame inspired The Sopranos star to first become an actor.

Another defining moment for their friendship came when Travolta’s son died in 2009 while on a family vacation.

“When my son passed away, he [Gandolfini] would not leave the city until I was OK. He was just worried about me. And I felt it was so human and unusual for an actor to have this depth of feeling about someone,” Travolta added.

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Their friendship was also defined a few years earlier on the set of Lonely Hearts, a crime-thriller shoot that followed Gandolfini’s bitter divorce battle with first wife Marcy Wudarski.

Travolta recalled one day coming on set to see Gandolfini in emotional turmoil.

“I saw him backstage and I said, ‘Jim, did I ever tell you something? And he said 'What?' I said, ‘I loved you the moment I met you,’” he recalled telling his friend.

That set tears flowing from Gandolfini’s eyes, Travolta remembered, “because he needed to cry.”

“That was a connection that was true and how I felt about him,” he added.

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival runs to July 7.