Travolta agreed to meet for dinner—for a price, which was a deposit of close to a million dollars. That dinner was followed by another, to meet Junior, at Amici, a favorite Travolta restaurant in Brentwood—Travolta took the precaution of closing the restaurant for the evening. Outside, paparazzi tried to break down the door. Inside, a dozen people crowded around a long table, looking on as Travolta interrogated Gotti about his father’s habits. “What would he have ordered for dinner?” he asked.
The two bonded over a tragedy. “You want to know what conversation really got me to seriously like John Travolta?” Gotti said. “He asked me a question: How did your mom and dad deal with the death of your brother?” In 1980, Frank Gotti, then 12 years old, was broadsided by a neighbor after darting into the street on a motorbike. “I told him that for twenty years, she was really almost immobilized. And still, to this day, she has good and bad days.”
Travolta had lost a son—Jett Travolta died in 2009 after a seizure. “Travolta looked at me, and he got all teary-eyed and cried. And he said, ‘You know, I must have watched Barney 5,000 times with my son. I’d give my life to watch it 5,001 times.’ ”
“It got a little emotional for the both of us,” Gotti told me, “and I saw the heart in this man, and I said, ‘You know what? He’s the right guy for this movie.’ ”
Travolta signed—for a reported $10 million.
As luck would have it, Victoria Gotti, Junior’s sister, who’d been the first to monetize the Gotti name with her own reality show, Growing Up Gotti, happened to be friends with another star in need of a break—fellow Long Islander Lindsay Lohan. And Lohan, after the DUIs and jewelry arrests and even a stint in jail, was eager for a role in the movie. Victoria called Fiore on Lohan’s behalf: “Is there anything you can do?” she asked.
“I’d love to have Lindsay in my movie,” he said. Sold!
The final piece of the puzzle was a director. Most agents wouldn’t take Fiore’s calls, but luckily Rossi happened to know someone who knew the brother of Nick Cassavetes. Cassavetes was a Hollywood name brand, having directed Alpha Dog, John Q, My Sister’s Keeper. But to Fiore, those were mere details. What made him happy, he told me, was that Cassavetes “was a real director, with a real agency behind him”—ICM. “Having Cassavetes was a real step for us.”
Travolta quickly slipped into his new role, making the rounds of the Gotti clan, doing research and paying respect. He visited Gotti’s mother at the modest Howard Beach house with the trim lawn and white clapboard siding, its backyard abutting the neighbor who’d accidentally killed her son. (John’s mother Victoria, as tough as her husband, had attacked the driver with a baseball bat and landed him in the hospital. A few months later, he disappeared. (“Did my father kill him?” Gotti said. “Yeah, probably.”)
Mrs. Gotti put out a hearty Italian spread of mozzarella and meats and then led the star up the stairs to her husband’s closet. She’d preserved his clothes just as he’d left them—the $2,000 Armani suits and hand-painted ties, along with dozens of Bruno Magli shoes. In return for this privileged glimpse, Travolta shared movie-star anecdotes, like the time he met Sophia Loren. It was all one big happy Hollywood-Mafia family.
Until it wasn’t. Hollywood guys like to think of themselves as tough guys, too. And Cassavetes, a scion to Hollywood royalty (he’s the son of Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes), is more macho than most, with tattoos on his knuckles and a taste for high-stakes poker. In classic Hollywood fashion, he said the Rossi script was “brilliant,” while working on his own script. In Cassavetes’s version, John Gotti wore a cowboy hat and whacked people with baseball bats. “Jason [in Friday the 13th] meets GoodFellas,” Gotti explained. “Maybe it would put asses in the seats. But was it something we could live with?”
Fiore’s hands were tied—he couldn’t defy Junior. “We don’t have a choice,” he told Cassavetes. “We have to make his movie.” Cassavetes quit.
Fiore, by this time, however, had a few more Hollywood friends. He reached out to Cassavetes’s agent, Jeff Berg, the 65-year-old then–chairman and CEO of ICM who, like everyone else in town, jumped on the phone with him. They were the oddest of couples, the oafish outsider and the consummate insider. But they had one thing in common—they wanted this movie made. Berg’s agency was drifting, its movie side in particular. A star-driven hit put together by ICM could be a boost Berg needed. And besides, this movie came financed. Fiore claimed to have a fortune at his disposal, some $250 million from unnamed Middle Eastern investors, in addition to the development money from Devlin.