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Mamma Mia: The Movie - Bjorn Alvaeus and Benny Andersson interview

Mamma Mia: The Movie (London premiere)

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ABBA luminaries Bjorn Alvaeus and Benny Andersson talk about Mamma Mia: The Movie and the continuing legacy of Abba and their music…

Q. You were initially reluctant about the stage musical being made, so did you have any reservations about the big screen version?
Bjorn Ulvaeus: After the stage version had become a big hit people obviously started to talk about a movie, so as far as I was concerned it was only a matter of time. It was about a year and a half ago that we decided. But we were not reluctant this time, no.

Q. Did you have any say in the casting?
Benny Andersson: Absolutely, yes. The one thing we said was that anyone who was to appear in the film had to be able to sing, period. So, we saw everybody. We were sent to DVDs. And our musical director met with Julie Walters and other cast members. We’d seen Pierce Brosnan in the Irish film, Evelyn, singing in a pub. And I auditioned Stellan [Skarsgard] over the cell phone. So, we knew that we were safe. But the major chunk of the music is sung by Donna and Sophie and we met with Meryl and went through all the music, so we knew we were safe.

Q. Over the years have you fallen in and out of love with your songs?
Bjorn Ulvaeus: We’re very proud of them indeed. Whenever I hear something on the radio, it still sounds uplifting and fresh. I don’t know why. When we split up in 1981 or ’82 I thought that was the end of it. I know there were a lot of records put out by various labels, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the ’90s that Abba Gold was released. But all through that time I was still very proud of the stuff.

Benny Andersson: I think we should be forgiven for some of it. You try your best all the time but sometimes the results are not exactly what you expected, at least when you see it in retrospect. But we’ve very proud of the work we did with Abba and we’re very proud to be involved with this movie too.

Q. What’s your favourite Abba song?
Bjorn Ulvaeus: I’m afraid I don’t have one. It’s really very difficult to say.

Benny Andersson: They’re all different. If you take Dancing Queen: good recording, good song. Thank You For The Music: Good song, bad recording. Knowing Me, Knowing You: Great song, great recording. But they all have a place and it’s impossible to choose one.

Bjorn Ulvaeus: Also, we tried to emulate what The Beatles had done, which was to develop from album to album… to take another step and be more daring. And that means there are favourites from the early period, favourites from the middle period and favourites from the end. So, that’s why it’s impossible to pick just one.

Q. Were you surprised by the Abba revival when it happened?
Bjorn Ulvaeus: Well, something happened towards the end of the ’80s. There were cover bands and the record company released Abba Gold. I don’t know why.

Benny Andersson: Well, small things happened and major things, like the movie Muriel’s Wedding in Australia and Erasure recording four songs and having a big hit. So, then we started to think: “Wow, this corpse is alive.” And obviously after that came Mamma Mia, the show.

Bjorn Ulvaeus: But the revival took me completely by surprise. We thought it was the end when we split up.

Read our review of Mamma Mia: The Movie

Read our interview with director Phyllida Lloyd

  1. Although Benny & Bjorn created the music, I don’t feel that they have credited the girls for their part in making the songs what they are, without Frida & Ana I don’t think their music would have gone anywhere.

    June Penny    Jul 12    #