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The Grease Cast Passed on These Actors for the Lead Roles

Grease was less of a movie and more of a phenomenon when it came out. The 1978 musical rom-com stole hearts from day one, with men falling for the doe-eyed Olivia Newton-John and women dreaming of the dimple-chinned leather-clad John Travolta. Grease is an unconventional hit – it is predictable enough with the good girl-bad boy romance but unpredictable when it comes to the on-screen chemistry between all the characters, the fabulous music, and the transition from the good to the naughty.

The film’s huge success was unexpected but no random stroke of luck, because in many ways, Grease was the perfect balance of over the top and understated. In the end, the movie was a 50s song and dance with some classic high school romance and drama. One of the key elements that certainly contributed to Grease’s success was the perfect casting; in hindsight, we can’t imagine anyone but Travolta as Danny and Newton-John as Sandy. But the truth is, none of them were the first choices for the producers.

Let’s go over which actors were the first choices for producers – those who unfortunately didn’t end up in one of the highest-grossing musical films ever.

First Preferences In The Grease Cast

Travolta was not the first choice for the role of Danny. According to Vanity Fair, production house Paramount wanted to cast Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on ABC’s Happy Days. But Winkler isn’t keen on the role for fear of being typecast. Co-producer Robert Stigwood had a three-movie contract with Travolta, which made him the second choice since he fit the bill. Things are set up so Travolta will finish Stigwood’s Saturday Night Fever first, and then start shooting Grease.

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It was even more difficult to find the right actor to portray the role of Sandy. Director Kleiser initially considered none other than Princess Leia from Star Wars; yes, Carrie Fisher. He reviewed a few dailies from the then under-production Star Wars, but he couldn’t tell how much of an actor or singer Fisher was. The next choices for the role included Susan Dey, Deborah Raffin, and Marie Osmond. Osmond was almost a match, but she didn’t consent to Sandy’s transformation in the end and dropped out.

The Grease: Olivia Newton-John

That’s when Travolta told producers Olivia Newton-John is the only person who should play this role, and that she was “every guy’s dream.” Keiser didn’t agree but Carr zeroed in on her only to hit another bump – Newton-John was apprehensive about the role. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be a part of a movie since the previous one flopped and her music career was panning out well. Moreover, Newton-John, who was 29 at the time, felt she was too old to assay the role of a high school student.

Travolta refused to relent though. He convinced Newton-John to give it a shot, and she agreed to a screen test to check the on-screen chemistry between them and confirm she wasn’t looking too old compared to Travolta. The script alters so that Sandy Dumbrowski becomes Sandy Olsson since Newton-John couldn’t pull off an American accent. The screen test was fabulous – the chemistry between the two was great and cinematographer Bill Butler managed to make the age gap between them disappear with the help of soft lenses.

The Role Of Rizzo

Stockard Channing was also not the first choice for the role of Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies. The role was first offered to Lucie Arnaz, who couldn’t get on board in time and chose to be a part of Bye, Bye Birdie at Milwaukee’s Melody Top Theater instead of Grease. Stockard Channing was the next choice, but there was only one problem – she was 33, almost too old to convincingly portray a high schooler. Kleiser had a �crow-feet’ test for all cast members, wherein he checked all of the actors for wrinkles around their eyes. Clearly, Channing passed since she made a hell of a Rizzo.

These were the most prominent casting preferences that could have changed the way Grease turned out. Fans and critics have often gushed about the great chemistry between the characters on screen. The actors developed a strong bond during the shoot, so much so they even wanted to make a sequel. Of course, producers didn’t go ahead with the idea since they obviously had no clue what a massive hit Grease was going to be at the box office. Continue watching to know some lesser-known facts about how the cast bonded on set and offset.

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Shooting in California Heat Was a Challenge

The Movie Shoots In California With The Grease Cast

While Grease, the stageplay, sets in Chicago, the movie shoots in California for its sunnier backdrop. But of course, the sunnier backdrop also made it that much hotter. Often on shots, the cast struggled with the sweltering heat, such as when they were filming the finale �We Go Together.’ The set was a high school football field and offered not the slightest shade. Naturally, people were passing out from dehydration and heat exhaustion after a point.

