Christine Baranski, Jessica Keenan Wynn, and Ol Parker Spill Mamma Mia! Secrets
Two Tanyas and their writer-director discuss creating a sequel to one of the biggest movie musicals of all time.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the sequel to the beloved 2008 movie musical, hits theaters on Friday, July 20. Written and directed by Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), this new ABBA fest is simultaneously a sequel and a prequel. As we reunite with old friends like Tanya (Christine Baranski) 10 years after the events of the first movie, we also meet their younger selves (Beautiful vet Jessica Keenan Wynn plays Young Tanya) to find out how they got where they are.
On the phone from their press tour in London, Parker, Baranski, and Wynn shared the secrets of Mamma Mia! 2, and told us how it was just as fun to make as it looked onscreen.
These conversations have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Ol, you're new to the Mamma Mia! universe. How did you come to write and direct the sequel?
Ol Parker: Richard Curtis [the executive producer] sent me an email that said, "Random question: Do you like ABBA?", and I wrote back saying, "Who doesn't?" I think I thought he was going to invite me to dinner with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus or something, because that's how he rolls. And then he said, "Follow-up question: How would you feel about writing a sequel?" So I came up with the main storyline and spent a very happy three days with Richard in his caravan in the countryside, where we pinned all our favorite ABBA songs to the wall and tried to make the music fit with the story.
Just to be clear: I only got the gig as a writer. I was terrified when they asked me to direct. I wouldn't have let a dance sequence on 14 boats happen ["Dancing Queen"] if I thought I was going to be the guy trying to make that work. [laughs]
Christine, as a returning Mamma Mia! veteran, what was your first thought when you heard that there was going to be a sequel?
Christine Baranski: I was overjoyed. My first question was, "Is everyone else onboard to do it? Because if they are, count me in." I did not even need to see or read a script, because the first experience was so happy, and I was working with such high-caliber actors and getting to sing and dance to ABBA. And then the script came in and it was so full of humor and emotion.
Ol: It's funny. You spend so much time working on the script and being worried what the actors are going to think when they read it, and then they just sign up anyway without ever having read it. That was great.
Jessica, how did you come to be cast as Christine's younger doppelgänger?
Jessica Keenan Wynn: I had two auditions, and then a final one with Ol and Martin Koch, the musical director. I tried to be responsible and left an hour early for my final audition in a cab so as not to let the humidity affect my hair, and I was 15 minutes late. I had brought Levain cookies to bribe them, and I came in and I was sweaty. At that point I was like, "Well, I either ruined my chances or hopefully they'll find this somewhat endearing." I guess the latter was the case.
Did the two of you interact at all on set, or have meetings to discuss the essence of the character?
Christine: No, actually. It's really like two separate movies, a sequel and a prequel, so we were never on set filming together. But I was rehearsing "Angeleyes" when [choreographer] Anthony Van Laast said, "Do you want to come see 'When I Kissed the Teacher'?" I saw it and the three young women were up there with the ensemble just blowing it out.
Jessica: I would imagine it would be the same feeling if you were to wake up and see, like, God at the end of your bed or something. At first, I was so scared when I saw [Christine], but so elated when I finally got to meet her. She stood up and gave us this massive applause and was beaming with joy. And she was like, "Girls, you're doing it! Just don't break an ankle in those boots."
Christine: I said, "Try not to wobble and whatever you do, don't fall down." [laughs]
Ol: It was an amazing moment. It meant the world to them that she was watching and they had her encouragement.
Jessica: I'm so grateful that I didn't have the opportunity to speak with Christine before. It probably would have been the most daunting meeting. What do you say to someone who you're portraying? I'm sure she felt the same way.
Was making this movie as fun as it looks in the final product?
Christine: "Dancing Queen" remains my favorite dance piece in both movies. It's hard to top the first one, with all the women on the dock dancing, but my memory of this one will always be of skipping down the hill repeatedly with James Bond [Pierce Brosnan], and then falling into Colin Firth's arms.
Jessica: It was the warmest, most loving set. And for a group of young actors coming in and playing the younger versions of these incredible parts, it was nice to be able to walk into a room where there were no egos and everyone was the most welcoming. We were all there to do good work, but had a good time in the process.
How was it getting to work with Cher?
Ol: I wrote the part for her and practically called the character Cher in the script. It was a great day when she said yes to us, and an even better day when her plane touched down in London. She was a sweetheart, really warm, really funny, and really great straightaway.
Christine: I think, if anything, the surprising thing was that she was really shy and intimidated, jumping into a movie where the cast had been together for so long. In some ways, she had the hardest job.
Jessica: I snuck on set to see her sing "Fernando" and it was…I have no words. It was an intimate concert with Cher. And not too far away from me was Meryl [Streep], who also snuck on to watch her friend Cher sing. It was quite a day, let me put it that way.