Maxwell Caulfield Finally Embraces Cult Classic ‘Grease 2’ As It Turns 40

“How does it feel? It feels a little odd,” admitted Maxwell Caulfield as we discussed Grease 2. When the musical sequel to the iconic first film landed in theaters, it was largely ignored by audiences and lambasted by critics. Now, it is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and the once-maligned movie has cult classic status.

The milestone sees Paramount Home Entertainment release Grease 2 on a limited edition Blu-ray SteelBook.

For the uninitiated, set two years after the first film, a British student, Caulfield’s Michael Carrington, arrives at Rydell High. He also happens to be the cousin of Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy Olsson. Michael sets his sights on the leader of the Pink Ladies, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Stephanie Zinone, but the problem is she’ll only date greasers. Obviously, if he wants to win her heart, he’d better shape up.

I caught up with Caulfield to talk about the role he once felt had held his career back and how the cult status of Grease 2 and Empire Records have won him and his work generations of new fans.

Simon Thompson: First of all, thanks for talking about Grease 2. I’m a fan of the movie, but I know it did feel like an albatross around your neck for a long time. How do you think of it now, and when did that change for you?

Maxwell Caulfield: That’s very well put. Yeah, it was an albatross because I always thought Michelle Pfeiffer was the fabulous phoenix who rose out from the ashes of Grease 2. I only recently began to realize how beloved the movie is with a particular generation and possibly with subsequent generations who continue to discover it. Many people watched the film at a formative age and thought, ‘Oh my God, what fun high school is.’ People dream of going to high school and meeting pretty people, celebrating their hormonal explosion, and hopefully not developing terrible acne as I had as a teenager. How does it feel? It feels a little odd, but when you go and watch iconic acts from previous decades, the audience wants to hear them sing that song they love that the band’s been singing for 40 years. The audience wants them to sing it with gusto and go, ‘Wow, what a pro that they’re not so tired of strumming the same chords and hitting the same notes after all these years.’ Grease 2 is one of our songs, so I’m sort of duty-bound to be only enthusiastic about it, particularly if it’s been validated by people who now realize the film was half decent.

Thompson: I discovered Grease 2 as this curiosity that people said was terrible and to avoid it. I watched it because of that and loved it. Do you find a lot of people find it that way?

Caulfield: Talking to people of your age, knowing that you guys are influencing people with your opinions and what you write and what you publish, is very gratifying. Grease 2 was, and is, a whole lot of fun. If you’re lucky enough to make one film that survives the test of time, what more could you ask for? We’d all love to be Cary Grant and have done many classics that people still talk about, and there’s nothing better than discovering a film and going, ‘Oh my God, no wonder this film is still playing on TCM.’ Funnily enough, Grease 2 did show as part of the virtual TCM Classic Film Festival in 2021, so I think it tells you a lot right there. It was a kind of total validation. To be alongside The Maltese Falcon, From Here To Eternity, Some Like It Hot, and all these other incredible movies like The Godfather, I’m not saying Grease 2 is in that league, but the fact that people are now seeing it differently is significant.

Thompson: It was almost like Grease 2 was one of Hollywood’s dirty little cinematic secrets?

Caulfield: I never quite understood why everyone would go, ‘What a stinker.’ I didn’t think it was, but I guess if everybody’s saying it and writing it, maybe it really was a real bad knockoff of the first one. I loved the first one, and I thought John Travolta was absolutely fabulous. He was just so zany, and obviously, he’s got that incredible voice and those killer moves. I felt like, ‘Oh, okay, well, I’m like the poor man’s addition, and I’d better accept it.’ To be able to talk up the movie all these years later and be not only being praised but also be able to be proud about it is a very proud moment. The time has come, and the albatross is finally gone.

Thompson: Aside from the film being more popular with audiences, it was also the inspiration for a production in London’s West End.

Caulfield: Yeah. I sent them a sort of best wishes message that I believe was broadcast right before the show. Maybe they’ll bring me back to play the Tab Hunter role. I don’t know. Perhaps I’m too old for even that one?

Thompson: Would you be down for that? I know that there was such demand for that production in London.

Caulfield: Absolutely. I’d be crazy not to. It was called Cool Rider, which was a great title. I’d be down for it if it didn’t detract from the show. My coming on stage suddenly would be a bit of a gimmick, and as long as it didn’t suddenly pull the audience off of the production and the narrative, it could be great. You wouldn’t want people in the audience to suddenly be like, ‘Oh, my God, he played that guy in the movie.’ Everyone would know it if they were big enough fans of the film. The only role I’d stopped short of is playing would be the guy in the bowling alley sequence in Grease 2, where Michelle says she’s going to kiss the next guy who comes through that door, and he’s this really old guy (laughs).

Thompson: What was it like on set. Were people enjoying it? The cast was genuinely eclectic, superb, and directly relevant at that time.

Caulfield: Thank you, yeah. It was a really happening cast. It was a blend of the original Broadway show who had appeared in the film. Some of the chorus boys had done the first one, so they brought that genuine Grease energy. Patricia Birch had choreographed the stage show and the first movie and did a great job. I didn’t realize quite how good a job she’d had done as a director until I saw it on a big screen a few years ago. For a first-time director, she more than did her job.

Thompson: You’ve had three roles that have become part of pop culture, namely Miles Colby in Dynasty and The Colbys, obviously Michael in Grease 2, and Rex Manning in Empire Records. Was a Rex Manning spin-off project ever discussed because audiences latched onto him in a big way?

Caulfield: No, nobody thought about that, but I think, like with Grease 2, that was because the film wasn’t successful. If Empire Records had been a hit, there would have been Empire Records 2, and you could not have made that without bringing Rex Manning back in whatever form. He may have been even more washed up, and his hair had started to fall out. You’d have to have incorporated Rex Manning into it. I’ve heard that they’re making a stage show of that too. Both Empire Records and Grease 2 are prime fodder for becoming stage productions. Many of these revivals or reinterpretations and adaptations of films appear in the West End or on Broadway and become big hits. There’s nothing more fun than touring with a show like that, especially in the UK. I’d done it quite a bit before the pandemic. I went out on several tours like Singin’ In The Rain and Guys and Dolls, I did Chicago in the West End, and there’s nothing more fun than playing those massive Victorian theaters in major cities around Britain.

Thompson: It’s a crying shame that we didn’t get more Empire Records and Rex Manning.

Caulfield: The movie, at the time, disappeared into obscurity, but the target audience did discover it on video, embraced it, and made it theirs. That whole tribal aspect is very gratifying when you suddenly realize the power. It’s like rooting for a small soccer club that has languished at the bottom for 30 years, and then suddenly, you’re playing in the Premier
League and holding your own. You feel proud, and like you are part of a more select minority who actually have known all along what others are just finding out. It’s about always keeping the dream alive. My job as an entertainer is to keep my dream alive and not get too disheartened by the challenge of staying gainfully employed in the entertainment industry. It’s not easy. I worked with Ed Asner on an obscure little Christmas movie that I’m not sure has finished being edited, and we shot it like two years ago. A very keen young actor had a small part in the film that we shot up in Illinois, and he went up to Ed and said, ‘You’ve won all these Emmy Awards. You are the president of the Screen Actors Guild, you’re so celebrated, and I’m such an admirer of your work, but what does it take? How do you get to do what you do?’ And Ed said, ‘I tell you what it takes. Good luck and a lot of it.’ That’s true. Believe in your luck.

The Grease 2 40th anniversary Limited-Edition Blu-ray SteelBook is available from Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

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