In 1978, Grease was the word. Produced by Allan Carr and starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, it was the top-grossing musical of the 20th century. Fans were eager for a sequel, but for Grease 2, released in 1982, (greased) lightnin’ did not strike twice. The fans, it seemed, were hopelessly devoted to the original, and the film tanked with critics and at the box office.

But that was then. Google Grease 2 right now and you will find articles with titles such as “Why Grease 2 is an Underrated Cult Classic,” “The Grease 2 Cult Following Explained” and “The Flop that Became a Surprise Hit.”

Especially tickled by Grease 2’s re-evaulation is Maxwell Caulfield, the prolific character actor who stars as Rydell High’s new exchange student Michael (the cousin of Newton-John’s iconic character, Sandy, in the original film). He becomes in thrall to Pink Lady girl gang leader Stephanie (a pre-A-list Michelle Pfeiffer), and takes on a second identity as a styling, motorcycling “cool rider” to win her heart.

Grease 2 is an exciting mix of old and new Hollywood. Along with such legends as Sid Caesar, Eve Arden, Connie Stevens and Tab Hunter is a young cast of Most Likely to Succeed candidates: Adrian Zmed (“T.J. Hooker”), Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Christopher MacDonald (Happy Gilmore) as members of the T-Bird gang, and Lorna Luft, daughter of Judy Garland and Sidney Luft).

Grease 2, a Paramount Home Entertainment release, is available from Redbox to rent or buy on demand. Caulfield spoke with Redbox on the occasion of the film’s 40th anniversary. He is endearingly candid and self-deprecating about being associated with a film that was not fully appreciated upon its release. Here is how he learned to stop worrying and love Grease 2.

Redbox: Conventional wisdom on Grease 2 is that it was this big flop. But I went back and found that the film did get some very good reviews from major newspapers like The Washington Post. In Chicago, Dave Kehr called it light years ahead of the original. What do you think is the secret to the film’s cult status?
Maxwell Caulfield: Over time, it found its rightful teenage audience. Where we got lucky with the film is it coincided with the rise of cable TV.  I think it was HBO that would air it continuously. A lot of slumber parties were built around watching Grease 2, and kid sisters, especially, would sneak in and watch it with their older siblings, and they just loved it. There is almost a sweetness to it, which is something young people appreciate.

RB: I saw Michelle Pfeiffer on a talk show, and when she was asked which of her movies she is most asked about, she replied Scarface, Batman Returns and Grease 2. When did you first begin to realize that Grease 2 had developed a cult following?
Maxwell Caulfield: Michelle was quite slow to acknowledge the cult following. I don’t think she was ashamed of the film, but she has multiple Academy Award nominations. I think she wanted to be seen as a heavyweight actress, and she’s gone on to prove it. My god, I remember doing the press for Grease 2 originally, and I described her beauty as feline in nature, and there she was playing Catwoman a few years later.

RB: But enough about Michelle. What about you? When did you suddenly realize, “People are asking me about Grease 2?
MC: For me, it’s a different story. I didn’t have that same trajectory in terms of getting to play in the big leagues. For me, ironically, I was always backpedaling from the film because I had the attitude, ‘This can’t be the only thing I’m known for. I gotta hit an RBI on something else.’

RB: Well, you certainly hit it out of the park on the recent Hulu miniseries Pam & Tommy as [Penthouse publisher] Bob Guccione.
MC: Thank you. I wish they’d given him a little more screen time, because he’s a fascinating character [whose intention to publish photos from the infamous sex tape] is the reason the whole miniseries was taking place. But at the end of the day, one is very proud to be in a film that’s still being talked about 40 years later. The T-Birds are still great pals of mine, so they did cast it right.

RB: It’s a great cast of future stars. You have a memorable scene with a young Pamela Segall (who as Pamela Adlon would go on to create Better Things) Who made the biggest impression on you?
MC: I’ve used the use word in relation to Michelle before, but she was luminous. There was no question about what lay before her. Allen Carr was the head cheerleader on this movie. He was convinced that we were going to be the new Elvis and Ann-Margret. I certainly ate that up with a spoon, I can tell you.

RB: Did you get any quality time with any of the screen legends? 
MC: Hollywood greatness, all of them. We were all thrilled to be in the film with them. I didn’t get to hang with crazy Sid Caesar, but I made up for it with Connie over time. Tab Hunter interviewed me for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. The one in the cast who I think got short shrift was Adrien Zmed. I know he went on to do T.J. Hooker, but Adrian Zmed absolutely knocked it out of the park. He and Lorna Luft were two really strong singers. The rest of us, frankly, were faking it pretty good.

RB: Is Grease 2 the word?
MC: There you go! I got to attend a fabulous screening of it three years ago at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. I was interviewed by a seven foot-tall drag queen for this enthusiastic audience. Honestly, I felt like a rock star. I am one of the chief standard bearers for this film.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,