Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: Interview with Lily James, Playing the Younger Meryl Streep

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the sequel to the global smash hit, will be released July 20, 2018.

Rising star Lily James plays the young version of Meryl Streep’s character in the original.

Free Spirit of Donna as Young Woman

Lily James: I really could relate to that.  I remember when I was 20 and I’d finished school and I went off traveling, all I wanted was more, more of everything and everyone.  And I was hungry and I think in Donna she’s searching for something she can’t stop and I really could relate to that and that sense of being fearless, not being cynical yet, just the world is yours to conquer really. And then this whole thing has been an adventure from start to finish.  In fact, from starting acting to sitting here now, it’s just been wild. And to get the opportunity to play such a brilliant, fierce, independent, cool woman and in turn study what Meryl Streep did to create Donna in the most perfect, vivid way was an opportunity that was hard to come by.


Bonding with Older Actors

LJ: it was amazing to get to spend time with them all.  When you’re shooting on location, it’s a gift because you don’t go home at the end of work and retreat to your own flat. Suddenly you’re going for dinners and you’re getting to spend time with people and you really become a family. And that’s unique, especially on an island in the middle of the Adriatic Sea, (laughs) it doesn’t happen.  Christine was amazing in rehearsals and we were doing, “When I Kiss the Teacher in and me and the Dynamos had these fake platform ABBA boots taped to our legs and we were sweating and we were hot and we weren’t sure we were nailing it. And she came in and she snuck in and she watched the rehearsal and at the end she just started clapping and she was so generous. Her heart was just, she gave it to us, she was like, you’re doing a great job, you know, you’re perfect as The Dynamos. And having that seal of approval from her right near the start meant the world to us. So they were all incredibly generous and supportive and wanted to share the film with us, wanted to share the characters. There was a sense of collaboration.


Playing the Younger Meryl Streep

LJ: When I first got the email and the audition, I was 100 percent on board, my agents weren’t sure, they were like, would you want to do a “Mamma Mia” sequel? And I was like, yes, (laughter) do you know me at all? And then I got it and things changed, the reality of it sunk in and I wondered whether it was crazy to try and take on such a character. And I think Meryl Streep is probably the one of, if not the greatest actor of all time, you know. And so that panicked me. But then I decided to just go for it. I’m in the way Donna would. And then I watched the movie hundreds of thousands of times, and I can mimic the whole film, every gesture, every eye roll. I think I should actually film myself doing it because it’s ridiculous. And then I watched all lot of Meryl’s films from when she was younger. I found “Postcards From the Edge” where she sings and she’s quite sort of manic, that was useful. There was an abandon in that that felt right to Donna.  Even “Death Becomes Her, there’s the comedic sort of charm that she has, and I just took the opportunity. Someone said to me, what a gift, you get to study Meryl Streep?  And that’s my job right now is to study her and so I did that as best I could.  And then on the day I had to just surrender to the moment.  I mean I think the two Dynamos, Alexa and Jess, out of this world.  I mean they are a young Julie and Christine.  So I knew I had these girls beside me that were just perfect and that helped too.


Abba Music

LJ: I genuinely listened and danced to ABBA as a small kid. My Dad introduced me to them and I then went and saw the stage production, which is because of ABBA. I fell in love with the music and have been singing it since I was a kid, with my brothers telling me to shut up because it would be on repeat.  So it was a part of me and when I got it and my mom, my brothers were kind of like, oh yeah, that makes sense. So I guess that the songs were in me.  Beyond that, I think Amanda and I both have, because I just love Amanda’s voice, I watched her as the original Sophie and was just in awe of her. I think we have like a purity in our sound.  But yeah, we are not necessarily that skilled, but there’s a sound that suits the songs I think. And Benny really encouraged that, so that was what I just went for.


Preparation for Singing

LJ: I was doing the tour for “Baby Driver” and I was in Australia I think. And I only had a month from when I got the job to when I started. So I had no time and I was learning the songs on the Press tour. So it was just a whirlwind. So I listened to them, listened to them nonstop, nonstop, nonstop, and sang them as much as I could. Then a week before recording, I didn’t speak. I was so worried of losing my voice, I just didn’t speak per week, which is impossible for me. And then I got there and we just worked, we had a few days here in Stockholm in Benny’s Studio and I walked in and Benny just sort of was really chilled, went straight over to the piano and started playing “My love, My Life” and I just started singing.  And suddenly it was just happening and Bjorn was rewriting lyrics there and they were so generous with their music and with their trust in us. And in fact there’s a video I showed Benny and Bjorn and they were like laughing so much, of a few months previously, it was my mom’s birthday and I was a little drunk at the end of the night and I was dancing on the table singing “The Winner Takes it All” with my mom’s boyfriend holding up a cake knife as my microphone. And there’s a video of it and my family are like sing in Swedish and I’m like doing my Meryl, and then like three months later or something I was recording with them in the studio.  It was like very surreal.


