AMANDA SEYFRIED PLAYS SOPHIE IN MAMMA MIA!
When she was growing up in Pennsylvania, Amanda Seyfried dreamed of becoming a singer. “My family would take me to watch musicals in New York sometimes. I absolutely loved them,” she says. “And I’ve always loved singing.”
So when the chance came to audition for Mamma Mia! The Movie, Seyfried, 22, knew that the part of Sophie, a young girl who desperately wants to know the identity of her father, was perfect for her.
“But I also knew that so many young actresses would also be great in that role, so I knew it was going to be really tough,” she says. “But growing up singing it was always something that I thought I’d pursue. Then acting took over and I love my job. But Mamma Mia! Was the perfect marriage of both.”
She gave “everything” at the auditions and eventually won through to a final meeting with the film’s director, Phyllida Lloyd. Although she felt that she gave her best audition ever, she came away convinced that she’d lost out.
“I had one last audition with Phyllida and that was really fun because I got to do the scene with her but she was so quiet and shy,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘this woman does not like me!’
“Then we talked after the audition and it was great. When I got in my car I cried because that was the best I could ever do. I’d never felt that I’d done the best I could ever do before that audition so it was pretty emotional. And then they told me that I had the part and I was just overjoyed.”
She was particularly thrilled at the opportunity to work with screen legend Meryl Streep, who plays her on screen mother, Donna.
“She is so supremely talented and she takes you to a higher zone,” she says. “You raise your game when you are working with somebody that gifted. You’ve no choice other than to experience what it is that makes Meryl the actress she is. Maybe some day I can get to be as good as she is. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat.”
Mamma Mia! is the poignant, funny and uplifting story of a single mother and her grown up daughter, Sophie. Without telling her mother, Sophie invites the three men who could be her father – played by Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan – to her wedding on an idyllic Greek island.
“Oh my God, my ‘Dads’ were such fun to work with,” she laughs. “They are great actors and great guys. I had such a good time with them and they are all so funny – we had such a riot doing this.”
Mamma Mia! features the music of ABBA and Amanda admits that growing up, she wasn’t as aware of the group as she obviously is now. “I kind of heard ABBA more than I listened to them, if you know what I mean,” she explains. “It’s there but you don’t realise how good they are until you start paying attention to them. So ABBA were in me but I didn’t know it.
“And it’s so easy to connect with those songs – they’re brilliant, great pop songs and I love them. Before my audition, I bought a copy of ABBA Gold and played it non-stop. I know them backwards now.”
Amanda started modelling as an 11 year old and began her acting career as a teenager appearing on American TV shows including As The World Turns and All My Children. In 2004 she starred alongside Lindsey Lohan in Mean Girls and her other movies include American Gun and Alpha Dog. She has recently completed the third season of the critically acclaimed Big Love for HBO in which she plays Sarah Henrickson.
Q: Did loving ABBA’s music help to get the part?
A: Well, if I hadn’t known and loved the music I don’t know if I’d have gotten the role because there was a level of enthusiasm that I had that I think helped in a big way to get me as far as I got.
Q: Was it an inspiration to work with Meryl Streep?
A: Meryl takes you into a zone, in which you have no choice but to experience along with her what it is that makes her the actor that she is. It’s incredible. It’s intimidating because, obviously, I was shocked that I got the role and freaked out a little, too. But then I decided that the best way to deal with this whole fear of her was just to be myself and then when I met her it was obvious that she is amazing and she’s human and she respected me immediately and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from her. I feel that she brought my acting up closer to her level than it ever will be with anybody else and then, hopefully, one day I can actually be that good, on my own. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat, although I wouldn’t want to play her daughter again, I’d want to play something different. I don’t want to play the same character. I’d like to see what it would be like to play something different, maybe strangers meeting in a movie. I don’t know. It would be amazing.
Q: Why do you think your generation likes ABBA so much?
A: I don’t know if that’s true. A lot of my friends didn’t know about ABBA just like I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had this audition. Maybe in a couple of years I might have been exposed to it in a more serious way. But the reason I am, apart from the movie, is that the music is timeless and invigorating and it’s really complex. Every time you listen to it, you hear something else. And it makes you happy. It could have been made yesterday. And people are still trying to reincarnate that sound, but nobody can ever be ABBA, or even close.
Q: Are singing and dancing your cup of tea, so to speak?
A: Yes, totally, my cup of tea. Singing was something I always thought I’d pursue. I had lessons from the age of 11 to 17. I trained with musical theatre and did show tunes. But then when I was 15 I started learning arias in different languages. None of my friends had been that serious into anything before. But then I started acting and that distracted me. Singing was my hobby and now its part of my life again in a big way. I did dancing in High School but I’m not that great at it. If you taught me a routine you’d just have to give me a bit of extra time to learn it.
Q: How did the three’ fathers - Colin, Pierce and Stellan - do on the singing and acting front?
