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Why Lily James felt “overwhelmed” to step into Meryl Streep's Mamma Mia! shoes

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Megan Murray
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Lily James has opened up about what it took to take on the role of Donna Sheridan, from wiggling into those overalls to countlessly rewatching Meryl Streep’s first performance. 

From the moment we knew there was going to be a Mamma Mia! sequel, we were desperate to know every last detail, turn up the Abba anthems and plan a Greek island getaway of our own. 

But most of all, we were excited to not only see the return of the legendary Meryl Streep to our screens, but to watch British darling Lily James pull on a pair of overalls, and try her hand at the part of Donna, too. 

The opportunity to watch both of these incredible women share a screen is a dream come true for viewers. But according to James the prospect of not only acting in the same film as one of her idols, but actually playing a younger version of her, was enough to keep her up at night. 

In an interview with Vulture Magazine, James has admitted how “overwhelmed” she felt at the prospect of stepping into Streep’s shoes.   

“Obviously it was very daunting, and part of me thought, ‘Oh God, I don’t know if I can do this,’” said James, before explaining her method for nailing the part.

She continued: “But then I watched Mamma Mia! and reminded myself I’m playing young Donna Sheridan, not a young Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep, who’s one of the greatest actresses of all time, had created Donna Sheridan.

“So therefore I had this whole world of inspiration, and character to draw on, and to try and bottle and capture and study that essence of what made Donna this fearless, ballsy, brilliant woman — try to pick a few characteristics, or expressions, or a physicality that would make the watcher hopefully believe that my version of Donna would grow into hers.”

Lily James, Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep at the Mamma Mia: Here we go again! UK premiere 

Although studying the first film was a huge help for James, she explained that when it came to the real thing, there were moments that seemed “mad” - but in a brilliant way.

“Everywhere you look there were these movie legends, and it was very overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that I danced with Meryl, which that’s something that only happens in your wildest dreams,” James recounted. 

“We were all wearing these ridiculous costumes, and there was fireworks, and there was smoke, and there was glitter. It was so mad.”

And as far as pulling on those iconic overalls goes, it sounds like a moment every bit as ‘pinch yourself’ as we would hope and imagine. 

James said: “Getting into the overalls was probably the moment where I was like, ‘Oh, my God’. 

“Meryl does this funny little leg pop [in the overalls], and she does this mad little dance. I watched it over and over and over.”

There’s no denying that, thanks to the cult following Mamma Mia! has garnered, lots of fans will have high hopes for the sequel but it sounds to us like James is the perfect woman for the job. 

Images: Getty

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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