12 surprising things you probably didn’t know about the ‘Mamma Mia’ movies

‘Mamma Mia’ is a beloved franchise. Universal Pictures
  • “Mamma Mia” (2008) and its sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (2018) are popular films featuring ABBA’s music.
  • Producer Judy Craymer pitched the film idea to ABBA star Björn Ulvaeus when she was giving him a ride home.
  • Lily James had to go on vocal rest for a week before filming “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”
  • Meryl Streep really did the splits in the first film, and the “Super Trouper” finale from the second film was totally authentic.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Mamma Mia” is a franchise built upon ABBA’s fun, catchy tunes.

The series is known for its star-studded cast, which includes Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, and Amanda Seyfried, but there are some fun facts about the movies that even superfans haven’t heard about.

It’s been 12 years since the first movie premiered, so here are 12 interesting, behind-the-scenes secrets about the “Mamma Mia” films.

The whole franchise started with a serendipitous car ride, and it was a stage musical first.

Björn Ulvaeus, Judy Craymer, and Benny Andersson became friends after the car ride. David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Producer Judy Craymer was 25 years old when she was asked to pick up ABBA pop star Björn Ulvaeus from the airport.

According to Vanity Fair, it was during that car ride that a friendship between Craymer, Ulvaeus, and another ABBA member, Benny Andersson, began. After, Craymer pitched them the idea for an ABBA stage musical, which eventually became “Mamma Mia.”

The musical premiered in London’s West End in 1999 and went on to open on Broadway in 2001. The show saw early success before it was adapted into the movie we know and love today.

Ulvaeus and Andersson made cameos in both films.

The members of ABBA have made cameos in both films. Universal Pictures

In the first “Mamma Mia” movie, Andersson played the piano on the dock while the cast performed “Dancing Queen.”

Ulvaeus appeared in the ending credits as a Greek god during the cast’s performance of “Waterloo.”

In “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” Andersson is once again seen playing the piano, this time in a restaurant while young Harry is trying to woo young Donna with a performance of “Waterloo.” Ulvaeus can be seen as one of the teachers at Donna’s graduation.

Phyllida Lloyd directed both the stage musical and the first movie.

Phyllida Lloyd directed ‘Mamma Mia.’ Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Phyllida Lloyd directed the “Mamma Mia” stage musical, and since the show was such a success, it made sense to hire her to direct the first movie as well.

The “Super Trouper” number at the end of the second film was 100% authentic.

The cast said they had a great time filming ‘Super Trouper.’ Universal Pictures

Screenwriter and director for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” Ol Parker told Awards Daily that the “Super Trouper” scene looks really fun because it was.

“When they’re dancing in ‘Super Trouper,’ that’s all real. We played the song loudly and sent them off to different corners … They just had an absolute hoot,” Parker said.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were executive producers for both films.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were involved in the franchise. Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, were executive producers of both “Mamma Mia” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”

Meryl Streep really did the splits in the first film.

Meryl Streep didn’t think before doing the splits. Universal Pictures

Meryl Streep said that it was “instinct” that allowed her to do splits in the first film, although she’s not sure she could replicate it now.

“I just did the splits on instinct. That’s what always happens with my acting. As an actor, you’re not allowed to think,” Streep told The Guardian in 2008. “I couldn’t do the splits for you right now.”

Cher turned down a role in the first film.

Casting directors wanted Cher to play Tanya. Eric McCandless / Contributor / Getty Images

Ruby Sheridan wasn’t the first “Mamma Mia” role that Cher was considered for.

Craymer told Vanity Fair in 2018 that she Lloyd originally wanted Cher to play Tanya, however, she passed on the role.

Craymer said, “I think she felt that the Tanya character was probably too close to her.”

Tony-winner Christine Baranski was eventually cast as Tanya.

Cher was handpicked for the role of Sophie’s grandmother, and the head of Universal Pictures wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Cher played Donna’s mother and Sophie’s grandmother in the film. Universal Pictures

Cher told Sky News in 2018 that she didn’t have much of a choice when it came to playing Ruby Sheridan in the sequel.

The head of Universal Pictures also used to be her agent, so when he called her to tell her about the part, he hung up before she could say no.

Pierce Brosnan’s family (and housekeeper) weren’t too keen on his singing voice at first.

Pierce Brosnan’s family wasn’t excited to hear him sing. Universal Pictures

In an interview with Good Housekeeping, Pierce Brosnan said when he first tried out singing for his family, “even the housekeeper cringed.”

“They kept their opinions to themselves for a while, though. They didn’t want me to be discouraged,” he told the publication.

But after practicing all the time, Brosnan said he got better.

“Now my family seems to think I’m doing all right. But it’s possible they’re being nice. They’re probably still cringing,” he said.

To prepare for filming the “Mamma Mia” sequel, Lily James didn’t talk for a week.

Lily James had to give her voice a break. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

In a 2018 interview with Build Series, Lily James said she had to save her voice to prep for the role of young Donna since she had just come off a press tour for the movie “Baby Driver.”

“I’d just been on a really big press tour for ‘Baby Driver,’ and all I’d done is talk for so long and my voice was shot to hell it was just croaky and disgusting,” she said. “So, it was me being really neurotic, as usual, but it was also me being told by the doctor I had to shut up … I just didn’t talk for a week.”

James watched the first movie “hundreds of times” to prepare for the role of Donna.

Lily James in ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.’ Universal Pictures

In “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” James had the difficult task of playing young Donna – the young-adult version of Streep’s role from the first film.

She told Allure in 2018 that she watched the first film over and over again to prepare for the role. By the time they started filming the sequel, James knew every line from the original.

“Every moment of that film I know by heart,” she said. “I think I could mimic [Meryl Streep] pretty well, but then in the moment, when you’re there on set with the cameras rolling and you’ve got another actor in front of you … the thing I like about acting is fully surrendering to that moment and not trying to control what happens. So I think I just forgot to do anything.”

Julie Walters had to take a day off filming “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” to be named Dame Commander at Buckingham Palace.

Julie Walters in ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.’ Universal Pictures

In November 2017, Julie Walters, who played Rosie, was made a dame by Queen Elizabeth II for her work in film. Since they were filming “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” at the time, she had to take a day off of work to travel to Buckingham Palace for the ceremony.

Baranski told BBC’s “The One” in 2018 that when Walters returned to set, the cast and crew surprised her with a touching rendition of the song “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame.”

“We all just stood up and sang ‘There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame’ to her. She was so touched. It was a fabulous moment,” Baranski said.

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