Meet The “Cool” Crowd
Growing up in the 1970s, future movie producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg loved those goofy all-star-cast comedies – “like ‘Smokey and the Bandit,'” Shamberg says.
But the “Smokey” all-stars – Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Dom DeLuise and Terry Bradshaw – have nothing on the Hollywood dream team that Sher and Shamberg have assembled for “Be Cool,” the free-wheeling and silly sequel to 1995’s blockbuster hit “Get Shorty,” which opens on March 4.
Witness Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, the Rock, Christian Milian, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, OutKast’s Andre 3000 and Anna Nicole Smith (playing Danny DeVito’s wife).
And at the center of it all is John Travolta, who’s back as Chili Palmer, super-smooth loan shark turned movie mogul – a character that Travolta likes to call “a street James Bond.”
When we last saw him in “Shorty,” Chili had conquered Hollywood. But in “Be Cool,” also based on an Elmore Leonard novel, he moves on to the record business – “an industry,” Travolta says, “that’s even more cutthroat than movies.”
Before long, Chili is crossing swords with all sorts of outrageous characters – and that’s where the all-star cast comes in.
“I wanted to throw the greatest party of 2005 that everyone would want to come to,” recalls director F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job”).
The Rock was the first to RSVP – partly because he’s such a John Travolta fan.
“He’s just amazing – Vinny Barbarino!” says the Rock. “But I drove John crazy. By day 18 of working together, I was still like ‘You remember in “Grease,” when you did that thing?'”
Sher says the other big names came onboard after they heard that the Rock, who normally gets star billing, had been willing to take a supporting role.
Once filming started, celebs like James Woods, Fred Durst and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson stopped in for cameos.
“After a while,” Sher recalls, “We were like, ‘Let’s shoot for the moon.'”
And they succeeded – signing up everyone on their wish list.
Here are some highlights.
Even a fellow ’70s icon like Harvey Keitel used to worship John Travolta back in the day.
“When I was a young guy living in New York in the early ’70s, with no money and no work, there were two guys that helped me make it through – Johnny Carson and John Travolta on ‘Welcome Back, Kotter,'” Keitel recalls.
Uma Thurman was just a child back then, of course, but she still remembers when Travolta swaggered onto the big screen in “Grease.”
“I was 12 years old when I had that ‘Grease’ experience,” Thurman says. “And all the girls know what that was.”
Thurman grew up to dance with Travolta in “Pulp Fiction,” and in a nod to that classic, the duo hit the dance floor again in “Be Cool.”
But this time, Travolta says, the dance scene is completely different.
“I said it would have to be something Chili would feel good dancing to. In ‘Pulp Fiction,’ our characters were hoping for death,” he says. “But in this one, we’re dancing for life. That was novelty dancing. This is traditional dancing. ”
“I found the script incredibly funny and enjoyable, but the main initial hook was to team up with John again,” says Thurman, explaining why she signed up for “Be Cool.”
Though Thurman is best known for her serious acting chops, watching Travolta in “Grease” made her a huge fan of musicals.
“It sort of bit me with that fire,” she says. “Now I love musical theater and dance and song. I’ll basically do anything to dance in a movie.”
So it’s little surprise that her dance scene with Travolta was one of the highlights for her in “Be Cool.”
“John is the best partner you could get to dance with in the whole world,” she says. “He makes it so easy.”
She’ll get to hit the dance floor even more in her next project – as Ulla in the movie version of “The Producers,” with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
“I dance every day, so I’m beyond overjoyed,” she says.
She’s also singing, at least for the moment.
“I would say that I’m a poor but passable singer,” she says. “When I signed on, they said they would have someone sing for me if I needed it. No one’s mentioned it, so I feel I must be passing.”
Elmore Leonard is a pro wrestling fan, so when he was writing the novel “Be Cool” in the late 1990s, he based one of the characters on one of the sport’s biggest stars, the Rock.
“My agent told me about it,” recalls the Rock.
“He read me the description: ‘Elliott, 30, good looking, talented, wants to be an actor, raises one eyebrow and – dot-dot-dot – is gay.”
That didn’t put him off, however.
“We got a call from the Rock’s agent,” Sher recalls. “And he said the Rock loved that Elmore was making fun of him, and he really wanted to be in the movie.”
The Rock winds up with the movie’s funniest moments, including one audition scene that Travolta loves.
“To see the Rock, dead serious, doing a two-character scene about cheerleaders from ‘Bring It On’ as a monologue,” Travolta says, “that’s as good as it gets.”
The Rock also got to meet Leonard while making the movie.
“When I did, I said, ‘Elmore, where did the gay part come in?,” he recalls.
“He just said, ‘I thought it would be interesting.'”
Director Gray first met Andre 3000 (aka Andre Benjamin) when he directed him and his OutKast partner, Big Boi, in videos for songs such as “Southernplayalisticadillacmusik.”
“He told me I had a future in movies if I wanted it,” Andre recalls.
And now he’s taking Gray up on it.
After releasing the most successful OutKast record ever, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2003, Benjamin moved to Hollywood and threw himself into movies.
“I thought, ‘Before I completely hate music, I’d rather just take a break,'” Andre says.
Andre will soon be everywhere. He and Big Boi have shot an OutKast musical set in a 1930s speakeasy that will air on HBO later this year, and he’s currently in Toronto filming “Four Brothers,” a thriller with Mark Wahlberg and directed by John Singleton.
But “Be Cool” is Andre’s official movie debut, playing an over-the-top gangsta rapper character that he based on real people he knows in the music business.
“I have homeboys just like that, with the baggy pants down to your knees, and four or five pagers and all these platinum chains,” says Andre, who did such a good job developing the part that it grew from just one line (in the first draft of the script) to a big supporting role.
Andre’s character was so small at first, he didn’t even have a name. But after it grew, so Gray offered a $200 prize for whomever “could come up with the most ghetto name,” in Andre’s words.
Cedric the Entertainer won the contest, slapping him with the moniker, “Dabu.”
A Grammy-nominated singer, Milian, 23, is best known for her duet with Ja Rule, “Between You and Me.”
But now she’s breaking out on the big screen, with roles in “Be Cool”and “Man of the House,”which opens this weekend.
It’s the chance she’s been waiting for since she started performing at the age of 9.
“I hope this will be a really big break-out moment for me,” Milian tells The Post. “In ‘Be Cool,’ I’m getting to fulfill all my dreams in this one film. I’m acting and singing and working with all these A-list actors. I’m still trying to catch up with myself. It’s so crazy.”
Not only does she work with John Travolta – “I had this big crush on him,” she admits – she also got to share a microphone with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.
“He’s soooo sexy,” she says. “We shot that scene at a live Aerosmith concert, so there were 30,000 fans there to see the band. I was really nervous, but when I got on stage, it was a whole other situation. The chemistry was there and it felt like I was with the band for my entire life. It was quite a moment – maybe the highlight of my life.”
Meet The “Cool” Crowd