English-born, Australian-raised singer/actor Olivia Newton-John knew next to nothing about Canada's game when she got a call from her friend and music collaborator, Toronto's Amy Sky, to see if she would play a hippie hockey mom in Michael McGowan's quirky film, Score: A Hockey Musical.
Intrigued by the notion of joining a big-screen musical (her first in 30 years since Xanadu), Newton-John asked her pal to send the script to Florida, where she lives with her second husband, John Easterling.
The sweetness of the story appealed to her. So the Grammy-winning artist and star of Grease signed up to shoot, for one blisteringly cold week in February, a role that has her bursting into song at the drop of a puck or a hug from her husband and son.
In Toronto in September, to promote the film that opened the Toronto International Film Festival, the perky Newton-John talked about how fun - but slightly surreal it was - to play a lead in a film with the theme song Hockey: The Greatest Game in the Land.
Did you ever envision yourself playing a hockey mom?
No, I mean who would? But when Amy sent me the script, and some of the music, I thought it seemed like a fun thing to do. And I really base most of what I do now on whether it's fun, and if I'm going to have a good time.
Was there any aspect of the flower-child earth mom that you found challenging?
Some of the actors might have been a bit awkward jumping from dialogue into song, but it felt pretty natural to me. But this is a comedic part that I play straight, and I wasn't sure if I was doing it right. And I had to find that fine line of being true to the peace-loving character she was, but not going too far over the top.
What appealed to you about this campy script?
I liked the fact that it is a spoof and a comedic look at this sport. But what I particularly loved was our little quirky family. I thought that was really charming. And I could relate to these unconventional people because I grew up in an environment like that. My dad was a professor at a [Melbourne] University so we always had a lot of interesting characters popping in.
In the film, your son starts to pull away from his parents and develop his own ideas about how he wants to live his life. Can you relate to that transition with your own daughter?
It's a natural evolution for a teen to break free and carve their own destiny. If you've done your job correctly, your kids will start to find you stupid at a certain point so they can break away. Mind you, my daughter - who is now 24 - has never done that. She's absolutely perfect.
What advice have you given your daughter [Chloe Lattanzi] who is following in your footsteps and getting into acting?
I think you have to encourage your children to follow their passion, to do what they love. I don't give her any cautionary advice; instead, I try to give her positive reinforcement. The only thing I ever tell her is to always be herself, and to follow her instincts. Don't copy anyone else.
Is the music you perform now different from when you started your career?
Well, it's been 40 years so it's definitely evolved. In fact, they're doing a retrospective CD of my music in Japan at the end of this year, which I can't believe. Yes, I think it changes all the time. Your life experiences kind of determine what you write, or what you choose to sing, because you live in a different place.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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