Being cast to recreate one of the most loved musicals of the last decade might prove to be a daunting prospect for some emerging actors. However, for Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Great Expectations), Josh Dylan (Allied) and Hugh Skinner (Les Misérables, Fleabag) the challenge of playing the young men of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was one they relished.
In this second film, a young Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Harry (Hugh Skinner) meet the young Donna (Lily James) as she travels around Europe. Each smitten with the leading lady, they follow her to the Greek island to proclaim their affection. Acting as both in a prequel and a sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again allows each of the young cast to try their hand at some of ABBA’s finest songs while enacting this feel-good blockbuster romance. Hugh Skinner offers a high octane version of ‘Waterloo’, Jeremy Irvine joins forces with Pierce Brosnan for ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ while Josh Dylan goes full throttle on a pop rendition of ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me?’
Set on the fictional of island of Kalokairi, the second film was mainly shot in Croatia, with some of the final scenes filmed in Greece, on the island of Skopelos. This verdant destination is where Culture Trip met up with the relaxed young cast.
Culture Trip: How did you go about preparing for the film?
Jeremy Irvine: We didn’t want to do impressions of our older selves. The first time that I came in to run things through with the director I did a Pierce Brosnan impression, and he said, “No, we can’t do that.” I think what’s really good about this film is that it has a strong emotional heart to it. It’s important that we do all make the audience cry, and if we’re all doing Pierce Brosnan impressions or Colin Firth impressions then it was going to be a different thing. I did a lot of studying. And obviously you [turning to Josh Dylan] had to do the same…
Josh Dylan: Yeah, I had to, because it’s a tricky Swedish accent and obviously I’m not from Sweden, so getting that into place was a challenge. I didn’t watch the first film loads and loads, but Stellan has this free-spiritedness and I tried to channel that all the time. I hope that that translated in some way into it.
Hugh Skinner: Bill talks about Harry being incredibly unspontaneous. I just focussed on that. Every time he speaks, he’s thought about it a lot before it comes out, and as it’s coming out he realises that it’s crap. I just tried to do that, really.
CT: Did you have any experience of musicals and ABBA before, or were you coming to the music fresh?
JD: My experience is that my mum brought me and my sister the ABBA SingStar [singing game] and forced us to do that to entertain her.
JI: Everyone’s an ABBA fan through osmosis. Even if you don’t love the music, you’ve heard the songs. You’re going to know the words. That’s what gives it this universal quality. I remember being 18 when the first film came out and my girlfriend broke up with me. Her mum was driving me back to the station with the soundtrack to the first film playing. So that was my first memory of it. Really tragically sobbing in the car next to my newly ex-girlfriend’s mum. I’m glad I now have some happier memories.
HS: I just remember being at school and my sisters making a dance routine to ‘Waterloo’ about some ducks swimming on a lake. As a teenager I listened to Nirvana and lots of Radiohead. You’re quite snobby about ABBA at that age. I think because it’s so joyful, a lot of it. There’s also lots of melancholy, even when they’re poppy.
JI: They arranged a lot of the songs for the movie, and you do tend to take something like ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, which is a huge and very open, massively produced pop song, and then actually when you strip it away it’s really a tragic ballad about losing someone. Which is great for actors.
CT: What was the most surreal bit of filming?
JI: The final sequence.
HS: When Cher was singing and we were all in spandex…
JD: It was deeply disturbing on many levels.
HS: There were fireworks coming out of the back of Meryl Streep as she was on this cherry picker going up and down.
CT: What about the scenes you were filming alone when playing the younger versions of the characters?
JI: I love motorbikes. As soon as I get in movies I want to ride them. Then, every time, I arrive on set and they say “Right, we’re going to tow you in.” And in this one it’s all rainy, and we tried it with me pulling up. I was going really fast and skidding to a stop in front of Lily, and in the end they said “No, that’s too dangerous.” Instead, two stuntmen attached a rope to the bike and just pulled me into shot. And I had to kind of make it look like I had skidded into the shot.
JD: You’ll notice that at no point are the sails up on the boat. I went out to Croatia early to learn how to commandeer a boat. That was fine. And then in the film all the sails are down and I’m just going really slowly.
CT: What about the costumes – did you have a favourite big, glam outfit?
JD: We pretend that we didn’t like the spandex at the end, but we loved it.
JI: I finally felt like me for the first time in my life. There was a real competition going around about which of the guys could put the most down their pants without the costume department telling us that we had to stop. The entire contents of a fruit bowl went missing. Dominic Cooper had about half a wardrobe down his pants.
JD: Hard to walk in those boots, though.
CT: What did you learn about yourselves during the filming?
JI: I had quite an important year of my life doing this. I found it really freeing. Just learning to enjoy things.
HS: That’s true. Every job, you learn so much, because you’re working with completely different people and directors and writers every time. I think the first thing you instantly become aware of is all your failures and weaknesses, and what you need to learn to do to do that job. I’m always learning a huge amount.
JI: There’s a thing with actors, especially young actors, and I was very guilty of it, where you think you have to suffer for your art. You’ve heard all the stories about Daniel Day Lewis going and locking himself away for a year, and you think that’s what you have to do to be good. Actually, if you watch someone really enjoying what they’re doing, it’s infectious.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is available now on digital, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from 26 November 2018 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.