The Feminist Power of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
According to Lily James and Jessica Keenan Wynn
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was the surprise hit of the year, offering some sunny respite from the horrible sadscape we currently live in with its inspiring themes of feminism, female friendship and the remarkable staying power of both Cher and Swedish disco. In honour of the 10th anniversary of Mamma Mia and the release of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again on Blu-Ray this week, we journeyed to the Mamma Mia island in Greece to speak with the cast.
First up: Lily James (who plays the younger version of Meryl Streep’s character) and Jessica Keenan Wynn (a.k.a. Baby Christine Baranski) rhapsodize about the movie’s sex-positive heroines and getting life wisdom from Cher.
How are your characters feminist role models?
Lily James: This film celebrates all that it is to be a woman: all that it is to be a mother, all that it is to be a friend, all that it is to be a lover. It glories in everything that is women.
Jessica Keenan Wynn: We’re better together, we’re stronger together. I think it’s so important that it’s not just a singular woman that we’re looking up to and admiring, but we’re seeing them unite, and lift each other up. That message is so important, especially in an age where social media can isolate us…
Lily: …and you compare yourself and judge yourself rather than celebrate each other’s differences. When I learned the “Dynamo” dance on my own, it was kind of cool; it felt great when I could get the steps, but when I danced it with the girls, when we joined together, it was electric.
How did performing in this film make you feel empowered?
Lily: That’s what’s so amazing about Mamma Mia: there’s lots of things you wouldn’t expect. I didn’t expect to feel so empowered. I didn’t expect to feel so in myself, and so confident, and full of joy. And when you feel good about yourself you can conquer anything.
Jessica: Those characters seep into you while you’re wearing them, and then if you’re lucky enough, the good qualities will stay and influence you as a person. I truly think that playing Tanya, even being around Donna and being around that energy when Lily would bring it into the room, it was palpable. It was like the lines kind of blended together, and we became our characters.
This movie has a really sex-positive vibe: young Donna has her way with three dudes in short order, and elder Tanya has the immortal line, “Be still, my beating vagina.” Why do you think it’s an important thing to put out into the world today?
Lily: Women can be really shamed for their sexual choices and freedom in a way men historically haven’t been, and this film totally, unapologetically embraces your choice, and your appetite, and your freedom. It celebrates that, and I think that’s really great.
Jessica: For girls seeing it, they don’t spend too much time on it. In the film, they’re not judged for it, we don’t talk about it with Donna, and at some point, it’s, like, she does this and moves on. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not the biggest deal, it’s literally just Donna exploring different relationships. And I think that’s okay, and that we learn more about ourselves when we do that.
Lily: A lot of the girls I know are like at that. That’s what I was like, and you don’t often see that in films.
Jessica: Yeah. Use protection.
What was it like embodying queens like Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski? How did you research those roles?
Lily: It felt like a gift. I realized that I wasn’t capable of doing an impression or an impersonation of Meryl, because I think she’s unlearnable, but I took the opportunity to study her and let some of that seep in, and just watching Meryl as a woman, as an actor, hearing her speak? She’s remarkable and so inspiring.
Jessica: For Christine, it was such a joy to finally meet her. She was the warmest and loveliest; it was nice to see that side of her, because she normally plays kind of the roles that I play, which are these sassy vixens. She’s just so intelligent and bright and wise and beautiful and hilarious…
Lily: …and badass!
Jessica: Just graceful—she’s a lady.
Lily: And Cher, giving us pearls of wisdom. Her mother said to her, “if it doesn’t matter in five years, it doesn’t matter.” And then Christine said that her mom said, “don’t sell yourself cheap.” In all things in life, know your worth. It was amazing listening to those women talk about their life and their experiences.
What was the hardest part about making the film for you two?
Lily: The hardest challenge was being given the opportunity to play a younger version of these characters, that also was something I really thought I couldn’t live up to. It’s a good lesson in life: people are more forgiving than you think, people are kinder than you think. I thought I’d get torn down, but I feel like people were really generous about the film and took us all as individual people, and let us fly.
Last question: what is your go-to ABBA karaoke jam?
Lily: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” [sings] a man after midnight. But Cher’s version.
Jessica: Mine might be “Fernando”—as Cher.
Lily: I do think “Mamma Mia” is also the best—like, there’s nothing better than singing that song. Even when we were tired, and we shot that scene for like two days, every time that pulse entered your body, it was…
Jessica: …it was so joyous.