As Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again director Ol Parker put it, if you’re making a sequel, “it’s an American sports thing: If you’re not playing offense, you’re playing defense.” In order to top the original Mamma Mia, Parker wanted to make sure that the sequel was bringing in something new (that wasn’t just an elaborate subtitle) — and what easier way is there to make a movie better than to bring in Cher? To quote her character in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: “That’s the best kind of party, little girl.”
Parker tells Vulture that while he was writing the screenplay for the film, he created the part of Donna Sheridan’s (Meryl Streep) mother Ruby “nakedly for Cher.” In the first film, the characters mention Ruby, a famous singer with a tortured relationship with her daughter, in passing; Parker saw this as a way to “go deeper and moodier” in the sequel. “When I put her in the first draft I was like, ‘This is Cher, by the way,’” he says, and though most films cast with a few backup ideas in mind, “in this case I refused to contemplate anyone other than Cher.”
“Thankfully, Cher said yes,” Parker adds, “and even better day than the day she said yes was the day her plane touched down in England, because you are never quite sure if she’s gonna get on the plane and then if the plane is going to divert to Hawaii.” Superstars can be unpredictable that way, but unlike Ruby, Cher was a total professional. “She arrives, and then she turns out to be the nicest person.”
After casting Cher, Parker needed to find someone to play her romantic partner. Enter Andy García, who plays Fernando Cienfuegos, a dapper, well-bearded gentleman who works with Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie. And yes — the character was invented entirely so that Cher could sing “Fernando” at him.
García put his name up for the movie before he knew Cher was involved, and then Cher chose him out of a list of potential Fernandos. “They wanted to give Cher the ability to pick her mate, as they say,” García says. “She said she was a fan of my work and all the people on the list were very capable, but when she saw me, she felt I was the guy.” He was thrilled to get the job, and thinks that it’s fun to add his character to Mamma Mia!’s very complicated genealogy. “There’s also the interesting anecdote that it’s possible that I may have been the father to Meryl and Lily,” he notes.
García’s casting also extends the summer of thirsting after García, since he also played the romantic interest of Diane Keaton in Book Club. He says the Summer of García was not a conscious career choice, but he’s happy to have the work. “Whenever you’re playing a romantic comedy or even a romantic drama, it’s a great opportunity for an actor,” he says. “Usually, you have a great partner opposite you.”
But what’s it like to have Cher herself pronounce her feelings for you in song? Here, García turns appropriately poetic: “It’s a very emotional song when you think about it. You’re seeing your lost love again after many years. You had given up all hope to ever see her again, let alone be in love again. That’s very deep stuff. It was sublime.”
As more than a few critics have noted, there’s one thing about Cher’s casting that sticks out like a chorus boy who isn’t shirtless in a Mamma Mia! group number: Meryl Streep is 69 years old, while Cher, at 72, is only three years older. It’s hardly an age difference that makes sense. In response to that, Parker points to the scene in Austin Powers where, when asked about the mechanics of time-travel, Michael York tells Mike Myers, “I suggest you don’t worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself” — and then turns to that audience and adds, “That goes for you all, too.”
“Cher can play Meryl’s daughter, for all I’m concerned. Or her great-grandmother,” Parker says. “She exists separate from time.”