Seven Questions for Olivia Newton-John

The pop icon on her new Las Vegas residency, Miley Cyrus’ career prospects, dodging 'Grease 2' and her initial fear of getting ‘Physical’

Photo by Denise Truscello

Photo by Denise Truscello

What will we see when your new resident show, Summer Nights, opens April 8 at the Flamingo?

You’ll be going through my life, through my movies, Xanadu and Grease, and through my country period, the hit songs, “[Have You Never Been] Mellow” and … gee, I’m trying to remember my songs. “I [Honestly] Love You” and “Sam” and a couple of my new songs. It’s going to fly by.

I haven’t worked in a year, so being in one place is very appealing now, not being in a bus and packing and unpacking, which is one of my headaches. My husband and my dog will be with me, and my daughter [singer/actress Chloe Rose Lattanzi] might try to come, which will be great.

Of all the hit records you’ve had, which was the unlikeliest, the one you thought wouldn’t catch on?

My first song, “If Not for You” [1971]. I like it now and it’s my husband’s favorite song, but when I first recorded it, I didn’t like it. I was really young at the time. I liked the big ballads, which really weren’t my thing, but I thought they were. But my manager thought [“If Not for You”] was more my style, and I guess he was right. I’m very grateful that was my first hit.

Did you ever feel as if your wholesome image was a drawback?

I wasn’t trying to be anything; I was just trying to be myself. You can’t create an image; you are who you are. That’s who I was then, but there’s always a little bit of everything in everyone. I was quite naïve when I was young. The songs and the clothes I chose were particularly wholesome at the time. But Grease gave me the opportunity to spread out a bit, get a little crazier, and that was wonderful. And from there I was able to do [the 1978 album] Totally Hot and then “Physical,” and it opened up a whole other world for me.

Does all the fuss over the suggestiveness of “Physical” in 1981 seem ridiculous now in the era of Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga?

Oh, my goodness! It’s so tame [compared to] now. It’s funny when I look back at it. The song was great and my manager at the time, he gave it to me and I knew it was either going to be an enormous hit or a total disaster. There was no in-between. I recorded the song, and I suddenly panicked and went, “Oh, this is way too risqué for me, what am I doing?” And I called my manager and said, “We’ve got to pull it, it’s too much.” But by then it had gone on the radio and become No. 1.

Often the things I’ve been most nervous about in my life have done really well for me. Grease was the same.

Speaking of which, in the history of sequels, Grease 2 is one of the most infamous bombs. Did you ever consider doing it?

They did approach us. John [Travolta] and I were talking about that one day. But something went wrong with negotiations and they ended up using different people, and they switched it around. I think Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield did it. I don’t know, if the music had been great it might have stood a chance, but the music wasn’t great.

You’ve sustained a successful career for decades. Do you think today’s female pop stars can do likewise in a very different atmosphere from when you rose to stardom?

I started out in Australia, small television shows and local stuff, but I worked really hard. I started off as a big fish in a small pond, and then I won a talent contest and I went to England and was working all the clubs, so I had a lot of hard slogs first. But I enjoyed every minute of it, and I always had my feet on the ground.

There are many, many more artists now and more ways of seeing them, with social media and TV talent shows. It was always competitive, but it never felt like it does now. These girls and boys have no privacy. They need to grow and learn their craft, and they have to do it all in public now, which is very difficult. Miley has a terrific voice, and she has the possibility of having a long career. It’s up to her, really.

It’s been 36 years since you played Sandy in Grease, and I’ll ask this on behalf of men everywhere who are still smitten: In real life, are you more like the innocent Sandy at the beginning of the movie, or the not-so-innocent Sandy at the end?

You’ll never know … hahahaha!

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Kacy Qua has a problem With “The SYSTEM.” Most systems, really. She’s long been that way: Qua, now 33, got fed up with her daily school schedule in the eighth grade and finished high school through correspondence.



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