Grease 2 isn’t remembered as a critical success, but it was critical to the subsequent success of stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Adrian Zmed. Chicago-native Zmed, who had played Danny Zuko on Broadway, went on to co-star on television alongside William Shatner in TJ Hooker and with Tom Hanks in screwball comedy classic Bachelor Party before returning to theater (he played Danny again in Tommy Tune’s mid-’90s revival) and eventually settling in Las Vegas. Zmed plays tribute to the 1982 film sequel that launched his still fervently faithful fan base with a bowling night at Brooklyn Bowl on Jan. 28, during which he’ll tell stories from the show and maybe lead a sing-along or two. He recently chatted with Las Vegas Magazine's Matt Kelemen.

The Grease 2 screening at Brooklyn Bowl sounds random without knowing you’ve been a Vegas resident for a while. How long have you lived here?

I’ve been here on and off for at least a good 10 years. I met my wife about 10 or 11 years ago when we were rehearsing a show here we were doing up in Reno. The first five years of our life I was back and forth between L.A. and here, and then got married and I’m pretty much living here now. Have a little place in L.A. but I’m mostly here. She plays Carnival Court at Harrah’s with a great, great band called Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

I am a Las Vegan now, and I’m trying to get immersed in the community and help the community out as much as I can. I’m trying to do a lot of television and film here, which is what I’ve been actively doing. As soon as we’re done with this interview I’m heading to a production meeting. I’m directing a TV series starting next week. We’re in pre-production right now. Monday is the first day of shooting.

Is that D'Coffee Shop Closes at 9pm?


I saw a trailer for that so I assumed that had already been started. Must have been like a pre-pilot?

Yeah, it was just a tiny sizzle reel, and now we’re working with a director of photography and looking for locations.

I saw a trailer for that so I assumed that had already been started. Must have been like a pre-pilot?

Yeah, it was just a tiny sizzle reel, and now we’re working with a director of photography and looking for locations.

Do you still play one of the characters?

Yeah, yeah. I play one of the characters there. I’m part of this whole coffee shop world. It’s kind of like this place in limbo where Vegas locals go, and if you play your cards right, your dreams will come true. We’re kind of like good souls who try to pull people in and get them out of limbo in their lives. It’s like Touched by an Angel meets Twilight Zone.

I read something about a Netflix series possibility, too. Is that connected to this?

Not yet. Not for this one. I did make a cameo in the basketball series (Sin City Saints) on Yahoo, with Tom Arnold. I was also sort of responsible for getting a casino for a really good director who is a friend of mine. He’s shooting a pilot about four poker pros who live in the penthouse of one of the casinos here. He shot that pilot last year also, and I had a lot to do with getting that going. If he gets that going, I’m going to be a regular, singing in the lounge of the casino.

I noticed you’ve had a lot of involvement with benefits and charities lately too.

I think in the past four weeks I’ve done about five, and I’m about to do my sixth, the (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children) Canon event tomorrow night. That actually I’m pretty close, to because I’ve known John Walsh ever since he started Missing Children, and I was actually quite involved in the beginning with charity events way, way back in the day with a celebrity softball event against the Washington Redskins. That was way back in the ’80s.

Where is that going to be?

Mandalay? No, wherever the fountains are (laughs).

Oh, Bellagio. You were involved in a go-kart race that benefitted homeless people, and I think before that it was “Drop the Mic” for Noah’s Animal Shelter.

That was a blast. I guess I’m not only one of the entertainers in town, but because I’ve done a lot of television itself, you know, people in charities might think that helps. And I’m glad to help. I love Vegas and I want to help Vegas as much as I can.

We’ll get back to career and Vegas, but what initiated the Grease 2 screening?

Now that I’ve been a part of the entertainment community here in Las Vegas for so many years, so many of my friends who are singers and dancers have been begging me to do a Grease 2 bowling night for my buddies in the business, after everybody’s finished with their shows. Finally I came up with a “coulda had a V-8” idea: I know (AEG Talent Buyer) Max McAndrew from Brooklyn Bowl very well. He had booked my sons’ band when he was over at Vinyl many times. Someone told me he was at Brooklyn Bowl and I went to visit him, and looked at the whole bowling alley area. And I finally said, “What if we do an industry night/bowling thing, and see if we can air the movie.” One thing led to another and now it’s become a whole big thing where we’re doing an event for Brooklyn Bowl. If that sells, we’re going to do a regular bowling night for iconic movies.

