In a world where celebrity romances begin and end faster than we can tweet about them, Kelly Preston and John Travolta are a shining beacon of hope. Their Hollywood love story began on the set of The Experts in 1987, and it’s been going strong ever since. Preston still “fangirls” over her husband on Instagram, and now, 27 years after tying the knot, the couple is bringing their white-hot passion to the big screen—to play a famous mob couple.
In the new biopic Gotti, Travolta stars as infamous mobster John Gotti, with Preston portraying his wife, Victoria. The film, which hits theaters today, follows the rise of the crime boss known as Dapper Don and his son, John Gotti Jr. (Spencer Lofranco). The surviving Gottis—who hand-picked the cast—were heavily involved in the project, and the pair became really close with the Gotti family while filming. So much so that Victoria let Preston wear her wedding ring.
"We met Victoria early on. She cooked us lunch and the family was in and out—it was an amazing day," Preston tells InStyle. "She was an open book and allowed me to ask her anything. She gave me her wedding ring to wear in the film! She also gave me another ring that John had given her years ago, and she hadn’t taken it off since he gave it to her. It was her favorite ring and she let me wear it for the time of shooting. Then she let John [Travolta] use John [Gotti]’s clothing—some of his coats, his ties, his handkerchiefs, jewelry like his watch and rings."
The dramatized version of events offers an in-depth look at the lives of the notorious Gottis, and Victoria knew exactly who she wanted to star. “A lot of people wanted the role many years ago, and the Gotti family chose John,” Preston says. “They wanted him to play the father, and Victoria Sr. specifically wanted him to play her husband. Then there was high interest in me playing Victoria—and she was really happy that I would.” The feeling was mutual. “We were both thrilled at the idea,” says the actress, explaining that she relates to her onscreen persona more than you might think. “We have similarities in that she had an amazing close-knit relationship with her husband. They adored each other and love their kids dearly. Parenting was important to them.”
While Preston—who has raised three children with Travolta: Ella Bleu, 18; Benjamin, 7; and Jett, who tragically passed away in in 2009 at age 16—may relate to her character’s parenting style, “that’s probably where the similarities end,” she says. “But Victoria is very strong. She’s smart as a whip, she’s funny, she’s kind, she’s warm, and she has been nothing but amazing through this whole process. It’s difficult because she lost her husband, who she loved so dearly. And she also lost a child. So of course we had that [in common], and that was something that connected us on a very deep level.”
Understanding Victoria’s grief—her 12-year-old son, Frank, was accidentally killed by a neighbor in 1980—in such a personal way led to painful moments during filming. “I think that the most challenging scenes were the ones after Frankie Boy was killed,” she says. “Those were the most challenging to play because of what we had shared as parents. It’s the worst thing to ever happen to a person. It literally is the worst thing you have to or could have to go through.” Still, Preston managed to separate her own experience from her character’s. “Everybody grieves differently, so it was portraying that through their eyes,” she says. “It was their truth, and we had to play them as grieving parents. We could only do it how they would do it.”
Ultimately, the couple’s heartbreaking performances received the Gotti stamp of approval. “I’m so relieved, because the feedback we got from them was the best gift I could’ve been given,” says Preston. “Their daughter, Victoria, and [son] Peter both said the portrayals were haunting and that it seemed exactly like dad and mom. That was huge for us.”
Keep reading for our full interview with Preston about Gotti, marriage, and her plans for the future.
How involved were the Gottis in this film? John Jr. was there every single day. They checked on all of the dialogue. They really had a big hand in this. That was a big deal, and as an actor, to have such support from the family was extraordinary.
Did you learn anything surprising about the Gotti family? There were a couple things. I never would’ve thought of John as a family man or a great father, but he was loving and kind. There was just this iconic Dapper Don image that we all had from the newspapers and the stories in the press, but he was a husband and a father. That was fascinating to me. Another thing: Victoria stood up to him, and they would get into it. She holds her own. He would say to her, “Grown men fear me. Why aren’t you afraid? Why are you never afraid?” And I kind of loved that. That was their relationship.
Do you feel like you and John channeled your real-life chemistry into your characters’ marriage? Our relationship informed the characters just in the ways of longevity and familiarity and that they're so comfortable with each other. So that was the thing that we had, and the rest is completely being in character. They've been together since she was 17, so they really had a history together. I think that's why they were able to connect and still trust each other for so long.
You and John have also been together for a long time—27 years. Did that help you relate to the Gottis' relationship? Definitely. It takes a lot to keep a marriage together.
If there was ever a movie about you and John, is there a famous couple you'd want to portray you? Oh my gosh, I have never thought about that! It's so funny, because couples are not staying together these days, so I don't know. Obviously, they'd have to be a lot younger than us. Gosh, you'd have to find somebody who would be able to really portray John primarily, because he's so iconic. The couple has probably yet to be married.
Once you wrap up the press tour for Gotti, what are you working on next? I've always been a firm believer of clean living, whether it's food or household items or products I use on my skin. And I'm skin-care obsessive. For years, I've been doing research to try to find amazing products that work and that I love. So then I decided to make some myself. I can't reveal too much yet, but I’m really proud of the products. They're incredible, and everyone who's tried them so far claims they reverse the aging process—which, let's face it, that's what everyone wants! So I'm really excited to introduce them in a few months, because I've been working on this for years.
Gotti hits theaters today. Admission is free for MoviePass subscribers.