Lifestyle Now

LJ: I’m more like Donna in that way, I don’t dream of that stuff.  I just want to take life each day and invent my own rules and I’m having a great time in my life and I’m so happy. I have amazing family, friends and relationships. But I am at a point where I think coming to the end of my twenties, you reevaluate things and things come sharply into perspective and I’ve been working nonstop and playing so many different roles that I felt a bit like I’m losing a sense of myself and I want to slow down a bit. I think not necessarily with work but just with connecting to myself.  But I feel like there’s so much more I want to do in my twenties. So I’ve got like a little plan of stuff that I want to get done before I am 30.  I want to go to Berlin. There’s loads, I want to travel more because often I’m traveling for work and I want to go and spent a bit of time away.


Being Cynical

LJ:  I think cynicism creeps in as you get older. I think good things, bad, great, have consequences, you know, you’re more aware of the consequences I guess, of your choices and of life. And so that’s kind of what I mean by that, I’m not a very cynical person at all.  But I’m a worrier. And Danny Boyle, God, he was amazing. Him combined with Richard Curtis was like this match made in heaven that you would never have expected.  I mean, they’re so different, but I think together it’s a very unique story told from Danny’s perspective and lens, which makes it even rawer and deeper, and I loved working with him. He’s got more enthusiasm than any director I’ve ever worked with. He sort of jumps around the set and it’s infectious and he’s so emotional, if it’s a sad scene, he’s sort of was crying with you. I’ve loved working with him.  I play Ellie, who’s a school teacher, lives in Suffolk and loves music. And it’s the story of Jack and Ellie really, their journey. I don’t want to give too much away, I’m not sure what they’re saying about it yet.

Grandmother as Influence

LJ: I’m just sort of a huge fan of everything my grandma did.  Growing up and seeing snippets of what she’d done, I couldn’t get my head around seeing her in that way. And that definitely sparked my passion and my curiosity. And she was the most glamorous but kind woman. She had that old school American accent that sounds straight out of those black and white movies, so delicate but with a wicked sense of humor. She’s just amazing. And I used to have her headshot on my piano and she sort of encapsulated that kind of movie star thing to me, I’m such a matriarch, the core of our family. So she was always saying like, gee honey, fully American.  She was the best. And so yeah, I’m so sad, but she knew that this was what I wanted to do, but she never knew that I even really started on this journey. So she knew that I was going to Drama School. Her dreams were huge and you got swept up in her passion. So I think maybe that was what gave me the courage to keep going.


Dating Guys in the Movie

LJ: I got three great guys in “Mamma Mia,” I mean literally a pleasure. Well with regards to Donna, I always felt like she was drawn into very different aspects of each guy.  I think Bill she knew was bad news, Bill was the one she like kept at arm’s length.

Dating in Real Life

LJ: I think that sometimes that alchemy of what makes you stay away from someone is very mysterious. You just, like you said, you just know in your gut that that’s not right. And I always would trust that instinct too, I’m cautious with, always really with who I let in and got close to. I think I’m drawn, there’s like a magnetism to confidence and someone can make me laugh and talent I think is really attractive. I’ve been in a relationship for such a long time that that obviously isn’t a thing for me anymore.  But with regards to like new people, I don’t know, you try and just pretend that that is not even a thing, but there is an element of it when you think that someone might already have opinions of you or know of you, and that can make you retreat a bit and become a little more self conscious.


World Cup: England against Croatia

LJ: It’s coming home!  I’m so excited, I can’t tell you.  But I feel really, really nervous. I’m not like a huge football fan. I mean I love that my brothers and my dad brought me up supporting Chelsea and they would disown me if I didn’t get behind that. But with the World Cup, I think it’s just phenomenal how you get swept into this momentum and you watch those videos of the crowds and the cheering and it’s the best theater. It’s Drama that no other film, apart from “Mamma Mia,” gets you on your feet and so does the World Cup. So I am very excited. We’re watching it tonight. We were supposed to fly to Germany tonight and they changed it so that we could watch the semifinal together. And Pickford, I feel like he is the man of the match, and Maguire. But Pickford, I love what a lad is. I mean every time it cuts to him, he’s just such a hot head.  And they have such a young team and with so much to prove and those penalties were just, my heart was in my mouth.


Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Lily James: I was interested in that story, it was something I kept coming back to because the characters  were so vivid. I didn’t realize that Guernsey was occupied during the War, and that fascinated me so close to home. My other Granny, who’s French, and was in occupied France during the Second World War as a young girl, so there was this connection to0. And learning more about my Granny’s story through doing these films like “Guernsey” and also “The Darkest Hour,” I felt a real connection. I even felt like I looked like when I had the sort of 1940s wig on and I’m really proud of that film. I think it’s coming out on Netflix soon. It’s a very sort of simple story but told with great art, great heart. Mike Newell is one of our great classic English directors and he directs with humor in a very unique way.


Shooting the Film

LJ:  It wasn’t shot in Guernsey, which was really sad.  Apparently according to the producers, logistically it just couldn’t happen. And there were all sorts of reasons and they really tried along with in Guernsey, the tourist board and everyone there, there really was an attempt but it just didn’t work out. But we did go over there to do a special screening when the film came out and we were welcomed and it is so beautiful.