It’s a perfect venue because it’s a bowling alley but there’re screens everywhere. I’m going to do narration, like I’ll be talking during the movie and tell the story about what really happened in that scene and what really happened behind the scenes, and we’re going to have little contests during the whole night. Now it’s become a public thing, and anyone who wants to experience the night can come.

I’m familiar with the screens in there. Everywhere you look you’re going to see yourself.

Right. If anybody wants to do a Rocky Horror Picture Show thing and dance along in front of the screen, everybody’s welcome.

Do you bowl very much?

Actually, I do. I still have my bowling ball from Grease 2. The character’s name is on the bowling ball, and every time I bowl, I bowl with it.

I assume you’re bringing it with you.

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m going to wear my T-Birds jacket, and the bowling ball. I’m hoping to call some other cast members from Grease 2 and see if they can drive in for it. They might want to come in for it also.

Obviously you don’t want to spoil the stories you’re going to tell, but can you provide a little teaser?

When I watch the movie, it all comes back for me. Like, “Oh, I remember that date! This happened, this happened that happened, this happened.” There’s one funny story: We had a mystery streaker while we were shooting, and it took us about four or five months to shoot Grease 2. A mystery streaker always would streak during our shooting. … He would streak through one of our big scenes that had about 200 extras singing and dancing, and he made about five or six appearances through the big numbers of the show until finally he revealed himself when we were shooting the luau scene. It ended up being Andy Tennant, who was one of the dancers in the show. Andy Tennant went on to become a major movie director (Fools Rush In, Sweet Home Alabama), so it’s kind of a funny story that he started out as a dancer and he’s known for streaking in Grease 2.

There are so many things, like when we were shooting the bowling sequence. There was a certain scene we were shooting, and Olivia Newton-John, who is at the Flamingo right now, her husband was in the movie. He played a character by the name of Brad. He was our pretty-boy preppie in the show, and while we were shooting the bowling sequence, the scene where I dare Michelle Pfeiffer to kiss somebody, he was arm wrestling with one of our security guards who was a major bodybuilder. Matt—his name’s Matt Lattanzi—he broke the bodybuilder’s arm while we were shooting that. We suddenly heard a scream, and he broke the man’s arm. It was just a freak accident.

When we were singing the “Score Tonight,” so many people broke their ankles I can’t even tell you. I’ll point out the dancers when we do it, how many people went down. The gutters were a nightmare for dancing.

One of your signature scenes is when you do the knee slide, and a landmark in your personal biography is a serious high school football injury. Were you worried about that while you were doing it? “How many takes can I do before I hurt myself?”

I did about 32 takes of that knee slide, and I was in absolute unbelievable pain. By No. 15, I was dying, and the reason I had to do it so many times, is if you remember the show, I was running really fast and I was sliding down into the camera. I had to hit a mark, and if I was off by three or four inches I was out of focus. It contributed to me needing a knee replacement right now in my life.

Is that coming up?

I’ve put it off for about five, six, seven years. I will have it done, but I’m still doing stuff live onstage so I don’t feel like taking five or six months off right now. I’m still living with the pain. They can’t move laterally as well as I did before. I’m still singing and dancing. I did the musical Surf! at Planet Hollywood. … I was the Big Kahuna. I was like the big old-time surfer who was like the daddy figure to everybody.

So you were dancing then.

Oh yeah. I did splits in that show.

How hard was it to learn to dance after you injured yourself so severely? I read a description of it.

I totally ripped open … you know, bone was sticking out and all that stuff. It was pretty nasty.

That’s the only part not mentioned. I did picture a bone sticking out.

