Every once in a while a pop culture sensation comes along that influences society, defines the sound of an era, and even years later, garners the respect and love of the world.
ABBA is definitely one of those music groups that inspired the ‘70s and became an authority on pop culture during their generation. It only made sense to create an entire musical production using only their work and have it be one of the most successful West End and Broadway shows of its time.
It debuted on 6 April 1999 in London and since then over 54 million people have seen it worldwide in over 39 productions in 14 different languages; premiering in more than 400 major cities worldwide – faster than any other musical in history. Wow!
My favourite fun fact though is that the show is one of the few smash-hit musicals in which the major collaborative behind-the-scenes roles – lead producer Judy Craymer, book-writer Catherine Johnson, and director Phyllida Lloyd – were undertaken by women. Ha!
Whether musical theatre is ‘your thing’ or not, it had many singing along and feeling nostalgic. Making the next move a Hollywood film with a sensational cast was not a bad idea!
The first Mamma Mia! film kept the behind-the-scenes female collaborative of lead producer, writer, and director on board from the musical.
Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson both played executive producers of the film too, including the second instalment, and it was even reported that Hanks auditioned for the film but was turned down.
The first film raked in US$615 million at the box office using a reported US$52 million budget, and in December 2008, the film became the highest grossing movie of all time in the UK – smashing previous records set by Titanic and Avatar. So making a second instalment of the Mamma Mia! franchise was possibly not a difficult decision.
I’m going to be upfront about this: your ninja may actually like a little ABBA every once in a while; and when I heard about the new chapter in the ‘book of Mamma Mia!’, a part of me jumped with excitement.
To be honest, I knew the world liked the musical and the movie, but I didn’t realise to what degree until I did some digging on the net and cross-referenced my findings.
Did you know that as of July 2018, this is Meryl Streep’s biggest box office hit? Not bad as she did all her shooting for the film in just one week. According to IMDB, the worldwide accumulative gross figure is sitting at $96 255 154 since 24 July 2018.
I loved the first one; based on the musical, we anticipated the storyline. As for the new film, I was keen to see how they’d go about it. Were we finally going to learn who the father is?
We were already in Paris on our previous assignment, and it being Europe, we hopped on the Eurostar train and within two and a half hours we arrived in the Big Smoke.
Usually clouds and fog with rain and wind welcome us but this time round the weather was warm, the sun was out, and so were the smiles of the people.
I truly believe that weather has a major effect on the personality of the population and it was truly refreshing to see a different side to the slightly unhappy Londoners I’m so used to.
Universal put us up in The Royal Horseguards Hotel just down the road from Trafalgar Square. A hotel with some super cool history that the lady at front-of-house was bursting to share with me as I checked in.
During both world wars it was used as headquarters for MI5 and MI6; it was used extensively in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, and a few scenes from one of the Harry Potter films had been shot here too. I loved her excitement for these facts and it made me see the hotel in a whole different light.
While we were shooting in London, Trump was making his first visit to Great Britain and the English, not afraid to voice their opinions, made sure he knew how they felt.
For a few days Trafalgar Square was the meeting point for tens of thousands of protesters and activists. One of the most amazing things I’ve seen! People were respectful to one another, even friendly, the streets were clean within an hour after each protest and no one was hurt. It did make for a lot of traffic in central London though, so walking and the Tube it was.
The day we arrived I was scheduled to join the rest of the international media to watch the film. A cinema close to Piccadilly Circus was the location and I was told to walk rather than use any other mode of transport due to the protests. There was no other way around Trafalgar and I found myself swept up in all the action; it will be a moment I’ll never forget.
Eventually I made my way to the cinema and after signing an NDA and putting my phone into a sealed bag checked by security, I was allowed to find my seat. Security at media screenings is tight and I can understand why; any possible leak of the film and it could negatively affect their opening weekend.
Almost two hours later we emerged from the cinema. I was still tearing up and laughing. I couldn’t help but feel like I had been taken away to that Greek Island of Kalokairi with the memorable soundtrack from ABBA still playing in my head! Just a side note if you watch the film, stay for the end credits: there’s a fun little moment at the end that most of the media missed.
As usually happens, the next day was junket day; and between you and me, this may have been the first time I was actually nervous. I was lined up to interview Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, and Stellan Skarsgård all at once. As I walked into their interview room, I felt my heart lodge in my throat and I went blank.
Three major names in Hollywood all staring at me, waiting for me to start a conversation. At this point most of my appendages were numb and I was trying to play it cool, but they could probably smell the star-struckness I was exuding.
Stellan first extended his hand for a shake, then Christine and Pierce. They all smiled warmly and immediately the ninja was back. Phew! I breathed out a little easier and kicked off one of my favourite interviews.
Next I spoke to Dominic Cooper who was starving and eating part of the set, an orange, that got him and his hands in a bit of a sticky situation, so if you see the interview his hand gestures are a little strange, all thanks to his fruity snack.
Then the two new additions to the cast, Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn, who brought such great energy and comedy to the film. Having that chat with them, I could see that it’s just a natural extension of who they really are.
Jessica even admitted to previously dating a South African and the one thing he did introduce her to was twee broodjies. She seemed really proud of her slight insight into South African-ism. It made me laugh and like her even more!
The last interview of the day was half of the all-star pop group ABBA. After sharing the news back home that I’d be afforded the opportunity to chat to Björn and Benny, a few of my ‘cool’ friends were actually jealous, and that just solidified the fact that ABBA fans transcend a ‘type’. Their music is part of the world culture.
As I was sitting across from these legends that didn’t have a slight bit of arrogance, more humility than anything else, I was honoured to have a conversation about something they are extremely proud of.
After the interviews, the LallaLand crew and I ran around town and we got up to some really interesting ABBA-inspired shenanigans that got a few weird looks, but I didn’t care. I was an inspired Mamma Mia-fied fan and I was proud of it. Judge if you like: but I had one memorable time!
I was sad to leave London this time round. It was sunny, happy, and in that light really beautiful. My adventure had come to an end but I had some wonderful memories to take home with me and a few new episodes of LallaLand to share with you. I hope you watch them and let me know what you think.
Till next time,
Much love from your ninja,
Watch the first episode of LallaLand: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again here.