There was a silver cup given at my school for good manners in difficult circumstances, and that expresses how I deal with adverse situations,” says director Phyllida Lloyd, whose first feature, “Mamma Mia!,” is now on screens.
Though Lloyd is an acclaimed theater and opera director who helmed “Mamma Mia!” in the West End and on Broadway, it wasn’t certain she would direct the film version. Yet producer Judy Craymer and scribe Catherine Johnson held out for her, no mean feat for a screen rookie given the scope and profile of the production. “I was quite stunned when I was asked to direct it,” recalls Lloyd, 51, a native of Bristol, England. “But I realized I hadn’t been given the job out of sentimentality.”
She says she was “terrified, every day,” for much of the shoot. “The strain of a project on this scale is a very good way to lose weight,” she jokes.
Lloyd took nothing for granted, storyboarding the entire picture and even filming some scenes on her own, with members of the London stage production standing in for the likes of Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Christine Baranski.
“I worked particularly on the musical numbers,” she says. “I was trying to find out how the camera was going to move and discovered that it moved differently in every song. It was a bit like having a divining rod.”
Although reviews have been mixed, the film scored the best domestic opening ever for a musical.
She invokes the words of artist Louise Bourgeois to summarize the experience: “I have been to hell and back, and let me tell you, it was wonderful.”
Lloyd doesn’t rule out directing more films, but she’s returning to the stage first, remounting on Broadway her acclaimed Donmar Warehouse/West End production of Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” starring Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. “It’s something I am very excited to bring to America,” she says. “It’s a brilliant, thrilling, pertinent play for our times.”
Role model: Costume designer Ann Roth.
Three things in life I can’t do without: “Wine, woman and song.”
What I’m reading now: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz.
Fave leisure activity: “Laughing.”
Career mantra: “The solution will come, but maybe not until the last inch.”