I had to have a couple of operations to really make it right. It was a football coach of mine who was also a gymnastics teacher who said, “You know, I’ll bet you could really rehabilitate that knee if you were to go take some dance classes.” So I took his advice, and one thing led to another, and I ended up doing a lot of musical theater in high school. And that’s what I ended up doing. I was not going to have a football career after that break. I ended up managing how to deal with my knee really through dance. It’s what kind of rehabilitated my leg. To this day, my right leg is an inch and a half shorter than my left leg.

Would your path have led to acting if you hadn’t hurt yourself?

No. I truly was being scouted by Notre Dame to have a scholarship. I was planning on playing football. What pisses me off is so many football players leave football to become actors, and what I want to do is leave acting and become a football player. But I guess I’m too old for that now.

What kind of performing arts education did you have before touring with Grease? You’ve taught a master class in film technique at the Stella Adler Acting Academy.

I actually studied with Stella. They asked me to do a lecture one day and when I did the lecture they said, “Hey, how would you feel about teaching a class?” I said, “OK, I’ve never taught before. One thing led to another. Just my experience alone, I know so much that I can pass on to young acting students. So I started teaching a master class in camera technique—acting in front of a camera as opposed to being onstage.

It’s a logical crossover for me. My career started onstage, and it’s a completely different dynamic, acting in front of a camera. Whenever I’m in L.A., I do teach at Stella Adler. In fact, I’m in the process of putting together weekend seminars at The Smith Center. We’re bringing some of the Stella Adler teachers, and I’ll be teaching my class also. I got a little sidetracked with the TV show I’m directing, but this year we’re planning on doing a Stella Adler seminar over at The Smith Center.

Can you elaborate on why you thought the sequel was closer in spirit to the stage musical?

Yeah I’d love to talk about that, because it is closer to what the Broadway musical was, and it’s also a crazy story about how I ended up getting the role. Pat Birch was the director of Grease 2. She was also the choreographer of the Broadway show, and she choreographed the first movie. Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer, who were already cast in the roles, were not really stars at that point. They wanted a rocker to play the role of Johnny, because they felt they needed star power. They were doing a very radical sequel. Basically, it was the teachers that were brought back for the sequel. Only the role of Frenchie came back because she failed beauty school and she went back to school. So Pat really, really wanted me to do it. I had just left doing Danny Zuko on Broadway but the producers, Robert Stigwood and Allan Carr, wanted a rocker. So she, strategically, every time they auditioned a rocker, had me go on right after them. Every single time that scenario happened, Alan and Robert said, “Alright, he still has it but let’s keep looking.” I had 10 callbacks for that role until finally they said, “Alright, it’s his. Nobody else should be doing it.” Pat was my champion. She was really instrumental in me getting that role. She wanted me to do it because she knew I could bring the essence of what the Broadway show was, for the T-Birds. And I did a lot to get that camaraderie with the T-Birds going.

And why is it more like the stage version? Grease became a vehicle for John and Olivia. The Broadway show is really like Grease 2 is. It’s about everybody. It’s about everybody in the T-Birds, everybody in the Pink Ladies, and everybody has their own song. In the Broadway show, Kenickie sings “Greased Lightning.” It’s his car! He sings “Greased Lightning,” not Danny, and it’s things like that that they did in the movie, which they should have. Of course they did it, because John was a big star and Olivia was a big star. They made them major stars by doing that, but in Grease 2 there’s a lot of people who have their own songs. It’s not just Michelle and Maxwell. I had a lot of songs, a few other characters had songs. That’s why it had that essence, because it was a little bit more about the Pink Ladies and about the T-Birds. For the Broadway show … everybody went to high school. Everybody can relate to somebody who is part of the gang on that stage. I feel like Grease 2 did that a little bit more because it concentrated on all of the other characters.

It actually brings up another tidbit of what I’m going to mention on the 28th of January. The song “Prowlin’” almost was not actually filmed. We were so behind in filming that they decided to just keep it as part of the 10-second ending of the talent show. When we recorded the song they said, “This is one of the best songs on the album. We’ve got to figure out a way to film the entire song.” So the story behind this one was we had 24 hours to film an entire musical number, which is unheard of. Pat figured out a way to do it. She went through the whole logistics of getting it done, and let me pretty much choreograph the T-Birds and the whole sequence when we’re onstage.

