Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is all set to be this summer’s biggest blockbuster, and its ABBA tracks are almost guaranteed to become the soundtrack of the next few months. With glitter, dramatic platform heels and a whole lot of dancing, there’s nothing not to love about this highly-anticipated sequel (or is it a prequel?).
We spoke with the cast and people involved in the project and here is, rounded up, what the lovely women of Mamma Mia 2 had to say about the film, their characters, the music, and each other!
The original musical was the brainchild of Judy Craymer, who also produced Mamma Mia! The Movie and returned as producer for this second film. “It took ten years,” she explained, “but it was a matter of finding the right story, a matter of bringing back our wonderful legacy cast, and how to use the songs and how the songs would earn their place in the story.
“I’d discussed with Phyllida Lloyd and Catherine Johnson, the two architects of the first one, of doing another film, and they weren’t that keen. They felt very close to the material, and so gave me the blessing to look for another writer. And one of the things we were always interested in doing was a prequel, because Catherine Johnson’s story was so rich in the backstory of how Donna got to the island, what was the odyssey of the men, of Donna and the journey?
“So, I called Richard Curtis, as you do – who I’m a huge fan of – and he said ‘Well, Godfather 2. You’re going to go back and forth in time.’ But unfortunately he couldn’t write it because he was doing his own projects, but he introduced me to Ol Parker, we conspired, and here we are now.”
Returning from the ‘legacy cast’, as Craymer put it, is the fabulous Christine Baranski, who was certainly very keen to reprise her role as Tanya and return to her Mamma Mia family. “I agreed to do the sequel without even seeing a script, because I’d had so much fun,” she laughs. “My first question was, are the same people on board? And the word was that people were going to move heaven and earth and arrange their complicated schedules to do it.
“Then when I read the script, I was so taken with how truly original it was to take the story and do a sequel where you see the maturation of these characters, that have been informed by loss, and see them coming together with new emotional depths.
“And then the brilliance of taking it back in time with six drop-dead, talented, sexy young performers doing all those sexy rock and roll songs so brilliantly. And it is just an ingenious construct, and kudos to Ol Parker and Judy, and Benny [Andersson], and everybody who waited ten years to make sure it was exactly right.”
As Baranski and Craymer both mentioned, the film jumps back and forward in time, so that the audience gets to meet the young Donna and the Dynamos, with Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies as Donna, Tanya and Rosie respectively. Seeing the young cast perform is arguably just as electric as seeing Meryl Streep, Baranski and Julie Walters jamming out on stage.
“Getting into rehearsal with Alexa and Jess, and dancing by their side, I have never felt a high like that in my life!” says James. “We became this girl band and the power of that, the strength and the joy, was just amazing. It was a really beautiful energy on set.”
“There was a moment when we were rehearsing ‘Kiss the Teacher’ right near the beginning,” she continued, “and you [Baranski] snuck into rehearsal, and it meant the world to us that you came and burst into applause and were like ‘You’re doing it girls, you’re doing it!’ and that meant everything.”
And on playing Meryl Streep’s younger self, Lily James explained, “I mean, Donna Sheridan is the most beloved, brilliant, extraordinary woman and character, and Meryl Streep is also all of those things. And her Donna was everything, and so I tried my hardest to watch it and learn from what Meryl did, and try to capture the essence of that fearless, uninhibited woman.
“And I watched the film over and over again to try and get into her body, her physicality, how Meryl moves and how she’s so open to the world, just facing it all front on. And I felt that if I could find my way into the physicality, then you would hopefully believe that my Donna could grow into that woman. And in the end, just surrendering to that moment, being there with all these amazing people, and dancing and singing… and I think that’s the spirit of the movie, just being in the moment.”
Likewise, Alexa Davies had only lovely things to say about her older self, Julie Walters. “Julie’s been my hero since I’ve been about five years old, and I think I’ve seen everything she’s ever done. So I feel like, when it came to research, I watched every interview she’d ever done especially in the ‘80s, just to see what she was like at that stage in her life.
