The “Physical” singer requested a screen test with Travolta before officially boarding the iconic 1978 musical movie.
“Grease” casting director Joel Thurm revealed that Travolta suggested Newton-John play Sandy, the happy-go-lucky new girl who had a summer fling with Travolta’s Danny Zucko.
“John was already pre-set, and John asked me, ‘What do you think of Olivia?’ I said, ‘She’s wonderful.’ He said, ‘What do you think of her for Sandy? That’s a great idea,’” Thurm told People. “And once John said that, and that’s who John wanted, I stopped anything else.”
Thurm noted that he had “nobody” as a “backup” if Newton-John declined the role.
“If she said no, I’d be playing the part in a poodle skirt,” Thurm quipped. “So everybody wanted Olivia here, but Olivia didn’t jump at the offer. That’s the important thing to know.”
Thurm shared that Newton-John, who died at age 73 after a years-long battle with breast cancer, was “very embarrassed” about starting her movie career.
“She said, ‘OK, I want to see a screen test with John and myself and then I’ll let you know if I want to do it,’” Thurm remembered. “I think I’ve never heard of a case where an actor being offered a role said, ‘I want to see me before I say yes.’ But that’s how smart she was.”
And while Travolta’s chemistry with Newton-John was “there from the get-go,” the first three takes of the drive-in scene didn’t garner any laughs from crew members. It wasn’t until the musical script was used by director Randal Kleiser instead of the screenplay that the sequence popped.
“She felt very, very comfortable with [Travolta] and that was it,” Thurm mused. “You look at the screen and you see it. He had great respect for her as an artist. And she had the same for him. There was never anything untoward or romantic or stuff like that, but there was a great deal of mutual respect and friendship that lasted forever. They definitely had a spark.”
Thurm concluded, “She was just a wonderful, wonderful person. It was an incredible movie experience for everybody.”
Newton-John’s “Grease” co-star Travolta penned a tribute to the late singer-actress via Instagram following her passing on August 8.
“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” Travolta wrote. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”