Meryl Streep passes the ‘Mamma Mia 2’ spotlight to Lily James and a new generation

Bryan Alexander and Andrea Mandell

Get the backstory to the ABBA-obsessed 2008 hit starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Pierce Brosnan. Universal Pictures
Stepping into those big platform shoes is “Cinderella” star Lily James in Streep’s role as young Donna, alongside younger versions of her partners in crime, Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies), and young lovers Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Harry (Hugh Skinner) and Bill (Josh Dylan).

Playing the younger version of the characters was a daunting responsibility for the new cast, especially when the original crew arrived on location.
“It was a cast of movie legends. There were moments when we were like, ‘I just can’t believe they’re all here,’ ” says James, adding that any fears died as she grooved to ABBA with her young co-stars. “That is one of the great joys of my life, dancing along with Alexa and Jess in flares and platforms and just seriously living out my best girl-band life.”  
The original actors (gracefully referred to as the “legacy cast”) were more than happy to let youthful versions of their characters dance on towering platform shoes, Baranski insists. She was introduced to her Tanya doppelganger Wynn after watching the crew rehearse their elaborate opening dance sequence.
“We got to pass the baton and let them do the heavy lifting, with all the rocking out to ABBA in those high-heeled boots,” says Baranski. “Right away, I saw they were fantastic. I gave just one piece of advice, ‘Don’t fall off of those platform boots, you’ll really twist your ankle.’ That’s the secret of ‘Mamma Mia!’ “
The new cast provides a major perk, allowing filmmakers to ramp up the singing and dancing from the gloriously enthusiastic original.
” ‘Mamma Mia!’ has always been about certain imperfections and the audience seeing themselves onscreen. But Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth will all admit readily that they cannot sing and dance,” says Craymer, who adds that the younger actors can. “They are all triple threats.”
Parker worked with the young cast for weeks, holding a singing/dancing boot camp on the Croatian island where the film shot. The youthful cast frequented the sole nearby restaurant for raucous evening dinners.
“We became this pack. We were all having such a great time,” says James. “So there was an energy that was infectious. It was really quite magical.”
With the first film as a roadmap for each characters’ traits, Parker insisted that the new cast study their predecessors, but avoid imitating them.
“I just wanted to capture the essence of what made Donna Donna, focusing on maybe a few characteristics, a few expressions,” says James. “I tried to emulate and hoped there would be a way that you could feel like my Donna could grow into that woman.”
It worked. Parker recalls shooting the scene where James’ Donna is shopping in a market and tries on denim overalls, the origin of the iconic outfit Streep wore in “Mamma Mia!” He instructed James to model Donna’s new outfit for Irvine’s Sam.
“Lily came out in the dungarees and did the same dance that Meryl had done on the jetty with Christine and Julie in the original,” says Parker. “That came out naturally after her research. It was how she felt when she put on Donna’s dungarees. That’s what you rely on the young cast to bring. And they all did.”
He recalls watching the rehearsals for the Spandex-filled final number. Parker paired the actors who play each character – younger and legacy – to rehearse the screen moment where they dance together in the film’s curtain call.
Observing the two generations of Donnas, Tanyas and Sams whirling to disco music from a balcony above the dance floor filled Parker with overwhelming pride.
“There was Meryl, getting down with Lily as ‘Super Trouper’ was playing. They were laughing so hard,” says Parker. “Just the fun everyone was having.  That was a real pinch-yourself life moment.”

Cher, Meryl Streep light up ‘Mamma Mia 2’ premiere blue carpet
Cher and Meryl Streep gave the love to each other at

Cher and Meryl Streep gave the love to each other at the “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” world premiere in London Monday night. Cher plays Streep’s screen mother in the “Mamma Mia” sequel in theaters Friday.  Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

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Cher, Meryl Streep light up ‘Mamma Mia 2’ premiere blue carpet
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