JAMIE DONNELLY Interview on the ‘Grease’ 40th Anniversary, Her Role as “Jan”, and the Film’s Enduring Qualities

- Apr 22, 2018 at 01:07PM
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The Grease 40th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Pack will see its release on Tuesday, April 24th, and the film has never looked or sounded better. Paramount worked with director Randal Kleiser to restore Grease to its original vibrancy with the highest quality sound, picture resolution, and colour. The original negative was scanned and received extensive clean up and color correction using previously unavailable digital restoration tools such as high dynamic range technology. In addition, the audio was enhanced from a six-track mix created for an original 70mm release, giving the music more clarity. The resulting picture and sound create an exceptional home viewing experience.

The Grease 40th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Packs include the fully restored version of the film plus an all-new, in-depth exploration of the little-known origins of what would become a Broadway play and then a feature film and worldwide phenomenon. “Grease: A Chicago Story” features new interviews with writer Jim Jacobs and original cast members of the Chicago show. In addition, the discs include the original song the title sequence was animated to and an alternate ending salvaged from the original black & white 16mm work-print discovered by director Randal Kleiser.

Both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Packs also feature more than an hour of previously-unreleased bonus material, including a sing-along, vintage interviews with the cast, deleted scenes and more. Plus, the Blu-ray Combo comes in collectible packaging with 16 pages of images laid out like a high school yearbook.

To advance the upcoming re-release of Grease, Jamie Donnelly (Jan, one of the quirky members of the “Pink Ladies”) fielded a few interviews and talked about the film, and its enduring legacy.


You were one of only a few actors who had been attached to Grease The Musical before appearing in the film, correct?.
Jamie Donnelly: Oh yes. I had played Jan on Broadway seven years before I did the movie. I was the first replacement on Broadway for Jan, and I played her for six months. I was managed by someone named Bob Lamont who was more influential than most people know. He was the manager for John Travolta and the manager of Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) and me and then later Kelly Ward (Putzie). Many of the people who had done the show originally were managed by Bob. So, we already knew each other. I was very good friends with Jeffrey and with John before we ever made the movie.

I, of course, knew Pat Birch as I had actually done a couple of other shows with her before that. The boys had all worked together on the first national tour. They were in the show with John. John played Doody, and Barry Pearl who played Doody in the movie had played another role in the musical. They were all together prior to the film. We were very much a gang. I knew Dinah (Manoff) - I had known her mom Lee Grant. And Didi (Conn) I knew not very well. But a lot of us had the experience of not only knowing each other but singing and dancing as these characters and playing together.

How much did you feel some of these characters, specifically Jan, changed from stage to film?
Donnelly: Um, well you know the characters were much more urban originally. They were written based on real people in Chicago. And when we did it in New York a lot of us felt it had a mid-Atlantic City kind of feel. I would say it was more urban; grittier; less sparkling and Hollywood. More down to earth, I would say. But when we made the movie, I’d say everything kind of brightened up in a way. More polished and brightened. It had more shine.

Did you find that the movie was easier to be a part of? I’d imagine if you duffed a line on set, you could just sort of do it again. That is harder to do on stage.
Donnelly: The movie was a joy to do, really. Because as you say, it wasn’t like I would have to get into character - I’d already lived being this character. Jan has a lot of who I am in her. So it wasn’t like I had to work very hard. The things that were hard were long hours and hot conditions and things like that. But in terms of performance, it was really a joy. I had Kelly Ward as my partner (particularly) musically and for the dance numbers. She was just something. She could do anything Gene Kelly could do. She could dance! So it was really fun. We played around with each other, and it was a pretty wonderful time. You know, we’re still all like that. We’re still ridiculously childish I think.

Peep the new 40th Anniversary Grease movie trailer.


Did you have any idea while you were making the movie that it was going become the nation-wide phenomenon that it did?
Donnelly: The thing that we could not know was that there was no such thing as even a VHS tape or DVD back then when we did this. In those days making a movie meant that people might go to see it two or three times during its run. And then maybe it would show on one of the few networks - and we had very few of those even then. Someday, years from now maybe it might show on TV, but there was no sense that people could actually have the movie in their house and have parties where everybody is singing along with it. That technology was only just being dreamed of at the time. I had no idea that any of this would happen. And I think that is what has turned it into even more particularly a worldwide phenomenon is that it has been able to get out.

I was only 11 years old when the movie originally premiered. My mom didn’t want me to see it because she didn’t feel it was suitable for someone of my age.
Donnelly: Where did you grow up, Mike?

