Taking on the sequel of a beloved musical such as Mamma Mia! is no easy feat. Ol Parker not only wrote the sequel, but also directed it.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes us back to 1979 when young Donna (Lily James) graduates from Oxford and in her travels, has separate encounters with three different men, one of whom will become Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) father. Meanwhile, in the present, Sophie is expecting a baby with Sky (Dominic Cooper) and renovating her mother’s hotel.
How many different plotlines did you think of when writing the script — or was a flashback always an essential element?
It was always an essential element. There was always the Meryl question. She very much wanted to be a part of it, but didn’t believe there was a story line moving forward with her that made much sense to her. So very early on I suggested that she not be alive in it. So that was run by her and she jumped to it and wanted to be in it and make an impact. So there was so much to explore. I didn’t want to make an entire movie about Sophie getting over the death of somebody so beloved in the film and offscreen as well. It needed something else — a totally different element to it. That’s how we came about Lily exploring her youth and sexuality and living to the fullest.
How much pressure was it, given that it’s such a beloved film and 10 years later it had to be twice as fun and exciting?
(Laughs) Initially I just got the gig as a writer. When I was up for director I felt pressure, but I kind of tried to do the opposite and feel what an amazing privilege that as a writer I got to inherit these characters that were already known and loved so I could go further. Much of the movie trades on the emotions of the first film. When they offered the directing to me, it was an enormous surprise. I genuinely thought it was going to be somebody else’s problem. I was terrified. But then I just worked with those guys. I get to go on set everyday with Colin and Pierce and Julie and Christine and Meryl and Cher. How could I not do that? So if you just try to view it as fun, then the pressure becomes a happy thing.
How did you manage to bring the entire cast back for the sequel?
Half of them said yes without reading the script, which was not necessarily flattering. They all had a brilliant time and wanted to recreate that experience. I think Meryl was first in. She read it first and said yes. So the agents would call and say Meryl said yes and then pretty much from then on of all them would read it with a massive positivity. Then their agents tried very hard despite their insane schedules. We got very lucky.
Lily James is just perfect in channeling young Donna — did you do a wide search to find her?
Yeah, it was a search with one ending. Lily was doing publicity for Baby Driver. The film was doing great so they kept extending the publicity tour so she was two weeks in Australia. It was really frustrating because we knew she was brilliant. I was sure I wanted her. I knew she could do it, but we wanted her to come in and sing to ABBA. I heard she was lovely so I wanted to meet her. She came in on Friday and we called her back in on Saturday and everybody said, “OMG! Yes!” and she got the part by Monday. She’s sensational.
What about Jessica Keenan Wynn? Her impression of Christine is uncanny.
Yeah, she was the last person cast. Christine is so individual and specific and all the reasons she is extraordinary is why it was hard to cast the young her. Then we got Jessica from New York and I flew over to meet her. She’s sensational and a lovely person.
I got goosebumps when I saw Cher on screen.
So did we. That’s exactly how you responded is how we felt… that’s the vibe she creates. When she said yes, it was sensational. When the plane landed, it was even more sensational because you’re never quite sure. I was not sure. I had got word that she had taken off, but you still think she might divert. The day she sang “Fernando” everyone came in. Colin and Pierce all brought their families and their dogs. Everyone was there. It was the most electric thing and the most extraordinary time I’ll ever have on a film set.
What was the most fun number to write and direct?
“Dancing Queen” because the dance sequence was done on 14 boats, which I thought was going to be Rob Marshall’s problem or one of those guys. It was five days of shooting. The best time of my life.
That Titanic scene with Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård was hilarious. Whose idea was that?
That was my idea I’m afraid (laughs). I had that from quite early on. I only told Colin and Stellan on that morning. There was a polite disagreement about who was going to be Kate and Leo (laughs). It was a gag, but I couldn’t resist it.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. Click here to read all about our Mamma Mia! filming locations trip in Greece. Also, watch our interviews with Lily James and Jessica Keenan Wynn, and the young dads, played by Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner. ~Marriska Fernandes