“But it is a really interesting thing; Julie has quite a particular voice that I was really interested in playing around with. And luckily we have quite similar physicality already, in that we both look a bit tired all the time,” she laughed. “But the wonderful thing is that all these young women are amazing characters already there on the page, and the really interesting thing is you think you know everything, and then I met Lily and Jess and that took it up another level.
“What’s amazing about these characters is that they are stronger together, and it adds another layer when you understand their love for each other and their care for each other.”
In the same way, Keenan Wynn stated, “I have adored Christine, now even more as a person, but as an actress I would say for my entire life. I think that everything she has done has informed me as a person wanting to be an actress, and I think that’s why when this opportunity came along, people were like ‘This is perfect for you!’ And I was like, ‘I can’t hear that, because how will I ever get past that?’
“And I was able to go back and watch Christine in old movies she had done, and TV shows, and capture these little ‘bits’… I love to go back and look at the way her eyes moved, and the way she held a glass, and the way she slowed down and was never rushed. She was always in the moment and taking it in, and it actually informed me – as crazy as this experience was, and as beautiful and momentous – to take a minute, and sit in the moment and breathe, and be present.”
Clearly touched, Baranski added, “I think she’s a new and improved version!”Another notable addition to the cast this time round, is none other than the Goddess of Pop herself, Cher. She explains that she was always a fan of ABBA’s music and speaks particularly of her performance of ‘Fernando’ in the film.
“When I heard Fernando, I heard a different thing; I knew the story but what I heard was the acting of it. I didn’t realise the songs were so complicated, and I didn’t realise how well orchestrated and produced they were. But then, when I thought of how to interpret it, it seemed to perfect for Andy [Garcia, who plays Ruby’s love interest] and I, and for the relationship that we had had. The song and the story married,” she explains.
“I was terrified because everyone was there together, and my character wasn’t very liked by anybody! I was really nervous,” (Yes, Cher, nervous). “But all was great, and everybody was so nice to me!
“And then once, Meryl was behind a piece of scenery watching my number, so that made me feel good after the fact, because I didn’t know. It was hard to go on a set where you were a stranger to everyone, and to have such a ‘mean grandmother’ thing and try to be friends with everybody. But I felt really… kind of loved, and kind of like a great grandmother.”
Obviously, a huge part of the Mamma Mia! franchise is of course, ABBA’s music. “The new version of ‘Mamma Mia’ with Lily singing acapella, it’s just so beautiful,” says Davies, “and the feeling that you get even when that set was empty, and it was just us three doing it to the camera, just the feeling of empowerment and love in the room was electric. It was amazing.”
For Craymer, her favourite number was ‘Dancing Queen’. “It was epic. For the producer, the director, the choreographer, you know, Ol [Parker] wrote it as Dunkirk really… with a flotilla of boats and 150 dancers, which was a pretty amazing few days.”
‘I’ve Been Waiting for You’, on the other hand, was Amanda Seyfried’s favourite. “I’ve Been Waiting for You is the most emotional moment. I have a new baby, so being able to express that in song is just the best, truly.”It’s a moment she’s obviously looking forward to sharing with her own mother, whose birthday is on the day of the release, she explained. “Because she couldn’t be here, because she is a wonderful, beautiful grandmother and nanny to my daughter, I’m going to take her myself! Just the two of us, I’m going to wear a hat and a wig, and take her. It’s exciting.”
“Yeah, I’ve Been Waiting for You was also my favourite moment,” Baranski agrees. “With the daughter of Donna in the centre, and Julie and I flanking her like we had become mother figures, and female support to her. And it’s an exquisite song, but just the choreography and everything about it was just really poignant and really resonant. Like Meryl is there, even though she’s not there.”
Clearly a popular number, James adds: “Even the same, I’ve been waiting for you, because knowing that the young Donna was giving birth to Amanda, to Sophie, and even listening to Amanda sing, it was so beautiful and I had this big belly on, and I really felt the baby quick. And the director led me through the birth, and essentially became my birthing partner! It did feel like Meryl was there, it was a very surreal moment for me. It was special.”
“We didn’t want the movie to end,” Baranski concluded.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out in cinemas this Friday, 20th, distributed by Universal.
First published on The National Student