Lily James Talks About the Pressure of Playing a Young Meryl Streep

Lily James played a young version of Meryl Streep's iconic Donna in Mamma Mia Here We Go Again. We spoke with her about the pressure of taking on a part played by the world's most celebrated actress.

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It's been ten years since Mamma Mia! was released in theaters, which is just one more thing to make us all feel very old. This summer, ten years after the original film's release, Universal released a sequel, the amazingly-titled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The big question looming over the long-awaited sequel was definitely: Will Meryl Streep be in it?

Streep played Donna Sheridan, the lead character from both the Mamma Mia! movie and the Broadway musical of the same name. The play/movie, built around the songs of ABBA, centers on a young woman who invites three men, all of whom might be her biological father, to her wedding after finding her mother's racy diary from the summer before she was born. The mom with the racy diary? That's the character Streep played.

When it came time to make the sequel, Streep agreed to appear, but her character wasn't in much of the film—well, at least not the version of the character played by her. Although Streep's character is dead in the present-day timeline of the movie, her character lives on in flashbacks to that fateful summer. Young Donna is played by Downton Abbey and Cinderella star Lily James. 

So what's it like taking on a role made iconic by Meryl Streep, perhaps the greatest actress of all time? Scary AF, according to James, who we spoke to about taking on the part.

"That was one of the things that kind of gave me pause," she said when asked what it was like filling Meryl's dancing queen shoes. "I thought, well, 'Can I do this? Is this something that I should risk?' Because it is such a huge task. [But] you can never be like governed by your fear."

James said she watched Streep's Mamma Mia! performance dozens of times in preparation for the part, but she made an effort not to do an exact impression of the Oscar-winner.

"I know every single blink of her eye in the first film and, whilst I wasn't able to—nor did I particularly want to—do an impersonation just because I wouldn't have been able to, but I did feel like I was able to draw on the characteristics of Donna."

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out on blu-ray on October 23.


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(Image credit: Universal Pictures)
Kayleigh Roberts
Weekend Editor

Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.