I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a press conference for the highly anticipated sequel of the hit musical film, Mamma Mia! If you haven’t heard of Mamma Mia!, where exactly have you been all this time? Mamma Mia! is a musical based on the songs of the incredibly popular Swedish pop group ABBA.
I decided to rewatch the first film again on my journey to this conference and I immediately fell in love with it all over again. I think it is such a great film that is silly, funny and heartwarming all at the same time.
Ten years since the first film is we released we are greeted with a sequel entitled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. This film follows on from the first in the present day but also dives more into the past and the backstory of Donna Sheridan.
Hosted by a very excited Edith Bowman, this conference consisted of two separate panels due to a whole range of the stars attending.
Press Conference 1 – Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Benny Andersson, Judy Craymer, Cher
This began with the producer Judy Cramer being asked about the journey and the ten years between these two films. How did you get to this point? How does it feel to be here now the new film is ready to be unleashed?
Judy Cramer: So many emotions! It is something we always considered and that we would like to do. Universal has always championed it but it was a matter of finding the right story. 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 Donna on the island. The Odyssey of the men, Donna and the journey.
I called Richard Curtis, I am a huge fan of his romantic comedies. Well, he said Godfather 2, you are going to go back and forth in time. So I said, yes that is it! Unfortunately, Richard could not write it because he was working on his own projects. He introduced me to the wonderful Ol Parker, we conspired and here we are now. So it was a matter of going back and forth in time and then bringing the cast back together.
The questions were then opened up to the floor. A question was directed to Cher, Amanda and Lily that stated, In this movie, a bond between mother and daughter is so beautifully portrayed. Just wondering if you have any fond memories of watching a movie together with your mum and if so what movie was it? Also, who would you like to watch this movie with?
Lily James: I reckon I watched the first film with my mum. I am such a huge fan and I think I’ll also watch this one with my mum as well.
Amanda Seyfried: It’s my mums birthday on the 20th, so because she couldn’t be here because she’s a wonderful grandmother and nanny to my daughter, I am gonna take her myself. Just the two of us, I am gonna wear a hat and wig to hide.
Cher: I use to watch a lot of old movies, my mother was an old movie buff. So early on in my life, my mother started with me watching old black and white films. Of course, I still love them, we watched musicals but I can’t remember any. I remember seeing Mildred Pierce, that wasn’t a musical it was kind of a down movie but it was really good. I liked the fact that Joan Crawford was let go by the studio and the next movie she made got her an academy award. My mother and I watched all these old movies together and I appreciate that now, more than I can say.
I remember when the first Mamma Mia! was released I actually saw this with my mum, I would not have said it was by choice but I still had a great time. I think it is wonderful to see the bond between mother and daughter does exist in both the film and real life for these stars. That bond is a crucial one for everyone and sharing even just a movie viewing experience with someone can be beautiful. As seen in the response from Cher.
Benny Anderson. One of the members of ABBA was discussing the process of rearranging the ABBA songs for the movie.
Benny Andersson: Well, I don’t know where to start. In order to create the script there had to be a number of songs piled together. We couldn’t really use the 22 songs from the first film, we could use two/three which we have. Having the songs is important because otherwise there is nothing to write a story around. The lyrics in the songs are moving the story forward. Then we had a script from Mr Parker (who’s a lovely guy by the way) then we said maybe not this one or that one and swapped one or two around. I’ve been trying to stay as original to the arrangements as possible, apart from maybe swapping keys for other singers.
Cher discussed her love and discovery of the song Fernando.
Cher: In America, we knew the hit songs, the major hit songs. Then when I heard Fernando, I heard a different thing, I knew the story but I heard the acting of it. I didn’t realise the songs were so complicated, how well orchestrated they were. Then when I thought of how to interoperate it, it seemed so perfect for Andy and I, the relationship we have and seeing each other again.
The cast of this film is so beautiful in many ways. I strongly feel they have as much fun working on this film as we do when watching it. Just from the way they speak about each other and their experiences, there is a clear sense of adoration for one another. As seen when Lily and Amanda are asked about how they bonded and supported each other.
Lily James: I have to say, getting into rehearsals with Alexa and Jess and dancing by their side, I have never felt a high like that in my life. We became like this girl band, the power of that, the strength and the joy was just amazing. Dynamo’s forever! All of us were supporting each other, it was a really beautiful energy on set.
Amanda Seyfried: Yeah it was great to be back after ten years. You guys had already started shooting, you set the tone for us before we even descended on Croatia. Then when we got there, you guys were all warm and cosy and made us feel all warm and cosy. It is still daunting, as much as it is nice to come home in a way. The support was all very equal.
Christine was asked about reading the script for this one for the first time. After the success of the first one and how it connected so brilliantly with people, especially ten years down the line.
