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Why John Travolta's Casting Is Perfect For Kevin Hart's Die Hart

This content was paid for by Quibi and created by Looper.

Die Hart, an original short-form series streaming exclusively on Quibi, is many things: a comedy, a drama, an action scenario, a show-within-a-show — all with a satirical seasoning on top. It's squeezed into less-than-ten-minute episodes, too, so it's efficient and trimmed of any fat. An actor doesn't need to simply be on their toes to play a role on Die Hart – they need to have a deft pirouette as they navigate literally minute to minute in a dense script. 

Leading the Die Hart charge is, of course, Kevin Hart — who plays a fictionalized version of himself who attends a boot camp in hopes of becoming a bonafide action star rather than staying relegated to being a comedic sidekick. The on-screen Hart is down on his luck, and thinks his fate his about to turn when he meets Ron Wilcox, acting coach extraordinaire for a laundry list of action stars. 

Just as Kevin Hart has to balance the comedy, action, and heart of the series with a clever deftness, the man who plays Ron Wilcox must bring a ton of nuance and confidence to the role. That man is John Travolta, who essentially serves as the axle upon which the entire Die Hart story turns (since Hart is merely subjected to it in increasingly strange and elaborate ways). It's a good thing, then, that Travolta's got the kind of diverse genre background the role demands, built over decades and shifting movie tastes. 

Here's why John Travolta's casting is ideal for a role like Ron Wilcox on Die Hart.

John Travolta has action chops

Since the '90s, Travolta has arguably been known first and foremost for action and/or thriller roles. We all love Pulp Fiction, right? Ditto for Face/Off and Broken Arrow. And even in the 2010s, Travolta has made a splash in actioners and thrillers like From Paris with LoveSavages, Killing Season, I Am Wrath, The Fanatic, and more. Even now, at 66 years old, Travolta can still serve up a quality set of punches and some pugilistic dodging. He proves that yet again throughout Die Hart's ten bite-sized episodes.

Additionally, some action icons are name-checked on Die Hart, and it's absolutely part of the satirical bit that Travolta as the fictional Wilcox is presented as having trained them all. Since Die Hart is a series not so much about making action movies as it is about the mythology we manufacture around the creation of action movies, there's no one better to embody the fictional man at the center of it all than Travolta — a guy who has more action credits to his name than we can count on four hands. 

Travolta's long and well-known resume further enhances the joke about that mythology. Of course, all the real-life people that Wilcox is said to have trained must be badasses with preternatural stoicism, honed into living weapons by some dojo master. The fictionalized version of Kevin Hart believes it on Die Hart, and because Travolta is the person playing Wilcox, the audience believes it too. Put any other actor in the role of Ron Wilcox — say, someone who doesn't have the same action experience as Travolta — and the believability (even amid all the humor) wouldn't have been the same. 

John Travolta also has comedic chops

On Die Hart, Kevin Hart wants to be an action star, but he takes tentative steps towards that goal through a series of sitcom-esque events. In a less entertaining story, Travolta could have merely been a straight man to Hart's over-the-top antics, serving as the shot of seriousness to counteract his scene partner's silliness. The magic of Die Hart is that Travolta's Wilcox uses wit and hilarious jabs to push Hart to his ultimate goal. 

One must have a knack for comedic timing in order to match Hart's physical comedy beat for beat, and Travolta isn't lacking in that background. The 1995 thriller-comedy Get Shorty and its 2005 sequel Be Cool are probably the most celebrated examples of Travolta's comedic chops (he played the intimidating-yet-affable loan shark Chili Palmer in both), but people of a certain age will recall the actor showing off his skills in comedy in Look Who's Talking and Welcome Back, Kotter. Those selections on their own cover a heck of a gamut: filthy and violent to romantic and wholesome. Like his experience in the action and thriller genres made Travolta perfect for Die Hart, so too does his work in comedy.

Travolta totally steals scenes as Wilcox flexes his skill and confidence on Hart at every turn, weaponizing silence or poignant stares. For example, while going over the rules of the bootcamp, Wilcox makes mention of "no gettin' it on" while staying on the premises. Hart, baffled, asks who else would possibly be here. Wilcox sits for a long melodramatic beat, staring off into the middle distance as if performing calculus, before answering there's no one else but him. Being a comedic foil means making the seams of jokes disappear and seem natural as breathing, and Travolta does that with ease on Die Hart

John Travolta literally does it all

The most critical element of Wilcox's personality on Die Hart is how multi-faceted it is. His character swaps between being cordial, humorous, cruel, and downright psychotic in rapid succession — sometimes across one continuous delivery of dialogue. Travolta presents such a complex characterization through an energetic, compelling performance that isn't so easily achieved; in his place, other actors might simply appear unbalanced or rushed. His skills in action and comedy — plus his decades-long career in general, of course — are critical to that success, but so is the most specific benefit Travolta holds as a camera actor over many others in Hollywood: his musical movie experience.

No, Travolta doesn't sing on Die Hart — but he famously did as Danny Zuko in Grease and as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. On the Quibi series, Travolta delivers the exact kind of boisterous performance and rapid-fire transitions you'd expect to see in a musical movie. This is something of a secret sauce of Die Hart: When you might have expected Wilcox to be something more like Jason Statham in Spy — exasperated, grumpy, but nonetheless charmed by his "trainee" — you get Travolta gesticulating wildly, being as big as humanly possible, and playfully mocking his co-star with a gleam in his eye like he's about to break into a lyrical monologue about what a doofus Kevin Hart is.

Everything stays light that way and helps to obfuscate just what Wilcox's true identity and motive is in hosting Hart at his special action star school. It's fun, punchy, and has just a taste of real threat in it you can't help but want more of. And, above all, there's just no one better than John Travolta to bring that to life. 

Die Hart is available to stream exclusively on Quibi right now.