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‘Mamma Mia!’ director on casting Cher

‘I refused to contemplate anyone else’

LOS ANGELES, July 22, (RTRS): It’s been a decade since the smash hit “Mamma Mia” hit the screen, and yet director Ol Parker knew audiences still had the hunger for a sequel.

Parker, best known for writing the “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” series, was originally planning just to write the sequel, before Universal decided he would also be the right choice to direct.

With the film opening last Friday, Parker talked to Variety about how Richard Curtis, the screenwriter and director of the original, played a part in pushing him towards the job, Lily James’ full commitment to the part and the famous sequel he was inspired by.

Question: Have you been surprised at all that there is still a thirst for a sequel even after ten years?

Answer: I’m grateful for starters. When I first got the gig I spent a couple of the first days terrified! Obviously we are here because of the enormous success of the first one, so I realized quite quickly that if I succumbed to the pressure that I would never get out of bed and would never write a word. So I just tried to view it that I got the chance to inherit these characters that people knew and loved and these songs and extraordinary music as well as these wonderful actors I get the chance to work with and not get too freaked out by the level of expectations.

Q: When did you and Universal decide to make a flashback an essential element of how the story would be told in this sequel?

A: Prior to coming on, Richard Curtis wrote me an email and asked, “Random question — do you like ABBA?” and I went, “Well, who doesn’t?” and that was like two years ago, and I thought he was going to invite me to dinner with them, because he knows everybody and that’s how he rolls. Then he wrote me again and asked, “How do you feel about writing the sequel to Mamma Mia?” So when I was trying to figure out the story, I reached out to Richard about how to tell the story after so many years and his brilliant daughter, Scarlet, who is also a writer and happened to be with Richard driving in a car said, “Well, you should do “Godfather 2,” and I just went “Brilliant, I’ll take it.”

Q: I would never think to put “Godfather 2” and “Mamma Mia” together?

A: It is not often that they are mentioned in the same sentence — it’s not a comparison, it’s just a structural theft.

Q: What was it about Lily James early on that made you think she could play a character that Meryl Streep had already played?

A: So she had met, but right after that, she went straight into doing publicity for “Baby Driver” and because it was doing so well they kept extending the publicity tour. Even though we were seeing some really great actresses, I was just waiting for Lily to come back. Lily is in life and art, completely uninhibited and just commits fully on screen.

Plus, she sang in “Cinderella” and had a lovely voice and what I didn’t realize is that while her voice was in tune and beautiful, I had no idea how well she could act with it. So she came in with like half a day in between the “Baby Driver” tour and I knew she would be brilliant but what I also came to find out was how nice she was. To me, one of the keys of casting the younger cast was casting people I really liked, because I can attest to having seen the first film and seeing that cast really unite and see that close bond they formed, I wanted that with this younger cast as well.

Q: How did the Cher casting come about?

A: There’s a sports saying, if you aren’t playing offense, you’re playing defense, so if you are coming back for a sequel not be better but you have to aim higher and bring something else back in to the mix. So I wrote that part specifically for Cher in the script and when I handed it in I told them, by the way that role is Cher. I refused to contemplate anyone else being on the list. So we are waiting for a while, on Cher time — because Cher owns time. In the end, Ron Meyer just called her up and said “You’re doing ‘Mamma Mia 2” and she was like “OK.” It was a great day when she said yes but it was an even better day when the plane arrived in London. She’s also an absolute sweetheart, she’s warm and funny and was very lovely on the set.

Q: Had you dealt with any musical directing prior to getting the job?

A: I hadn’t, but I was lucky enough to work with a lovely choreographer who insisted that we work together. I originally thought 40% of the film would just be his. We also had this brilliant cameraman, Bob Yeoman, and that was a really big deal when he signed. We knew we were in a different echelon with him and that was fantastic obviously. We were just having fun and no idea was too dumb.


LONDON: From the upbeat “Waterloo” to the lesser known “When I Kissed The Teacher”, the “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” cast belt out an array of ABBA songs in the highly anticipated film, which came out this week.

But which tune is their favourite?

At the movie’s world premiere, Reuters asked the cast and crew of the new film, the sequel to 2008’s “Mamma Mia!”, to name their top ABBA tracks by the legendary Swedish band.

Below are some of their answers:

ABBA founding member Benny Andersson: “No I can’t pick one. I can pick one in this film, I can say ‘My Love, My Life’ at the end of the film. That’s become a very nice recording … I like that one.”

Singer and actress Cher: “One of Us’ is my favourite song.”

Actress Lily James: “My favourite song would probably be ‘Andante, Andante’. I sing it in the film and it’s beautiful. It’s lesser known, I mean ABBA fans will obviously know it … but I think people will really fall in love with the song. It’s really beautiful.”

Actress Christine Baranski: “You can dance, you can jive — everybody loves ‘Dancing Queen’, right?”

“Mamma Mia” The Musical creator/producer Judy Craymer: “You don’t want to hear my ‘Winner Takes It All’ but that has to be one of the favourites. And that was the inspiration to create the stage show and to, you know, take Meryl Streep onto that cliff top in Greece (in the 2008 “Mamma Mia!” film).”

Actor Dominic Cooper: “I’ll tell you who really moves me is from the first film and it was Meryl singing …‘Winner Takes It All’”

Actor Jeremy Irvine: “Oh ‘Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen’ is my favourite song. It’s great to get the party going.”

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