How’s this for a meet-cute: Some 25 years ago, seven-year-old Delta Goodrem was visiting New York from her native Australia when her idol, fellow Aussie Olivia Newton-John, walked in to the same restaurant. “I was like, ‘It’s Sandy, it’s Sandy!'” Goodrem says of the iconic actress from Grease. “Olivia heard my Australian accent and walked over to ask why we were in New York. She was so sweet and said, ‘I hope I see you around tomorrow,’ so the next day I looked around the entire city trying to find her again. I did not.”
All Goodrem had to do was wait another 11 years, when Newton-John became a fan of Goodrem’s singing and acting, and sent her a letter. But it wasn’t just any letter of appreciation: Newton-John, a two-time cancer survivor who is now battling the disease for a third time, found out that Goodrem was battling cancer as well. “She said that one day I’ll understand this is a gift to give strength to people,” Goodrem says of her Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis when she was 18. “As time went on, she became my mentor, friend, and greatest influence.” In fact, in 2008 the two collaborated by writing and recording a song called “Right Here With You.”
And now, Goodrem will play the legend in Lifetime’s new television movie, Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You, airing Saturday night, February 16. “It’s full circle,” Goodrem tells Glamour. “It’s beyond special.”
Goodrem, who has developed quite the fan following in Australia, says she only recently told Newton-John about their first meeting in New York City all those years ago. “We were doing a gala together for her charity, and I told the story to the entire ballroom,” she says. “I talked about the impact that moment had, and now when I see young kids, I always think of [Olivia coming up to me]. and I approach [others] rather than sit back.”
She takes the same approach in the new Lifetime movie, which required her to portray Newton-John over more than five decades. “My first day on set was filming [the music video for] ‘Let’s Get Physical,’ and the crew was all dressed up in headbands,” Goodrem says. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, what a way to start this project!’ And then my last day on set was the scenes during Grease, so that was really fun.”
Goodrem says she can’t help but examine every little detail of her performance, but overall she’s thrilled with the final product: “I’m really proud of it, and I can’t wait for people to watch it.” However, for the moment, at least, Newton-John won’t be one of those people. “I sent her footage throughout, and she’d be like, ‘Stop it! Stop it!'” Goodrem says, laughing. “She said she wants to watch [the finished version] in her own time so she can step back and have her own moment with it.”
But for all the Newton-John fans who do watch, Goodrem hopes the movie reminds them of their idol’s strength through good times and bad. “There’s only one Olivia Newton-John, and she’s a beautiful, unique, one-of-a-kind person,” Goodrem says. “She’s a reminder that it’s cool to be kind, and strength comes in many forms. No one can rock those Grease pants like her.”
Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You airs Saturday, February 16 on Lifetime.