Trying to play the younger version of any actor in a prequel is bound to be difficult.
You have to make sure that it honors the original performance, slightly mirrors but doesn’t mimic it, while also making sure it feels fresh and unique, too.
That’s what makes Lily James’ mesmeric turn in "Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again" all the more remarkable, because she had to do the above while also stepping into the shoes of the irreplaceable Meryl Streep, as she had to play a younger version of her character Donna.
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I recently had the chance to speak to James about "Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again," and she admitted “the Meryl Streep thing certainly gave me pause.”
“Even once I got the part I hesitated,” James continued. “Because she created the most vibrant and magnificent person. And I didn’t think it was possible to recreate anything that Meryl did.”
“I was intimidated by that. But in the end I realized it was the most amazing opportunity to further a character that was so exciting.”
“It was exciting to think what she would be like at 20, you change a lot from when you are 20 to 20 years later and you have a kid. I felt like I had a freedom to own it and there wouldn’t be too much comparison.”
So, James set out on her quest to make Donna her own, but did that mean she sat down with the 21-time Oscar nominee to discuss the part?
“No, I didn’t at all. I spoke to Judy Craymer, who created ‘Mamma Mia’! and she had developed the character with Meryl, and had obviously been part of that original creative team, so she gave me tips and talked it through.”
“But really the best source I had was the first movie, which I watched more times than was humanely possible. I just wanted to catch the essence of what she did. So there were certain physicality’s and expressions that I wanted to try and hold onto, and the core characteristics of her personality.”
“Without doing an intimidation I wanted the audience to believe that my Donna could grow into her Donna, and I hoped that by studying it some of those characteristics would sink in.”
But when it came to the singing and the dancing, rather than closely replicating Streep’s movements from the first film, James decided to let the music guide her instead.
“When it came to the singing and dancing, that was just something I felt like, you know, I love dancing, I just wanted to surrender to that and give everything of myself.”
“When you watch Meryl in the first film she’s so open physically, her movement is right down in her hips, and she loses herself to the music. She doesn’t hold back.”
“So that was I just tried to do. I didn’t try to copy how she moved or sang. I just tried to exist in a similar physical space and then gave in to the music.”
"Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again" is now in cinemas.