‘It’s a fun story’: Why Olivia Newton-John hit back at criticism against Grease

"There’s nothing deep in there!"
Loading the player...

It was the role of sweet Sandy Olsson that turned her into a global superstar, and Olivia Newton-John was not here for those who slammed the legendary musical Grease as “sexist”.

WATCH: Richard Wilkins breaks down remembering Olivia Newton-John

The 73-year-old, who died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer, staunchly defended her character’s sexy makeover in the years following the film’s release, saying that viewers shouldn’t take it “too seriously”.

While chatting with the hosts of British TV show Loose Women back in 2020, when asked whether she thought the 1978 hit film would be received the same way in the current day, Olivia admitted she didn’t really know but insisted it was simply a “fun story”, Mail Online reported.

Olivia Newton John Grease sexist
Olivia Newton John (pictured) previously responded to claims Grease is “sexist”, after her iconic character was criticised for undergoing a sexy transformation. (Credit: Getty)

“I know there were some criticisms about me wanting to change to be like him but they forget that he wanted to change to be what I wanted. It’s a movie and it’s a fun story and I have never taken that too seriously,” Olivia began.

For those who haven’t seen the film, Olivia’s good girl character Sandy ultimately undergoes a dramatic makeover to win over her rebellious beau.

But as the late Olivia had told the Loose Women panel, her character chose to have a makeover despite her beau Danny, played by John Travolta, insisting he’d ditch his bad boy persona.

Olivia Newton John Grease sexist
Olivia said her character Sandy (left) choose to have a makeover despite her beau Danny (right), played by John Travolta, insisting he’d ditch his bad boy persona. (Credit: Getty)

She then reflected on the success of the film, which still attracts fans more than 40 years after its original release, saying she couldn’t have imagined its longevity. 

“I mean, the stage show had been a huge success for a long time so there was a lot of talk about the movie and it was a very popular show,” Olivia said. 

“Nobody could have imagined the success the movie has enjoyed, especially all these years later – 41 years later and people are still talking about it! It’s pretty amazing, I’m pretty lucky.”  

Olivia Newton John Grease sexist
Olivia’s comments came after she recently brushed off sexist claims, while speaking to The Guardian about whether the movie musical is inappropriate in the wake of the #MeToo movement. (Credit: Getty)

Olivia’s comments came after she also brushed off sexist claims, while speaking to The Guardian about whether the movie musical is inappropriate in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“It’s a story from the 50s where things were different. Everyone forgets that, at the end, he changes for her, too. There’s nothing deep in there about the #MeToo movement,” Olivia told the British publication.

“It’s just a girl who loves a guy, and she thinks if she does that, he’ll like her,” she said, referring to her character ditching her “girl next door” image.

“And he thinks if he does that, she’ll like him. I think that’s pretty real. People do that for each other. It was a fun love story,” she added.

Olivia Newton John Grease sexist
Olivia continued to defend her character Sandy’s extreme makeover, while chatting with the hosts of British TV show Loose Women. (Credit: Getty)

Olivia’s husband, John Easterling, revealed the news of the singer’s death via social media on Tuesday August 9th, saying she had passed away “surrounded by family and friends” on her ranch in Southern California.

“Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time,” Olivia’s husband wrote.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer.

“Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.

“In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the @onjfoundation.”

Olivia and John remained freinds after starring in the film Grease. (Credit: Getty)

Amid the news, fellow Grease stars also paid tribute to Olivia, with casting director Joel Thurm revealing he was driving in his car when he heard the news.

“Marilu Henner (who played Marty in the original 1971 stage production of Grease) called me as I was two minutes from my house, I was driving. The only thing I could do was drive to the nearest friend’s house, sit down, drink and cry,” he explained to the Today show.

Thurm stayed at his friend’s house for some hours, until he finally felt okay to drive again. On his drive home, he saw Olivia Newton-John’s Hollywood walk of fame tribute and decided to stop.

Speaking to Today show interviewers, he proceeded to share a little-known story about Newton-John’s initial hesitancy in signing on to star in Grease.

“She was incredible. She was just as lovely on the inside as she was on the outside and what people don’t know, which is why you’re probably talking to me, is she initially was not interested in Grease,” he said.

“She had been embarrassed by a movie she had made earlier before she became a huge star here and didn’t want to repeat that experience.”

The movie Thurm was referring to was the 1970 flop Toomorrow, a film plagued by pre- and post-production issues that premiered to very tepid response and was ultimately shelved after just a week in theatres.

“Our film died a death and it was all a bit of a shambles. But it was a good experience,” Newton-John told NME in 1971.

WATCH: The Olivia Newton John original dance to Physical

Loading the player...

The experience led to an eight-year film hiatus for Newton-John, who remained hesitant during the casting process for Grease.

“So she asked for a screen test so that she could see herself and John and decide whether she wanted to do the movie or not,” Thurm explained.

“We did the (screen test) scene in the drive-in. The first couple of takes with John, the full screen test, didn’t work because they were reading the dialogue from the movie script. No laughter after three or four takes.

“Then I figured out what was wrong and I pulled out the script from the original musical. Same scene, different dialogue. I gave that to the director and to John and Olivia and the next take, the crew was laughing. Second take, the crew was laughing…

“After that, when she saw that tape, she was in. She did not jump up and down and take the initial offer. She was a very, very, very smart woman in addition to being a very talented one.”

Related stories