Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again–What to Do with Meryl Streep’s Character?

The hit musical Mamma Mia! the brainchild of British producer Judy Craymer, began as an idea: An idyllic Greek island, three potential fathers, a pair of overalls, and soundtrack of songs by the pop group ABBA.

Inspired by the theatrical potential of ABBA’s emotional ballad “The Winner Takes It All,” Craymer used her skills to put together a story built around some of the Swedish band’s greatest hits.

It was almost 20 years ago when Mamma Mia! hit the stage on London’s West End in 1999.  Since then, Mamma Mia! has become the eighth-longest running show in West End history, grossing over $2 billion throughout its run.

The beloved characters from the fictional island of Kalokairi are back–joined by a new cast of characters to play their younger selves, including Lily James as the younger Meryl Streep’s Donna.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which opens July 20, explores the backstory that originated in Donna Sheridan’s diary from the first film.


It was something I had explored and talked about to the composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.  I don’t think any of us could completely decide on what it was and I had also talked to the original architects, Phyllida Lloyd who directed the first movie and the stage show, and Catherine Johnson who wrote it. I think it was just a matter of what and when, and I think they felt that they were too close to the material and didn’t want to venture down that path.

Consulting Richard Curtis

Of course, the stakes are high when you’re going to do a follow-up film. But Universal has always supported me. They’ve very much championed us. But ‘How do we get the wonderful original cast back if we’re doing a prequel?’ So that was a phone call I made to Richard Curtis asking him for his thoughts. I love his work and I thought he might love to throw some light on it.  The prequel is what he came up with, going back and forth in time.  That was the lightbulb moment about two and a half years ago.

Staying true to the original backstory?

It was incredibly important to quite literally mime the origins of the story. We have something that I like to call the “Mamma Mia! factor” and I think the goal was to somehow find that while exploring the backstory and going into the present day, while also giving serious nods to the last film. The location, the island, the sense of place, the sense that you want to join old friends and be back there. It was all important.

Donna’s character (Meryl Streep)

To be honest, she was always a part of it. Would we have done another film without her? She was so glorious in the first movie and has so much affection for Mamma Mia! So, she was always a part of a conversation of another film. I think for her, it was a matter of what and how, and we also did chat occasionally about it. It was a matter of the right script.

Meryl likes to conquer new things, and she had played Donna Sheridan and been singing nine or so ABBA songs in the first movie. I think she felt that she liked the idea of leaving this to the younger ones and she wanted to be involved, but she wasn’t gonna take on such a big role.  I think that helped explore the emotional heft of what director and co-writer Ol Parker wrote in the fact that it’s a story of life and marriage and loss and love, but also it’s very important to Meryl what song she does. If she was gonna sing, “My Love, My Life” is a very, very strong song like “The Winner Takes It All.” It’s a huge storytelling song, it’s got a big emotional punch and, of course, she has this incredible voice. So, I think there were many decisions there, but it came very much from Meryl being a part of all of them.