Christine Baranski: Well, I agreed to do the sequel without seeing a script because I had so much fun the first time. My first question was, are the same people on board and is everyone going to agree? The word was that people were going to move heaven and earth and rearrange there complicated schedules to be able to do it. That was number one, getting back my colleagues.
When I read the script, I was so taken with how really original it was. To take this original story, do a sequel where you see the maturation of these characters we have come to know. That they’ve been informed by loss, that things have happened in there life (big things) and seeing them come together with new emotional depth. Then the brilliance of going back in time, with six talented, sexy young performers, doing all this sexy rock and roll stuff so brilliantly. It is really just an ingenious construct. Kudos to Ol and Judy, everybody who waited ten years to make sure it was going to be exactly right. I really think they got it just dead right.
Lily James taking on the role of Donna is a big moment for her. I mean she is playing a younger version of a character who originally was played by Meryl Streep. That is a huge deal and she discussed how she went about making Donna her own character.
Lily James: Well I mean, Donna is the most beloved, brilliant, extraordinary, women/character and Meryl Streep is also all of those things. Her Donna was everything, so I just tried my hardest to watch and learn from what Meryl did. I tried to capture the essence of that fearless, uninhibited women and I watched the film over and over again to try to get into her body, how Meryl moves, how she’s open to world, faces everything front on and I thought if I could find my way into the physicality then you would hopefully believe my Donna could grow into that women. Then in the end just surrender to the moment. Being there with all these amazing people, dancing and singing and I think that is the spirit of the movie as well. Just being in the moment.
Alexa and Jess also pitched in on this question. As they are also filling in the younger versions of Rose and Tanya. These characters were played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski.
Alexa Davies: For me, Julie has been my hero since I was about five years old. I think I’ve seen everything she has ever done. So I feel like when it came to research, I had watched every interview she had ever done from the 80’s just to try to see what she was like at that stage in her life. It is a really interesting thing, as Julie has a really interesting voice which I was really interested in playing around with. I think it is lucky we both have similar physicality in the sense that we both look tired all the time. As soon as I met Lily and Jess then I sort of took it up another level, that is what is amazing about these characters as they are stronger together, it adds a whole new layer when you understand their love for each other.
Jessica Keenan Wynn: How does one follow that? It was so beautifully said.
I have adored Christine now even more as a person but as an actress for I could say my life. I think everything she has done has informed me as a person wanting to be an actress. That’s why when this opportunity came along, people were like it is perfect for you. To be able to go back and watch Christine in movies/tv shows she had done and capture little bits. Like, I would love to go back and watch the way her eyes move, the way she held a glass, the way she slowed down, she was never rushed, she was always in the moment and taking it in. It actually informed me as cheesy as it is and as crazy/beautiful as this experience was to actually take a minute to just sit in it and really be present.
Christine Baranski chimed in at the end saying ‘’I think she is a new and improved version.’’
I think it is clear to say, there was a lot of love in that room. This is a cast who adored the film and adored each others company as well. Now onto conference number two.
Press Conference 2 – Dominic Cooper, Pierce, Stellan Skarsgard, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Jeremy Irvine, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Ol Parker, Andy Garcia
This time around it was the boys time to shine and we began with the director (Ol Parker) discussing where he started with the story of this new film.
Ol Parker: I had an email from Richard that said, random question but do you like ABBA? I replied, who doesn’t? I thought he was going to invite me to dinner with Benny and Bjorn because that is how he rolls. Then he said a follow-up question, would you like to write the sequel? I said yes, that would be lovely thank you. Not that it was up to him to offer the job but that is where I came in.
Richards extraordinary daughter actually had the idea of doing a prequel/sequel. She suggested Godfather 2, so that is what he gave me and then I came up with the story. Richard and I actually spent time in his caravan, in the countryside. We actually put all of our favourite songs up on the wall and tried to sort of zigzag between them and sort of crowbar them in. I mean Andy’s character was invented so that Cher could sing Fernando to him.
The director even said a very sweet thing about the opportunity of working on the film and about his cast ‘‘It’s a great gift and I think a tribute to the people on stage next to me and the music that we got to use. There is so much heart in what they do.’’
ABBA is such a huge and influential band. Their music has affected countless generations and Bjorn discussed some of the responses to that, the idea that Mamma Mia! has actually saved peoples lives.
Bjorn Ulvaeus: I get to hear that a lot. It is quite a strange feeling when people come up to you and say you have no idea how much your music has meant for us. Emotionally it is quite a difficult concept to grasp, you know I am sitting here today when I shouldn’t be sitting here I thought our music would go into oblivion two years after we split. That was 35 years ago. So I am just very humble and grateful, when I look at myself in the mirror every morning I am very down to earth and that makes it even more difficult to understand.
Pierce and Stellan also had some cracking responses to wearing their flamboyant costumes.
Pierce Brosnan: Well it was the same embarrassing humiliation. However, we had broad shoulders.
Stellan Skarsgard: You have no idea how much spandex flattens your genitals.
Pierce Brosnan: We are actors, we know where the jokes are. This is for me a movie I will forever cherish in my heart, I mean it was magical to do it ten years ago. It was incredible to go around the world and see the joy it brought peoples lives. To have that in your career, to have that gift, there is nothing but gratitude.
Andy Garcia discussed being serenaded by Cher and his experiences with Cher.
Andy Garcia: Last night or in the movie? It was a great privilege really. I’ve always been a huge fan of Cher, not only as a singer but as an actress. So when I got the opportunity and they approached me to be a part of it, I was very excited. All the people in the cast, some are old friends but I admire them all. I am blessed to be here.
You know, actually, she is extremely down to earth. One of the things I’ve always been attracted to, about her is that she has always shown an extraordinary talent as an actress. I think it is her sense of humour, the dryness in her humour that is so engaging for me. She has that, she is so present in life, she is so aware of everything and her commentary of things are very funny.
I remember when we were doing the film. I was experiencing some issues with my back, I kind of tweaked it playing golf here in England. She was giving me some remedies, things I should try and she texted me saying ‘here try this, I think it will be good for you’ she signed it Ruby (Her Characters Name) with one of those kisses. So I said ‘Cher is this you?’ She said ‘Of course it is me, how many people do you know named Ruby’. That kind of sums it up.
We had on good authority from the previous press conference that Pierce, on his first day back was skipping in preparation.
Pierce Brosnan: Yes, I prepared for months my skipping. When I showed up for work on the first day, there was beautiful Julie, Christine and two hundred dancers, the olive groves and five or six cameras and it was Dancing Queen. Amanda was in front and Ol said okay just dance. Then I was skipping, I was skipping for weeks on ends, I tried many variations of skipping but in the end, it was just good old Irish skipping. You have to throw yourself into this, you cannot be shy.
Oh, it was brilliant. Just the warmth of everybody and the friendships that have been created, from the first movie to this one. It was just wonderful to see. This man Ol, he gave us all the space and place to be ourselves and enjoy the moment.
Dominic had some lovely things to say about recording the song One of Us.
Dominic Cooper: I was honoured to realise when I read the script, that was the song I had been given. It wasn’t originally a duet but was so for the film, I loved the song already and actually not realised how quite difficult it was to sing. What I was made aware of yet again by how incredible this music is, how it has spanned more generations than anything.
I was feeling quite emotional anyway but I just wasn’t managing it. It was being in the studio, you have a glass box, a very famous music studio in London (Air Studios) it was beautiful, the best orchestras, the best musicians and bands have recorded in. Then you have ABBA watching you destroy pieces of art. You start sweating, panicking and feeling nauseous and no one knows what to do. Benny actually came out and said you’ve sung this perfectly before, then he got behind a piano and said relax just do it how you normally do. He built a temporary booth, put up some soundboards and we recorded it like that, it was a joy and a pleasure to be instructed by one of the creators of this piece of music.
I constantly feel utterly honoured to have been allowed to sing any of the music, nothing has greater impact and I realise this more and more each day after ten years since doing the first, how incredible this has impacted peoples live through tough times. We are just a small fraction of that in terms of making the film, the music has done that since 1974. It is an astonishing thing, it is like a classic piece of art or a wonderful novel, It is art and it has saved and affected people. I thought this was just fun and a laugh, something to enjoy which we all did but only now have I really realised. More so with this film, which has embedded in more reflection and reaffirms what we do in life, what happens to us and the emotional journey in which we embark upon. To have that impact to have helped save people is an astonishing thing, more pressure when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.
Andy had some hilarious and kind things to say about Ol Parker the director.
Andy Garcia: I’d like to say something about Mr Parker and I am sure everyone on this table would agree. We’ve got a load of older guys on this table who have experienced a lot of directors and Ol is really one of them, I’d say he has a bright future. He is an incredibly sensitive individual, very in tune with what is going on with you as an actor. The one thing I will say is after I do something he would say that is brilliant, that is brilliant but then he would also say that when they would bring him in a cup of tea. So you don’t know how to take his support. But Ol is one of the great experiences I have had over the years.
The final topic is one that I am sure many people would want to hear about. ABBA’s new music and the chance of a new album.
Bjorn Ulvaeus: Well the new music which we have written was really inspired by a project that we are in. Where we are budding heads that are copies of our heads from 1979. We thought that those heads need something new to sing, so we wrote two new songs.
We went into the studio with the ladies. It was a fantastic experience. We have never been in a studio together since we split up in 82, we sort of looked around as this situation is so incredibly familiar. It took seconds and we were back like it was yesterday, it was great fun doing that again. The strange thing is, when those two ladies start singing together, there is that sound that is not like any other sound. It just happened that way, it was just coincidence that we should meet and that those two can make that sound together which is the ABBA sound. I don’t think there will be a new album.
That is all I have to share from this wonderful experience. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed attending the event.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out in UK cinemas now.