“Prowlin’” is one of the songs that sticks out. You recreated the choreography for that on (’80s Top Ten countdown television series) Solid Gold.

We did do that, didn’t we? I may be getting in front of the screen and actually singing along with myself on that night. I may be doing that, and also “Score Tonight” in front of the screen. In fact, my sons might be coming in for it. My sons are actually going to be doing an Everly Brothers tribute (as The Bird Dogs) at the Suncoast on the 23rd and the 24th of January, then they do another show which is just them as The Zmed Brothers. I think the three of us might actually do “Prowlin.’”

Grease 2 was a notorious bomb, but then it went into heavy rotation on cable television in the ’80s so kids grew up knowing the songs.

It’s really cable and the video generation that mainly discovered Grease 2. You know, people think the movie, when it was released in theaters, didn’t do well. It actually did pretty damned good. It didn’t do $120 million. I don’t remember how much Grease made, but we did do something like $60 to $80 million in domestic and foreign eventually. To this day Grease 2 outsells and out-rents Grease, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s much more kid-friendly than Grease. “Greased Lightning” alone, they tried to clean it up as much as they could and all, but if the original lyrics on Broadway were actually done? I mean the character of Rizzo was about being pregnant the entire movie, then all of a sudden she gets her period. Grease on Broadway was never meant for children. It was made for adults. … To this day I get 5- and 6-year-old kids coming up to me and saying, “I love you, Johnny.” It’s kind of crazy after all these years, to have done what I did, for little kids to be coming up to me and still seeing it, and enjoying it.

You have fans from all over the world commenting on your Facebook page as if Grease 2 came out a couple of years ago.

Yeah. In fact, now that we’ve posted the fact that I’m doing it at Brooklyn Bowl, I think there’s a Brooklyn Bowl in Boston, and apparently fans in London are saying, “Bring it here, bring it here!” I don’t know, this could be the start of going and doing all the Brooklyn Bowls with it, and it being that kind of a night. Like I said, I actually want to expand it and do a whole series of movie nights at Brooklyn Bowl. Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon are very good friends, and Meat Loaf is a very good friend. I’d love to do Rocky Horror Picture Show. Meat Loaf, I played on his softball team on Broadway, and my wife literally was a featured singer when he was here at Planet Hollywood. She did all the iconic songs with him, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and all of those other ones. “I Would Do Anything.”

How long have you been married now?

Three years? We got married in Thailand. Go figure. We got married on an elephant. I’ll show you the pictures sometime.

How much time elapsed between Grease 2 and TJ Hooker? Or was there a little bit of time between the two?

Yes and no. Actually, I did the pilot of TJ Hooker first, and we were not picked up right away. I did Grease 2 between doing the pilot of TJ Hooker and TJ Hooker getting picked up.

I understand you consider William Shatner your mentor?

Yeah, absolutely. I learned so much just watching him. Most of my work was onstage and, like I mentioned before, because I teach the class now, it’s a very different energy on camera than onstage. Instead of reaching the last person 50 rows away from you, you’re reaching someone three feet in front of you, which is really daunting. Three feet in front of you as opposed to 100 feet toward the back of the theater. His camera technique was just incredible. He was so relaxed and all. I learned so much in term of the moment, on how you readjust your energy, how you get efficient with camera technique. And just the stories. When he directed, he would mentor me. I do consider Bill a mentor, no question about it. We had a wonderful relationship and we’re still very good friends.

Did he have advice for dealing with down times? He had described living out of his car doing dinner theater a few years after Star Trek.

Oh yeah. He was very helpful in saying, “Be smart with the money that you’re making during TJ Hooker and be smart with the decisions you’re making in terms of your career.” He was just here a couple of years ago with his one-man show at Smith Center. I was sitting there in the third row watching him, and in the five years we were sitting in the squad car, he was creating his one-man show. I could have told you the punchline for every one of those stories that he told. It’s about Bill’s life. His one-man show is about Bill’s life, and I know every one of those stories. I did heed his advice on making good choices.