Love On The Set Of 'Lonely Hearts'

From left, Detective Charles Hildebrandt (James Gandolfini) and Elmer C. Robinson (John Travolta) in a scene from director Todd Robinson's "Lonely Hearts."
Millennium Films
It's 1949 and there are plenty of single women who fear impending spinsterhood. These women are easy pickings for con artist Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto), who finds his marks through Lonely Hearts clubs and magazines — the post-World War II version of

Ray meets his match in Martha Beck (Salma Hayek), a beautiful but troubled woman who sees right through Raymond's con but falls for him anyway. Ray helps Martha connect with her inner psychopath, and together they embark on a bloody crime spree that ranged from the New York City suburbs of Long Island to Grand Rapids, Mich.

The couple's story of love, obsession, murder and sex is the subject of documentary filmmaker Todd Robinson's first feature film, "Lonely Hearts." The movie also stars John Travolta and James Gandolfini as the detectives who crack the case.

The saga of Ray and Martha has been on the big screen before. Leonard Kastle directed the 1970 film "Honeymoon Killers," which starred Tony LoBianco as Raymond and the large-size character actress Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck. Also, noted Mexican director Arturo Ripstein based his 1997 film "Deep Crimson" on Fernandez and Beck, with a nod to Kastle in the credits.

But this year's "Lonely Hearts," which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday night, has a special twist: Todd Robinson is the real-life grandson of Travolta's character, Elmer C. Robinson.

At a news conference the day before the premiere, the director explained how he got involved in the project.

"The way the project evolved was a friend of mine who was a producer sent me a book called 'The Encyclopedia of Crime' to look over some stories that might be fitting for a movie." Robinson said. "As I was going through it, I came across the story of the Lonely Hearts killers. ... and what is interesting I suppose on a personal level about this is that my grandfather was one of the arresting officers in that case."

Gandolfini, who plays Robinson's partner, Det. Charles Hildebrandt, said he was excited when he heard that the director was Robinson's grandson.

"I thought 'If this isn't a man who's going to be passionate about a film, I don't know [who's] gonna be,'" he said. "Also when I heard John was involved, that pretty much sealed it — and also, on top of that, for once I'm not the guy who's losing his temper all the time."

Gandolfini, who's best known for his Emmy-winning role as mobster Tony Soprano in the HBO series "The Sopranos," doesn't think there's any difference between playing a cop and a crook. "There's no difference. No. They're the same type of guy."

Travolta and Gandolfini worked together for the first time in 1995's "Get Shorty," but their connection goes back to their early years in New Jersey.

"Jim's dad used to buy tires from my dad in New Jersey at the Travolta Tire Exchange," Travolta said. "When James would come to the store, I guess he would see a picture of me from 'Saturday Night Fever' and decided that if I could do well at it maybe he could too. Therefore there's a history, and then we met and it was love at first sight. I thought the script was intriguing in a captivating way, and it says a lot about what people do for psychotic love, not real love.

"Not that I've ever experienced that before," he added with a laugh.

At that point, Gandolfini grabbed Travolta and joked, "That's definitely psychotic love, the two of us. The two of us together? Forget it!"