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Mamma Mia! The Movie - Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth & Stellan Skarsgard interview

Mamma Mia: The Movie

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PIERCE Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard talk about overcoming their terror to sing and dance in Mamma Mia: The Movie and why Phyllida Lloyd proved such a perfect director for her first feature film.

Brosnan also talks about the magic of getting a front row seat and watching Meryl Streep sing Winner Takes It All in front of him, while Firth ponders why the Greeks were so welcoming during filming.

Q. Pierce, this is as far from James Bond as you can possibly get. What appealed to you about Mamma Mia?
Pierce Brosnan: Meryl Streep. My agent called me and said: “I have a job: Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia, Greece.” I said: “I’m in.” It was as simple as that. Mamma Mia, for me, was just a poster on the side of a bus and the great songs of Abba, which I knew. But I didn’t know the story.

Q. But you’ve never sung before in a film, so that must have been absolutely petrifying?
Pierce Brosnan: Well, I made a movie called Evelyn and I sang in that… but that was kind of Irish pub songs and ballads, not the subtle complexities of SOS. So, I saw the show and was terrified about what was waiting for me. But I had quick support and I kind of got the joke of being in it.

Q. Had you seen the stage show before taking the role?
Pierce Brosnan: I’d seen it in London last February and that’s when the invitation came through my agent. He asked if I’d see the show and hang around to meet Phyllida [Lloyd] and the producers. So, I went with my children and realised I’d said yes to this production and didn’t know who I was playing [laughs]. I knew I was a dad, but not which one. I sat there before the curtain came up and wondered: “What have I said yes to?” But then I thought: “Well, Meryl’s doing it.” But then the songs just came flooding back and there was such enthusiasm for them it, just like everybody else in the theatre, that I was eventually singing and dancing.

Q. Meryl Streep has previously said that you were sweating with fear. Was there a lot of trepidation when it came to tackling the songs?
Colin Firth: Yes, we came together, got to know each other and it’s how we became such a family. But I think blind terror is a very bonding quality. I showed up on the first day of pre-record terrified of Benny and Bjorn. I’d heard they were hard task-masters and they’d booked three days to record a three minute song. My mind boggled as to how they would fill those days. I imagined myself in floods of tears while they shook their heads and forced me to do another take. But I turned round to face Pierce and I was staring into a vortex of fear and it was the same with Stellan. And I suddenly realised we weren’t alone. Within half an hour we were like the Andrews sisters around the microphone…

Pierce Brosnan: Bjorn has said that we looked like three frightened schoolboys coming into the studio that first morning.

Q. Stellan, you’ve said that you normally only dance when drunk…
Stellan Skarsgard: Actually, I don’t remember! Yes, only late at night and amongst friends. And it really hurts dancing sober. Your entire body says: “No, this is not right!” But it was terrifying. I realised very soon that we were in this type of boot camp with platforms for what felt like weeks and weeks and weeks doing just one song, Voulez-Vous. There are some absolutely bizarre steps to that. I realised that I was never going to be able to do it. But then I thought that if the shot is framed so they can see my feet, they can’t see my face so they won’t know it’s me! And if they’re close enough to see my face, then they couldn’t see my feet. So, I either acted like I was doing the steps with my head [motions concentration] or with my feet [sticks his tongue out and looks clueless].

Q. Did you ever have a situation where the locals in Greece were singing the songs back to you and you needed to keep them at bay?
Colin Firth: I never felt anything. We were either welcomed or completely ignored really. Frankly, I think the Abba factor was the thing that got people excited, as well as the presence of people like Meryl and Pierce. But I think if you live on Skopelos and you haven’t seen Mamma Mia you’ll probably still know all the songs. So, I think people were extremely happy about the film being there.

Q. If you had to put together a film based on the music of a favourite singer, who would it be?
Pierce Brosnan: Bruce Springsteen actually. I’d love to see a musical of his songs. There’s such poetry in his music.
Colin Firth: My son suggested Radiohead. It wouldn’t be uplifting and there wouldn’t be much dancing in the aisles…
Stellan Skarsgard: I don’t know. I’m speechless.

Q. Meryl Streep confessed that being on location was just one big laughter fest. Can one have too much fun, or was there some discipline as well?
Pierce Brosnan: It was great fun. I had the time of my life from day one all the way to the end. Apart from the terror of singing… once you got that out of your system and came to the theatricality of it, and you’d made peace with your voice, it was just wonderful to be in such company. It felt going to work every day and there was work to be done but Phyllida [Lloyd] really created this wonderful platform for us all to make fools of ourselves and support each other.

Q. But did you feel a sense of having to look after Phyllida given that this was her first feature film?
Stellan Skarsgard: Not really. The technicality of being a film director is pretty simple. You can do a two-week course about how to place a camera, especially if you have experienced people around you in the shape of cinematographers and everybody else. The hard thing is to make sure that you know what you want to have, and to make sure you get it. And she knew exactly what the tone of the film had to be because she’s tried it out on stages all around the world. So, if you had a suggestion for her, she’d either say: “No, that’s not a Mamma Mia thing, or yes, that’s a Mamma Mia thing.” She delegated a lot but she always took care of the artistic decisions herself. And she also kept calm for months with this huge production.

Q. Johnny Depp said that he wouldn’t be too keen to do another musical after completing Sweeney Todd earlier this year. How about you?
Pierce Brosnan: I would. I’d have a crack at it. I really enjoyed doing it. If I could do it with the same cast and same people then sure, why not? So, in for a penny, in for a pound.

Q. What was it like appearing alongside Meryl Streep when she sang Winner Takes It All?
Pierce Brosnan: Magic. It’s forever in my heart and imprinted in my mind. It was a tough day, the weather was a bit spooky. It took an immense amount of concentration to go out there and perform it in one. Again, Phyllida was also there quietly directing. It was very, very moving and all I had to do was just stand there and listen… and enjoy it. I was a member of the audience at that point standing there and watching this brilliant and gorgeous performance.

Read our review of Mamma Mia

Read our interview with Meryl Streep