While Pulp Fiction is often credited with turning John Travolta’s career around, another gangster flick that was released shortly afterward starring the actor as the lead also had a major role to play in turning Travolta from a teen movie heartthrob into a dramatic leading man. That movie was Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1995 gangster crime thriller-comedy Get Shorty. In an interview with CinemaBlend for the movie’s 25th anniversary on October 20, Get Shorty screenwriter Scott Frank revealed the makers originally had Danny DeVito in mind for the lead role.
“Without question. The thing is, as a screenwriter, or just a writer, one of most attractive qualities is confidence – is somebody who’s really confident, not cocky, but just confident, comfortable. And the other great attractive quality is a sense of humor. And that’s Danny. Danny has both of those. He walks into a room and the room reorganizes around him, and he’s really comfortable and funny and can manage groups. Even to this day. You walk with them on the streets of New York and people love him so much. And he’s so good at dealing with all that. Yet he can also be very tough and very serious, and so I thought he was perfect. I thought it would’ve been great to have him do that.”
Based on the 1990 novel of the same name, Get Shorty told the story of Chili Palmer (played by John Travolta), a Miami mobster who goes to Hollywood to collect a debt from B-movie producer Harry Zimm ( played by Gene Hackman). In the midst of conducting his violent business, Palmer gets the idea to make a movie based on his life, with Zimm helming the project, and Palmer’s role played by two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Martin Weir (played by Danny DeVito).
So it seems the makers did get their wish of getting DeVito to play the role of Chili Palmer, even if it was in a fictional movie within the actual movie. While DeVito was originally offered Travolta’s role in the film, the movie took so long to get made that he had to take on other jobs and decided to take the smaller role of Weir to stay attached to the project. According to Frank, there were very few rewrites involved in adapting Chii Palmer to Travolta’s personality.
“I don’t think we changed anything to change the character when the casting evolved. I really don’t. I think it was… we really didn’t. I think there’s one major thing, though, that I realize. John [Travolta] really felt that Chili should be a real, real movie buff – a real fan of the movies. And so he just really wanted a scene of him actually going to the movies where you see him at the movies. And that’s why I wrote the whole Touch Of Evil scene.”
Fortunately, Travolta ended up doing full justice to the role of the eccentric mobster Chili, and DeVito was able to imbue Weir with his trademark charisma, making Get Shorty one of the highlights of the ’90s gangster flick era. CinemaBlend was the first to drop this news.