I grew up in a really small town in Ontario, Canada.
Donnelly: Okay.

So, my first exposure to the movie was the soundtrack, of course, and Mad Magazine, that did a satire of the movie.
Donnelly: (laughs) Yeah, that’s true. You know, what we have found through the years is that people get this movie at whatever level they are at themselves. In terms of children, the things that are a little racy kinda go over their heads because there’s so much else going on. It’s like a three-ring circus. If it isn’t something that you’re really interested in or catch the meaning of, you are paying attention to something else. So, you very rarely find little kids saying “Why did Danny pull out the Saran Wrap during ‘Greased Lightnin’?” They just didn’t even notice that. They were just watching everybody jump off the car. It’s not something that has had a dangerous effect on young people; I don’t think. I’m sure your mother was just being really careful.


Tell me, what it is that you feel keeps Grease alive as entertainment? Why is it translating onto kids now like it did fourty years ago?
Donnelly: Well, I think joy is joy and love is love and loyalty is loyalty and fun is fun. And that’s all we are! We are just one big, loving, fun time to play around with. I don’t think these characters, particularly the one that I play, I think people can relate to those characters. I don’t think they look at it and think “Oh, gee, I don’t think I could ever be like Elizabeth Taylor.” But Grease is like “Oh yeah, that’s how I sing and dance when I’m in the shower, and nobody is watching.” I think people can relate to it. I think it’s the comfort food of movies.

Have you ever seen anything else that translated like this movie did in the fourty years since it’s come out?
Jamie Donnelly: Um, well I know Sound Of Music was very popular. I think there are other popular things. But I think people connected to this. I’m very fortunate - I was in another thing where I played a cult character. I was in the original Rocky Horror show. And I didn’t do the movie. I did the stage play. I was the American Magenta with Tim Curry. I was Trixie, the character that opens the show singing “Science Fiction” and then closes the show with “Science Fiction.” The Usherette, she’s called. And I was Magenta with Tim for a year at the Roxy on Broadway for a short run. Where it was the only time it wasn’t a hit, I think.

That’s another kind of phenomenon. Not so much a popular phenomenon, but the love over the years for that material goes so deep in people that it’s the thing that defines who they were or who they might be or even dream of being. And I know this is not an interview about Rocky Horror, but when you say what is a thing I know that seems to last - it’s in a different way, but it’s similar for me in that respect. I know that other things don’t go on like that. And Grease is just world-wide and all generations. It’s just so darn popular.

What was your favourite scene to film from the movie, and why was it so?
Jamie Donnelly: Well, I always like to sing and dance. I think my favourite song and dance to do was “Summer Nights.” It was really fun. In terms of scenes, I liked playing the pajama party scene.

Check out an original Grease movie trailer below.


Mechanical Specs:
GREASE 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Combo Pack
The GREASE Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1  Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Castilian Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Latin American Spanish Mono Dolby Digital, and English Audio Description and English, English SDH, Cantonese, Mandarin Simplified, Mandarin Traditional, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Swedish, Thai and Turkish subtitles. The DVD in the Combo Pack is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 televisions with English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish Mono Dolby Digital and English Audio Description and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The Combo Pack includes access to a Digital copy of the film as well as the following:
Blu-ray
·      Feature film in high definition
·      Commentary by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch
·      Introduction by Randal Kleiser
·      Rydell Sing-Along
·      The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease
·      Grease: A Chicago Story—NEW!
·      Alternate Animated Main Titles—NEW!
·      Alternate Ending—NEW!
·      Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes with Introduction by Randal Kleiser
·      Grease Reunion 2002 – DVD Launch Party
·      Grease Memories from John & Olivia
·      The Moves Behind the Music
·      Thunder Roadsters
·      John Travolta and Allan Carr “Grease Day” interview
·      Olivia Newton-John and Robert Stigwood “Grease Day” interview
·      Photo Galleries
·      Theatrical Trailer
DVD
·      Feature film in standard definition
·      Commentary by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch
·      Introduction by Randal Kleiser
·      Rydell Sing-Along
·      The Time, The Place, The Motion: Remembering Grease
·      Alternate Animated Main Titles—NEW!
·      Alternate Ending—NEW!
·      Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes with Introduction by Randal Kleiser
·      Grease Reunion 2002 – DVD Launch Party
·      The Moves Behind the Music
·      Olivia Newton-John and Robert Stigwood “Grease Day” interview
·      Photo Galleries
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