The story behind Olivia Newton-John’s audition for ‘Grease’

Remarkably, Olivia Newton-John was initially hesitant to accept a role in Grease. However, there was no other actor on than planet that director Randal Kleiser wanted for Sandy, and John Travolta was also convinced she was destined to be the co-lead.

Before Grease, Newton-John was firmly focused on her career as a recording artist, and she had no ambitions to swap the studio for the screen. She was flying as a country artist, and her 1975 record, Have You Never Been Mellow, even topped the Billboard 200. Besides, a few years earlier, Newton-John had starred in Toomorrow, almost putting her off acting permanently.

In 1971, she admitted to NME: “Our film died a death, and it was all a bit of a shambles”. Newton-John felt that was a sign she should focus on music, and at 28, she believed it was unrealistic for her to be cast as a high-schooler, but, eventually, she was convinced to accept the role.

Initial talks began when Newton-John randomly bumped into producer Allen Carr at a party, but she was very sceptical. Director, Randal Kleiser, told ABC: “She wanted to have a screen test because she didn’t know if she wanted to do a movie. She did the screen test and she loved it.”

He continued: “And she loved working with John and I – and the rest is history. Olivia is exactly the way she appears on screen. She’s loveable, beautiful, friendly. I can’t go on and on more about her.”

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Newton-John confirmed her reservation about playing Sandy and explained: “I was very anxious about making another film, because my music career was going well. And I did not want to mess it up by doing another movie that wasn’t good.”

It would have been a safe move for Newton-John to reject the role because if it flopped, it would have had a detrimental impact on her career as a pop star, and she was right to be initially hesitant. After doing her due diligence, Newton-John was eventually persuaded to play Sandy, but she didn’t know how significantly her career would change overnight.

Rather than negatively affecting her career, it made Newton-John a bigger star than she’d ever have envisaged in her wildest dreams, and her life has never been the same. Not only did the soundtrack for Grease spend 12 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the charts, but she also noticed a spike in her solo work after the release as she evolved into superstardom.

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