A: Colin’s a better singer than he thinks. But when it comes to dancing… he’s alright (laughs). He’s very self-effacing about his own abilities. Stellan was pretty good at dancing. We were dancing on the tables and I was just totally copying him. Pierce - well, I think that for everybody the chorography was a bit difficult. It’s tough because you were surrounded by these ridiculously hard bodied, beautiful, professional dancers who you can’t possibly look good next to unless you pull all nighters to remember these dance steps. Pierce doesn’t give himself enough credit for his voice. I think he played it great. Stellan’s amazing and he sounds great. We did Our Last Summer and it was so much fun.
Q: Did you work with Stellan on another movie after Mamma Mia?
A: Yes, on Boogie Woogie in which we played lovers. It was awesome. It’s an independent movie and it was a lot of fun. Not as much fun as Mama Mia! Obviously, because that’s the most fun I’ve ever had and the best experience of my life.
Q: So would you prefer acting with Stellan as your father or lover?
A: Lover! I don’t know what he’s like as a father. Even in Mama MIA! He was more of a kind of fun adventurous guy. I know he has like 20 children in Stockholm! (Laughs) No that’s an exaggeration. I think he has six. I lost count. But apparently he’s an incredible father.
Q: What genre is the Boogie Woogie?
A: It’s a modern, comedic drama. Stellan plays an art dealer. It’s directed by Duncan Ward and Danny Monahan wrote the book and the screenplay. It’s based on a book that focuses on the art world in which Damian Hirst did all the paintings for it. We shot it in London.
Q: Did you get to keep any of the paintings?
A: Yeah right. I wish. His stuff is over-priced, (laughs) But he’s a great artist. I saw a painting that he did where he attached some butterflies to a canvas and painted it blue. It was like, “Is that Damian Hirst? I could have done that!” (Laughs) He’s actually brilliant and I wish I had a piece of his artwork. I’d sell it. No, I’m kidding. If I was going to spend a lot of money it would be on artwork.
Q: You sang Name of the Game but it didn’t make it into the film. Will it be on the DVD?
A: Yes, it probably will. It was tough for them to take it out, I think. But the movie is exactly what it should be. So I wouldn’t put it back in. It was tough to see during that song because it was very sunny, even though it takes place at midnight. We did all day- for -night shots, so you get a lot of squinting and I know Phyllida had a hard time. At one point I actually cried because I couldn’t do it. I was like, “I’m a failure, boo hoo!”
Q: Did you audition a lot for the role?
A: Yes, I had an audition with Ellen Lewis, the casting director and then Ellen and Phyllida (Lloyd, the director). Three months went by and Meryl decided to join and play Donna. I went nuts and thought, “This is totally for me. I can physically play her daughter. I can actually sing. This is totally for me and I’d love to do it.” I practiced the songs, I listened to Mama Mia and ABBA Gold and I went into the first singing audition. That tape went straight to Benny and Phyllida and they immediately realised this was it, apparently. I didn’t know that until I got the role.
Q: And that was it, you had the role?
A: I had one last audition with Phyllida and that was really fun because I got to do the scene with her and she was so quiet and shy. I was like, “This woman does not like me!” Then we talked after the audition and it was great. When I got in my car I cried because that was the best I could ever do. I’d never felt that I’d done the best I could ever do before that audition. I finally worked hard preparing and even if I hadn’t got it I was glad to have finally succeeded. To have reached the personal goal of doing what I knew I could do. It was the best I could do. It was worth just that moment because before that point I was pretty negative about my abilities and had been since I was little. Even my singing has never been up to par, but it didn’t matter to Benny and Bjorn. They accepted my voice as trained or untrained and they appreciated it and I was flattered. Then I saw the movie and I was happy with it.
Q: Are you a fan of musicals in general?
A: Yes, definitely. I grew up listening to Les Miz and Cats and Joseph and Evita. We had all the collections of songs at home when I was growing up. Phantom of the Opera, I listened to it all. The only thing playing in my mum’s car for five years straight was musicals. I grew up in Pennsylvania so it was easy for me to take a bus to New York City and I saw a lot of those shows.
Q: Is there going to be another series of Big Love.
A: Yes, I’m working on it. Season Three. It’s going out in the States in January.
Q: Is it hard to play?
A: No. Its great writing. But sometimes it’s difficult because my character has this attitude. I still need to play her so young and she’s kind of growing and evolving
Q: Last series she was, what, 16.
Q: So will you be on board for a 4th season?
A: I think it’s time for her to go to college (laughs). I mean if I’ve ever got to be stuck on something Big Love is not to awful because I have a good family there and it’s a really great show.
Q: So things are good at the moment?
A: Yes, things are probably the best they’ve ever been. I’ve been here doing interviews for Mamma Mia! For 4 days now and I can’t believe what I’m doing. Taking photographs with Pierce, Meryl, Colin, and Stellan. It’s like. “Enough already! When am I going to wake up?” (Laughs) When am I going to wake up and realise, “This IS my life. I can’t stop trying to pinch myself. I worked hard and though I didn’t ever think I would get here, I did. I need to own it. I can’t keep thinking that it’s going to go away some day. I need to own it and build on it.
Q: With all that’s happening in your career, is it difficult to stay grounded?
A: Well, I’m 22. I’ve figured out a lot of things about myself and that’s really good because the timing is right. If I was ever going to become famous in any way, I think I could definitely deal with it better now than I ever could have two or three years ago.