shadows features The girls of summer
Laughing with the cast and creators of Mamma Mia! • Page 1 of 2
at the world premiere in london
At the world premiere: Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan,
Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper
and Christine Baranski
meryl works the crowd

seyfried and brosnan craymer and lloyd

mamma mia

B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
mamma mia In just under a decade, the stage musical Mamma Mia has not only been a megahit around the world, but it has spawned a whole new genre of musicals - let's raid the back catalogue. But it's fairly easy to see why this show is outlasting the others: it's has an actual script. And then, of course, there are those pesky Abba songs, which are impossible to get out of your head.

On the day of the film's world premiere in London, the entire cast gathered to meet the press, divided into two groups: the girls and the boys. The only missing cast member was Julie Walters, probably unable to escape from the Harry Potter 6 set (she did turn up for the premiere that evening).

With this film, it's girls we look forward to meeting, and here they are: producer Judy Craymer, clearly enjoying the success of an unlikely project she put together back in 1999; director Phyllida Lloyd, relishing the fact that her feature directing debut stars the first lady of cinema; Amanda Seyfried, still a bit nervous about being in the company of such high-powered actors; Christine Baranski looking impossibly leggy and flashing those mischievous eyes; and of course Meryl Streep, smiling broadly as she's clearly having the time of her life.

So why did Judy and Phyllida, and writer Catherine Johnson, decide to make a movie of their globally successful stage show?

We said our ideal casting is Meryl Streep and the studio said, “Well you’ll never get her.”

Phyllida: We opened the show in 1999. Since then there's been 19 productions, and we didn't feel there was anywhere else we could open in the world - so before we get too old, what could we do together? Collaborate on the film!

Judy: I knew that unlike a lot of other stage musicals we had the advantage that we had a cinematic location - Greece - which went a long way to giving us a life on screen. Even so, it's difficult to get movies made from musicals. But the moment Meryl Streep said yes, there was no turning back.

Meryl: What can she say, I'm in the room!

Judy: It was kind of like, we said our ideal casting is Meryl Streep and the studio said, "Well you'll never get her." But the rest is history.

Meryl: I saw the show seven years ago and wrote a mash note to the cast of the Broadway production. I saw it in New York - I took my 10 year old for her birthday party. It was right after it opened, and it was right after September 11th, and everyone was feeling really low. I thought, "What am I going to do with all these kids?" Then I saw an ad in The New York Times that said, "New British musical - buoyant fun!" And I thought, "Boy, I'm there!" So I took the kids, and we all were dancing in the aisles and down the streets. That's why I wrote the note to the cast, basically to say thank you for the music and for the injection of joy that was so needful at that moment.

Initially, the idea of casting Meryl Streep in a musical comedy seems a bit crazy, until you remember her singing in comedies like Postcards from the Edge and The Prairie Home Companion.

Meryl: I've done a lot of musicals in my life. My first Broadway show was a musical - Happy End, with Kurt Weill music and, well, Brecht. And then I'd done a lot of musicals in high school, so this was more like coming home to something I'd always loved doing. Christine has done many fabulous big musicals, but I havenŐt done much stage - even though I've wanted to - in a long time.

Christine: I think singing and dancing on screen is always challenging, particularly when you're mainly an actor and you're given musical work to do. You feel humbled by it, and terrified. And then it's like, "Oh my gosh, this is a great challenge, how wonderful!" And then when you actually do it you think, "Why haven't I been doing this my whole life?"

In my drama school they used to use Abba to rev everybody up

Meryl: It's a joy to sing this music. I think I've sung all of these songs about 70,000 times, starting in my closet, which is the only place my family would allow me to practice, all the way to Pinewood and Holland Park, where we were living - those poor neighbours. I never got sick of singing these songs - never, never, never. In my drama school they used to use Abba to rev everybody up for dance class, because you just can't not be excited when it starts. So it wasn't a big problem reinserting yourself into the moment from Pinewood to Greece. Although Greece was nicer!

Amanda: I felt a little bit of pressure because I wasn't so familiar with the music - the huge success of it and the recognisability of it. It was scary to reinvent the songs in my style. But I was chosen for the role because they appreciated what I had to give - and that was amazing.

Meryl: Benny and Bjorn were there all the time when we were recording. First we did the prerecord to work to on set and then we had body mics while we were shooting. They were very generous with, as Amanda was saying, letting us own the songs, as long as we were exact on the words and the timing. And to not lost the beat - that's really important. But I didn't want to disappoint them or let them down. And I didn't want to let down all the Donnas! There have been 500 Donnas , and they're all are going to be watching this.

During the film, Meryl has a wide variety of musical numbers, from the intimate and surprisingly powerful solo The Winner Takes It All to the acrobatic physicality of Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen. Was there one that was particularly tricky?

Meryl: Here's the hardest number: Voulez-Vous. It was like this [big finger-snap] in the movie, but it was so hard to get those dance steps. Am I right?

Amanda: How long did we work on that?

Meryl: We worked on it three weeks before we began shooting. It was everybody's bete noire, all the non-dancing actors, which is to say all the actors except for Christine.

Christine: Stop saying that!

Meryl: No, it's true. You got it, but we were all [pants loudly, mimes the steps and sings, out of breath], "Voulez-vous, ah-ah, da da da da da da!" It goes so fast and there were 150 people on the set and it seemed very cramped. Except for the ending number, it was the only scene where everybody danced at once - the whole cast and every dancer in London I think! And it was really scary, fast and then they played those disco lights eight hours a day, and then the migraine sets in. But we couldn't wait to get there in the morning and do it again, [sarcastic eye-roll] because it's so fun!

Every time we hung out we could be very silly, but it was all research

But it clearly was a lot of fun, and the camaraderie between Meryl, Christine and Julie Walters is infectious on screen. How did they make it look so natural?

Meryl: I had to work so hard! You have no idea. No, Julie is so divine and so warm, and she's very wicked about everyone. So we had a lot of fun. The outtakes - I hope they never appear!

Christine: Every time we hung out - and Friday night was the one night we could go out and have a little English martini together -

Meryl: [singing] "Friday night and the lights are low..."

Christine: - we could be very silly, but it was all research. We kept saying, "Research, darling!" [Christine and Merly mime a toast]. It was so immediate and so spontaneous - the three of us liking each other and wanting it to look like fun. And I remember we said to each other, you know this is going to really work if it looks like we're really having fun with every single take. And that's what it was.


© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall