Old News: Olivia Newton-John

In Old News, we highlight a piece from Interview‘s past that resonates with the present.

When the fanciful “hey gang, let’s open a roller disco!” musical Xanadu opened on August 8, 1980, critics were less than impressed. Roger Ebert criticized it for being “a mushy and limp musical fantasy, so insubstantial it keeps evaporating before our eyes;” the staff of Variety went even further, calling the trifle “truly a stupendously bad film.” Initially, audiences agreed—Xanadu barely broke even at the box office and has long been cited as a trainwreck of epic proportions. Yet with time, the film’s reputation has morphed. Lovers of its Electric Light Orchestra-filled soundtrack passionately defended the musical, gradually transforming it into a cult classic. In 2007, there was even a Broadway adaptation of the film that became a surprise smash, earning four Tony nominations and spawning a successful national tour.

This is all good news for Olivia Newton-John, who starred in Xanadu as inexplicably Australian muse-on-wheels Kira. Three years after its release, she also appeared on the cover of Interview‘s November issue. In a lenghty conversation with actor George Christy, she opened up about her then-boyfriend Matt Lattanzi (the couple married in 1984 and divorced in 1995), her relationship with Grease co-star John Travolta, and her plans to open up an Australian-themed shop called Koala Blue. (The shop eventually became a chain of stores, but was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1992.) Their discussion is reprinted below.

Although her childhood notion to become a veterinarian went by the wayside, Olivia Newton-John manages to indulge her passion for animals by maintaining what she calls her “zoo.” The spacious Malibu home that accommodates this “zoo” is a result of her phenomenal success as a recording artist. A string of hits from “If Not For You” to “Let Me Be There” established her as an angelic country-pop sweetheart. Then she flashed a new image when she donned a second skin of black leather and spiked heels to lure John Travolta with the come-hither-right-now “You’re the One That I Want,” in Grease, her movie debut. After playing a romantic enchantress in Xanadu, Newton-John flexed her muscle with the sweatsuit eroticism of “Totally Hot,” “(Let’s Get) Physical” and “Heart Attack.” Her screen reunion with Travolta, Two of a Kind, due out next month, will attempt to draw the throngs that made their first pairing the most successful movie musical in history. She took time out from recording the soundtrack to sit and chat over lunch in Malibu.

GEORGE CHRISTY: You were recording last night?

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: Yes, until about seven o’clock this morning—mixing, which takes a long time. I’m recording songs for the soundtrack.

CHRISTY: What’s Two of a Kind about?

NEWTON-JOHN: Have you got a long time? It’s very complicated to explain.