- INSIDER spoke to “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” director Ol Parker about the complicated “Dancing Queen” scene, which involved 14 boats.
- Parker said that Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård aren’t good dancers, so they changed their choreography for the boat scene the night before shooting.
- Parker also confirmed why Meryl Streep’s character Donna was killed off for the sequel, and why the movie doesn’t clarify how she died.
- “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” is available on digital, DVD, Blu-ray, and On Demand now.
Ol Parker, the director of “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” made the most delightful movie of the summer that audiences and critics loved.
INSIDER spoke to Parker leading up to this week’s DVD, Blu-Ray, and On Demand release about the complex “Dancing Queen” sequence that involved 14 boats, and the decision to kill off the main character.
“Here We Go Again” tells two stories from two different time periods. In the present, Donna, played by Meryl Streep in the original 2008 “Mamma Mia,” has passed away. Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is running a hotel from the Greek Island where they lived together. The other story, set thirty years earlier, shows how Donna (played by Lily James) met Sophie’s three “dads,” ultimately leading to Donna settling in Greece, pregnant with Sophie.
Late in the film, Cher, who plays Donna’s mother and Sophie’s grandmother, shows up on the island and sings the iconic ABBA song “Fernando” with Andy Garcia, a moment that made audiences everywhere scream with excitement.
Parker also told INSIDER how Meryl Streep’s interest in doing the sequel with her character dead got the rest of the original cast to do the movie. And some of them said yes without even reading the script.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Carrie Wittmer: Could you walk me through the process of making a sequel ten years later?
Ol Parker: There was always a massive desire for a sequel. The studio couldn’t have wanted it more given how much money the original made. But immediately, there was just a struggle. Not every story needs another chapter. So they couldn’t really find a proper version that actually made dramatic sense. And all of the cast, Meryl in particular – none of them wanted to do it. They were all very proud of the first one and what it had achieved and how it had made people feel. And so they didn’t just want to show up. Meryl was never going to do that.
Wittmer: Interesting. How did you get involved?
Parker: Because they were desperate and I was cheap, I think. And I suggested that Meryl’s character be dead in it, and that we make the film at least in part about getting over the loss of her.
Wittmer: Did Donna being dead make Meryl a little more into the idea of a sequel?
Parker: We talked to her about it, and she was delighted. The news that Meryl was in was brilliant to the rest of the cast and brilliant for me, obviously, because they all committed straight away. Some of them without reading the script.
Wittmer: In the movie you don’t reveal how Meryl’s character Donna died. Do you know how?
Parker: Yeah. And we included the cause in various different drafts. It’s just if you use the word “cancer,” it kind of becomes the whole scene. I talked with Amanda [Seyfreid] and Pierce [Brosnan] about how it had gone and how long it had taken for Donna to die, and we all felt that the characters had time to get used to it while it was happening. It wasn’t sudden, it wasn’t a drowning or something. So, something slow.
Parker: I basically did the movie to please my mum.
Wittmer: Was it hard to pick what songs to use?
Parker: I mean, you can’t do it without “Dancing Queen,” and obviously the movie is called “Mama Mia.” But when I first went to Stockholm to met Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus [of ABBA], they said, “We would love for the songs to serve the plot and drive the plot.” So I just thought if I just chose the best song for the drama rather than the most well-known song then that would be great. “I’ve Been Waiting For You” is very little known, but I just thought it was absolutely beautiful and I had the idea of Amanda singing it while Lily gives birth. And Bjorn rewrote the lyrics very generously to make it more connected to what you’re watching, which he also did at the end with “My Love, My Life.”
Wittmer: I didn’t even notice the lyrics were rewritten. How did you incorporate “Fernando?”
Parker: I just wanted the song. I mean, Andy [Garcia], his character Fernando was invented so that Cher could turn to him and sing, “Fernando.” He was invented in reverse for that moment. So different songs for different things. But in general, the idea was to try and make them drive the narrative a bit more like a musical than a jukebox musical.
Wittmer: There’s a lot of complicated choreography in these musical sequences. I’m thinking specifically of “Dancing Queen,” which involves many, many boats. What was it like to film that?
Parker: I was absolutely delighted, but horrified to be offered the job two months after I’d handed in the script. Because it suddenly became my problem, having merrily written, “Yeah, 14 boats, it’s gonna be great! Fabulous!” So I find myself in a helicopter looking at 14 boats thinking, “OK.” But yeah, it was complicated. My main style of directing is to hire really good people and then get out of the way and let them be brilliant. I had a really good team. They took really good care of me. And everyone was really committed and the actors were all in, as you can tell. So it was a ridiculously fun shoot. Embarrassingly fun.
Carrie: It’s amazing. I can’t get Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård spooning each other on the boat out of my head.
Parker: Colin and Stellan were slightly worried about dancing, because they’re not great at it. We were talking the night before shooting, and they’d rehearsed the dances on the boat. But it just wouldn’t have looked great. I was like, “just hang from the rigging. Have fun. Just have fun.” And they had a ball. They were laughing all the way through it and it turned into an incredibly happy day for them, which is not what they were expecting. If they’re having fun then we will. That was my hope, anyway.
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