'John Travolta convinced me to play Sandy.' 10 questions with Olivia Newton-John.

The world is currently mourning the death of Australian actress and singer Dame Olivia Newton-John.

The 73-year-old died "peacefully" at her ranch in Southern California, surrounded by family and friends, her husband, John Easterling, has confirmed. 

"Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer," Easterling wrote on social media.

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

Before her death, Mia Freedman sat down with the actress on Mamamia's No Filter podcast in 2018 to talk about the incredible highs and lows in her life, from Grease to her cancer diagnosis. 

In memory of the Aussie icon, we take a look back at some of the biggest moments from the interview. 

1. What was your first day like on the set of Grease

ONJ: "On the first day on the set of Grease, [producer] Allan Carr gave us a sock hop [a social dance]. He wanted us to get to know each other, so we played a lot of music and we danced... It was really clever idea because it got us into the idea of being a lot younger than we were and forming a family. 

"He used a lot of that to get us energised, he would have little parties at his house and invite us and he kept us all very excited, which showed in the energy of the film."

2. How did the director convince you to be in the film?

MF: "You didn't want to be in the film, you said no. John Travolta said he was cast, and they were looking for Sandy and he said, the only one he wanted was you."


ONJ: "That's what he said." 

MF: "How did he convince you? How did the director convince you?"

ONJ: "Well, first of all, I had dinner with Allan Carr at Helen Reddy's house and that's really how the whole conversation began... I'd made a movie in England in the 60s called Tomorrow, which was a musical... and it wasn't a big success... So I was very nervous about making another movie, and particularly a musical, because my music career was taking off so I had to be convinced because I didn't want to make another mistake.

"So they talked to me and I was going, 'Oh, I'm not sure.' So they sent John [Travolta] to my house and that beautiful man came walking up the driveway with those bright blue eyes and said 'You're my choice.' And he was very gentle and very calm, and we just spent the day together and hung around with the animals. And then I said, 'Well, you know what, I'm a bit nervous about playing [a] 17 [year old].' I was all of 29. And when I look back now, I don't know what I was worried about... And I said, 'I think maybe if we do a screen test, and I can see that this can work, then maybe I consider it.' So they put together a screen test and that's really how it all fell into place."

3. Why did they decide to make Sandy Australian? 

ONJ: "I was coming up with all the excuses in the world why I couldn't play [Sandy] and one of them was, I can't do an American accent. So they called me back and said, 'Okay, we'll make you an Aussie.' And I think that worked really well for the part.

"I was probably one of the first people to have an Australian accent... I would think."


4. Why didn't you and John Travolta date?

MF: "Everyone wanted you and John Travolta to date, but you never did."

ONJ: "No."

MF: "Why did you never? I'm still shipping you 40 years later."

ONJ: "We were both with other people when we were filming and I think respectfully, it just didn't happen. I think it was good because it kept the tension there and the chemistry. It might have been a disaster had we decided to date or we had falling out or something. So I think it was just as well, that didn't happen, but we're still great friends."

Listen to Olivia Newton-John's full interview with Mia Freedman on the No Filter podcast. Post continues below. 

5. How did you meet your first husband Matt Lattanzi?

MF: "You met your first husband, Matt Lattanzi, on set. He was a younger man... he was 20. Was that a big deal back then?"

ONJ: "I think it probably was more of a big deal than that it is now. We kept it quiet until the movie was done because we wanted privacy. I'm always trying to have my privacy. But he was a breath of fresh air. He was just very sweet and he wasn't showbiz, and he wasn't Hollywood. We'd go camping and fishing and walking and it was just about the outdoors and natural life and a big family.

"We had fun together and a beautiful child [Chloe] which was the gift from that relationship."

6. You've shared you've suffered a number of miscarriages. How did you get through that period of your life?

ONJ: "I got pregnant pretty soon after we got married because time was racing ahead and I was 37 when I had Chloe. I lost a few after her. And, you know, it's like anything you grieve, it's a loss, it's a death. Many women go through it and I think nature has a purpose for it. Usually there's something wrong and nature knows and I think if you can come to terms with that... you just have to be grateful really."


7. What was that actual day like when you discovered a lump on your breast?

ONJ: "I just remember that I found a lump, it didn't feel right. It was a little tender... It was probably a little bigger than a pea.

"I found it and went to the doctor and he sent me down for a mammogram - which didn't show anything - and then a needle biopsy - which didn't show anything... [But] I just knew there was something wrong. I didn't feel right and you have to trust that.... You have an instinct about your body and you need to listen to it.

MF: "So you asked for more tests?" 

ONJ: "Yep, so I did a surgical biopsy that day. And then I had to leave, because my father was dying, and I had to leave to go see him and I still had just had the surgery [but] didn't tell him. So it was all these things falling on top of each other."

8. How did you get through your father's death and being diagnosed with breast cancer in the same year? 

MF: "There are a few years in your I think mid-40s that were just one blow after another and you write about them really movingly in the book. Colette [her goddaughter] got cancer... and she ended up not surviving, and your father passed away, and you discovered you had breast cancer? How did you get through those years?"

ONJ: "I think when you're faced with those things, most people pull their socks up and you have to, I had a young child and I had much to live for... But I think nobody escapes without something in their life, just for me, it all happened [at once]... That also seems to happen a lot that things come in threes... and you just plod on.


"I've always been a pretty positive person... and I think it was for a reason. Had I not gone through that experience, I probably never would have gotten involved in a Cancer Wellness Centre like I did, because it wouldn't have had the same meaning to me. So it gave me a purpose."

9. Why did you announce your cancer publicly?

ONJ: "The reason I announced it publicly is because one of those National Enquirer type of magazines had got wind of it. I think someone at the imaging place had contacted them and they were going to write a story that I was dying.... So I decided to do an article and talk about it because I didn't want my family reading about it before I'd had a chance to tell them what was going on. So we did decide to just make a clean breast of it, excuse the pun, and discuss it and tell them what was going on so that there'd be no secrets.

"I hadn't planned on it, but I'm actually grateful it happened because it gave me an opportunity to talk about something that was a little taboo. To think about going on television and talking about my breasts and lumps, in the beginning, it was really awkward. Time has gone on now and now it's quite normal... But at the time, I was one of the first."

10. How are you treating your cancer? 

"I feel good, and I'm doing a lot of natural therapies. I went to a wonderful place in Mexico called 'Hope4Cancer' that does all-natural therapies, and I spent three weeks there, learning them and doing them and making my immune system strong."

Read more: Generosity. Warmth. Openness: Why the loss of Olivia Newton-John has hit us so hard.

Feature Image: Getty.