Mamma Mia 2: Lily James on following in Meryl Streep's footsteps

By Emma Saunders
Entertainment reporter

Media caption,
The stars of Mamma Mia 2 reveal if the sequel is worth the 10-year wait

It's been 10 years - yes, 10 years - since Mamma Mia! took the UK box office by storm.

Back in 2008, the hit stage musical turned blockbuster film had fans singing and dancing in the aisles to such classic Abba tracks as Dancing Queen, Take a Chance on Me and Super Trouper.

Now it's time to dig out the bell bottoms and blue eye shadow as long-awaited sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (see what they did there?) arrives in cinemas.

The film takes us back to the (fictional) Greek island of Kalokairi and sees most of the stars from the original reprise their roles.

That includes Meryl Streep, who makes a (brief) appearance as Donna Sheridan, the first film's heroine.

Written and directed by Britain's Ol Parker, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is both a sequel and a prequel.

That's because Lily James, from Downton Abbey and Disney's Cinderella, plays the young Donna in flashbacks detailing her early romances and friendships.

Does your mother know?

Image source, Universal
Image caption,
Cher makes a cameo appearance as Sophie's grandmother

In the present-day part of the story, Amanda Seyfried's character Sophie - now the manager of her mother's hotel - discovers she is pregnant.

As chance would have it, Seyfried also had babies on her mind when the sequel was announced.

"My first reaction to my agent saying 'There's going to be a Mamma Mia 2, it's a goer…' was like, 'Argggh! What songs are they going to use?'

"And then the day I came home from the hospital after giving birth to my daughter, I get the call that it's a green light for me to go in September [to film].

"I read the script, and it started coming together - it's better than even the original. But at first I was like, 'I don't think it's possible to do it again.'"

"It's kind of amazing," James interjects. "You had your baby and then immediately did this story which was so about mothers and their daughters."

"It was definitely meant to be," Seyfried agrees. "It was good timing. It still blows my mind."

Money, money, money

Image source, Universal
Image caption,
James plays young graduate Donna, who makes her home on a Greek island

In the 10 years that have elapsed since the first film's release, female representation on screen and gender pay equality in Hollywood have become major talking points.

It's something that hasn't escaped Seyfried, who says "things are changing at a rapid pace and all for the good".

"People are paying attention," the 32-year-old continues. "It doesn't make sense and it's not fair.

"I actually feel with this movie in particular, even though it was last July when I made my deal, there's always business behind everything.

"It's less about how much you're getting paid as how much everyone else is getting paid and how much work you're doing.

"I finally had some strength to say 'No, that's not good enough.' I spoke up and got what I wanted in terms of the principle behind it.

"I just felt like I had strength. People are less scared to ask for what they think they deserve."

James adds: "There's more transparency about the situation, so that you can then demand what you deserve."

Take a chance on me

Image source, Universal
Image caption,
Christine Baranski and Dame Julie Walters play Donna's friends Tanya and Rosie

The paucity of female directors breaking through in Hollywood has also been on the agenda recently.

Phyllida Lloyd directed the first Mamma Mia!, but its follow-up has a man at the helm.

Christine Baranski - who plays Donna's friend Tanya - believes the change of director made no difference to a franchise felt by many to represent female empowerment.

"I don't think gender entered into it," says the star of TV's The Good Fight. "They're both patient and kind and worked beautifully with actors.

"It was like, 'Phyllida's not going to do it… but she is like Mamma!' That said, Ol was just marvellous… and he wrote the screenplay.

"It's a masterful job he does with both the writing and the direction. It's the Mamma Mia experience - he just captures an idiom, continued it and enriched it.

"He's so soft-spoken, you can't believe he's directing a major movie. Everything is just thrashing around him and he's just [she gestures to the centre] quiet."

Lay All Your Love On Me

Image source, Universal
Image caption,
Streep's storyline in the sequel has been the subject of much discussion

It's no secret that Meryl Streep has significantly less screen time in the sequel than she did in the original.

According to fellow returnee Pierce Brosnan, though, the three-time Oscar winner still "permeates the piece".

"She was so gracious towards us all," says the former James Bond star, seen in the film reprising his Sam Carmichael role.

"I think everyone is so enamoured by her work as an actress, so then to encounter her as a woman - she's just delightful."

Baranski agrees that Streep is "the most wonderful woman to hang out with", but wishes she had spent more time on set.

"I missed my pal," she admits. "We just wanted her on the island. hanging out with her, because we had so much fun on the first film."

With Streep casting a long shadow even in her absence, it cannot have been easy for James to follow in her footsteps.

"I felt so intimidated," says the 29-year-old. "On one hand, it's too much.

"But on the other hand, what a gift to have Meryl Streep as someone to study and follow and to draw on this phenomenal character that she'd already created."

Thank you for the music

Image source, Universal
Image caption,
Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan return as Sophie's "three dads"

The fact that Cher not only plays Sophie's grandmother in the film but also sings Abba classic Fernando has understandably stoked fans' excitement to fever pitch.

Many, though, will be just as thrilled by the prospect of seeing Brosnan put through his vocal paces again, given his (ahem) spectacular interpretation of SOS in the original.

"Please do ask me about the singing - I can't wait," jokes the 65-year-old, whose vocal stylings in the first film were likened by one writer to "a dog coming round from anaesthesia".

So did he have any singing lessons in preparation for the sequel? "Oh heavens, no," he replies. "I gave up singing lessons after the first one. Really, I just thought, why bother?"

"Did you ask for your money back?" Baranski quips before opining that her co-star "got a bad rap".

"I think he sang wonderfully and his singing in the second one is so beautifully emotional," she continues. "It's such a wonderful moment in the film."

"They cut my singing but I do SOS and it's a poignant wee moment," says Brosnan. "In for a penny, in for a pound."

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out in the UK and Ireland on 20 July.

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