Olivia Newton-John ‘Didn’t Jump’ At Starring In ‘Grease’ Until She Saw A Screen Test: ‘That’s How Smart She Was’

Following the passing of actor and singer Olivia Newton-John, the tributes have been pouring as Hollywood remembers the iconic stage and screen star. Obviously, Newton-John is most known for her breakout role as Sandy in the 1978 film adaptation of Grease. Landing the part was huge for the Australian-born actress’s career, but according to a new interview with Grease casting director Joel Thurm, Newton-John was actually very cautious about signing onto the musical.

While praising Newton-John’s savviness, Thurm admitted the production would’ve been a tight spot if she turned it down because she was the only actress John Travolta wanted and the only one the production pursued. “If she said no, I’d be playing the part in a poodle skirt,” Thurm joked to PEOPLE. “So everybody wanted Olivia here, but Olivia didn’t jump at the offer. That’s the important thing to know.”

According to Thurm, Newton-John wanted to make sure she had chemistry with Travolta, which was something the veteran casting director had never seen before:

“She said, ‘Okay, I want to see a screen test with John and myself and then I’ll let you know if I want to do it,’ ” he recalls.

Thurm confesses this was a first for him, telling PEOPLE, “I think I’ve never heard of a case where an actor being offered a role said, ‘I want to see me before I say yes.’ But that’s how smart she was.”

After a few wobbly takes of the drive-in scene, Newton-John and Travolta found their groove after using the original script from the musical instead of the screenplay, and the rest is cinematic history.

“You look at the screen and you see it,” Thurm said. “He had great respect for her as an artist. And she had the same for him. There was never anything untoward or romantic or stuff like that, but there was a great deal of mutual respect and friendship that lasted forever. They definitely had a spark.”