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Mamma Mia! Rises Again

Mamma Mia! Rises Again


Meryl Streep and company managed to top Harry Potter and Titanic at the U.K. box office, and now Mamma Mia! is poised to break similar records on DVD. Director Phyllida Lloyd talked to about bringing one of the biggest musicals of all time to the big screen.

When Mamma Mia! hit theaters this summer, gays, girls -- and even John McCain -- stood in the aisles to cheer on Meryl, her all-star supporting cast, and Abba's brilliant songbook. And six months after its release, the film is still setting records -- Mamma Mia! even managed to top the U.K. box-office gross of the first Harry Potter and Titanic.

With sing-along versions of the movie musical now available on DVD, fans are sure to discover the magic of Mamma Mia! again and again. On the eve of the DVD's release, director Phyllida Lloyd -- who also directed the stage version -- talked about the process of bringing one of the biggest musicals of all time to the big screen. was the biggest challenge for you in bringing Mamma Mia! to the big screen?Phyllida Lloyd: Well, we have a big advantage with Mamma Mia! in that it is already a story with a location. So, having come from a number of other musicals, I was fearful about making the transition. But once you bring Greece and the Greek Islands into this, it all comes together.

How did you set out to actually find filming locations? The production designer and I went on the most incredible helicopter trip over Greece and the Greek Islands to find this dream Mamma Mia! world. We did an extensive and actually terrifying journey in a helicopter and we actually ended up on an island where I had been with a backpack at 18.

So, in a sense, you were channeling Meryl's character in the film. [Laughs] For those of us who are Europeans, Greece does represent a sort of dreamscape in some ways. It really is a connection with the ancient world -- a sort of land that time forgot.

Having come from the stage show, how involved were you with the casting process for the film? I was very involved with the casting -- and once we were able to cast Meryl Streep, everything started to come more easily. People took us seriously. I think there was a certain curiosity to it -- if she was taking it seriously...

Well, and then you get the trio of Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, and Christine Baranski. It was a complete privilege...and it was very funny. All three of them were very open, and it was an environment where everybody was able to contribute their ideas. During rehearsal time we all worked together to really explore what we were doing. They were all very relaxed with each other.

How long did you have to rehearse? Several weeks, which isn't usual, but we did take several weeks to get all of those dances. I don't think I was meant to be rehearsing the scenes as well, but we did, and I'm glad we had that time. A lot of directors don't like to do rehearsal, but for the dance numbers, we couldn't rehearse on the day.

Audiences love this movie, and the news has just come out that this is one of the biggest hits of all time around the world. What sort of feedback have you received? Just very humbling and mind-blowing feedback -- and not just from women, who are loving the movie. I think the best compliment I could have received about the film came from someone who had been made redundant from his job after 25 years. He said, "If it hadn't been for Mamma Mia! I don't know how I would have gotten through it." Julie Walters has been touring in support of her book and she says people have been coming up to her again and again with similar stories. This is the sort of movie that has the power to make you feel better about a very bleak experience.

Something that is very unique about Mamma Mia! is that I think you manage to capture the energy of a live theater experience on film. Thank you for that. Yes, we were very used to watching Mamma Mia! live, and so we were desperately trying to generate that sort of live experience, not knowing exactly how we were going to do it. So that's why the film has that slightly homespun feel to it. It's a very un-Hollywood kind of musical.

Before I let you go, I have to ask you about Meryl's performance of "The Winner Takes It All," which, to me, is one of the most thrilling moments I've ever had in a movie theater. How many takes did you do of that? I think we shot it in four takes, but in all honesty, we probably only needed about two of those. We had bad weather for two days when we were meant to shoot it, so we had some time to rehearse it. It was one of those moments where you're watching someone who knows how to use words so well, who knows how to close the gap between themselves and the text. When you're watching it, you think, Truly this must be live because it seems so real.

--Mamma Mia! is available on DVD now.

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