The shooting of the high school dance was no better. This time the set was a high school gym, which became unbearably hot in the afternoons. What’s worse, they couldn’t crack open the windows for air since the smell from a nearby pork processing plant made it almost impossible to breathe. In an interview with the Los Angeles Magazine, Keiser recalls the cast would lay down on the gym floor to catch a break from the heat.

On another day, Pearl, Tucci, Conaway, and Ward decided to go sailing during the day, since they had free time and needed to be back only in the evening for a shoot. While they had enough time, they missed the evening shoot and made it to night one. Why? The wind stops and their sailboat was stranded. What’s shocking is how they managed to come back. The captain did a �wind summoning’ dance, and lo and behold, the wind did return!

A Musical Where the Music Was Changing

All of the songs from the stage show didn’t make it into the movie. In fact, there was a lot of back and forth on which songs would make the final cut. Some of the most loved tracks from the film were hanging in the balance at the time of production. For instance, Newton-John’s lament �Hopelessly Devoted to You wasn’t a part of the film until the shooting ended. Even duet � You’re the One I Want at the end of the carnival scene was not a part of the original plan. It is so last minute, the choreography is done then and there and the cast members other than Travolta and Newton-John lip-synced their lines.

Rizzo’s solo There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ almost didn’t happen either. Carr wanted to take it out since he felt it was too much of a downer,’ but Channing, who plays Rizzo, convinced him the song gave depth to Rizzo’s character and was essential to the plot.

One of the songs from Grease the stage show that did make it into the film is Greased Lightnin. However, in the stage show, it’s Kenickie leading the song, not Danny. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Travolta acknowledged the change was because of him; he wanted the song and since he has enough influence to make it happen, he did. At one point, it seemed none of this would matter since the producers were thinking of roping in the Beach Boys for the track.

Emotions Ran High on the 15-Week Shoot

A lot of good things can say about the on-screen chemistry for almost all the actors on screen in Grease. Some actors maintain the chemistry was a direct result of their bonding on set, and as the shooting progressed, everyone got closer. In the 15-week shoot, there were a lot of ups and downs, and some had their emotional baggage. For instance, Travolta’s then-girlfriend Diana Hyland passed away only in March 1977 of breast cancer. The 41-year-old actor had died in his arms, and of course, Travolta was grieving. It was only ten days after Hyland’s death that he was on set shooting for Grease. Travolta often called Kleiser for support when the going went tough.

On the other hand, there was love in the air too. Jeff Conaway, who plays Danny’s best friend Kenickie Murdoch, fell in love with Netwon-John’s elder sister, Rona. They met at one of Carr’s parties during Grease’s filming, and there was an instant connection. They move in together a year later and hitch in 1980.

On-Screen Transition With The Grease Cast

For Olivia, on the other hand, the on-screen transition from good girl to temptress was as challenging as it was liberating. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the actor said she felt it made her open to trying new things. Fun fact, the iconic skin-tight black satin pants Olivia donned for the last scene were actually from the 50s. The zipper had not survived the last two decades, and as a result, Olivia had to be sewn into the pants for the shot, and the stitches had to be opened when she needed a bathroom break. Interestingly, the actor still has those pants; she plans to auction them for charity someday.

Overall, everyone had a great time together. The group became such a tight unit, they were all game for a sequel.

Unfortunately, producers didn’t put too much stock into the idea since they had no clue Grease was going to go on to become an American classic. Even though Grease 2 did work out eventually, it was with a different cast for the most part, and it didn’t weave the same magic.

The Grease

When the shoot for Grease was at an end, the cast had one final ball together, the wrap party. Cann says Channing got special brownies’ for everyone and it was a laugh fest. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he even said his memories of the night were foggy, but he does remember a lot of dancing and lying on the floor laughing.The GRease

Grease is an evergreen classic. Sure, as time passes, the 50s costumes and hairdos seem more outlandish (not to mention the skin-tight vests!), but the movie remains just as fun, light-hearted, and entertaining as ever. It’s been almost 42 years since Grease hit the box office, but John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John appear charming as ever on-screen, just waiting to steal young hearts. If you haven’t watched this musical rom-com, grab some popcorn and get cracking – we’re sure you’ll enjoy this one.

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