Alexa Davies was only 12 years old when the first Mamma Mia was released, and now the young Welsh actress has a starring role – playing a young Rosie in this eagerly anticipated sequel, allowing her the chance to channel one of her cinematic idols in Julie Walters. The musical, full up of fine ABBA hit singles, has a breathtaking ensemble and Davies explains to us how surreal it was to be sharing the screen with such icons. She discusses her love for ABBA, sitting on the knee of Bjorn, and tells us exactly how lovely co-star Lily James truly is. Oh, and she also tells us of the time she was caught trying to take home one of the film’s props…
Were you a big ABBA fan going in to this project?
A massive ABBA fan. My mum used to play their music when I was younger in the car, and how could you not love them? Their music is infectious in a really joyous way. I’m also a massive Eurovision fan and Waterloo remains as one of the best Eurovision winning songs ever.
Have you got a favourite song?
I love Voulez-Vous. Angel Eyes is one I’d never heard before doing this movie and now I can never get it out of my head. Also, one that always makes me cry is I’ve Been Waiting For You. It makes me weep, I love that one.
You get to dance on the knee of Bjorn – that must’ve been quite a cool experience?
It was cool, but I can get quite awkward around people, especially when it’s Bjorn of ABBA. He’s a man of few words, and I had to walk around the chair and then lean back on him and I actually kissed him on the cheek as well and it was terrifying. I was so worried I would sit down to hard and break his legs, and imagining the worst. But luckily he was absolutely lovely.
You’re playing a young Julie Walters, did you adopt any of her sensibilities as a person? She’s a real national treasure with very distinctive personality traits, so when you play a younger version of an actress like that, do you find you almost have to affectionately have to impersonate them at all?
Julie Walters has been my hero since I was about five years old, so I already had a good idea of what she was, but when it came to my audition I tried to pull it back, but when I got the job and went in to it, I watched every interview she’s ever given from the 80s onwards because her voice is so unique. With Rosie whenever she tells stories she gets posh and comedic and it was really difficult, but it’s that thing of wanting people to immediately understand it’s the same character so they can get over it straight away and focus on what’s going on. So yeah, I did take a bit of a stab at it and I’m hoping it works out.
Did you get the chance to spend much time with her? Because your stories are obviously very seperate, you can’t exactly be on the screen as the same time as the older version of yourself…
Yeah we got to spend a bit of time together. The first time I ever met her I was completely red in the face, and it was terrifying. A really funny thing happened on this film, because there are 12 of us all sharing roles, so whenever the new one would meet the legacy one, everyone would stand in a circle around them and look at them, it was very weird. Our amazing producers would always hold dinners for us all when we were shooting.
As for Lily James, people say she’s just a complete joy to work with. You spend a lot of time with her on this movie, is it true what they say?
You know what, she’s absolutely top notch. Perhaps people go in with preconceptions as it’s always scary to meet Cinderella, and it’s that thing where you meet and know you have to get on because you’re playing best mates, but we met and it was such a relief that she was so wonderful. She’s a top girl in that she’s really funny, on a set she has this amazing ability of being very professional and yet is so warm with everyone, there’s no ego there at all. There was a night in Croatia where we’d all had a bit to drink, and I sat with Julie Walters and did my impression of her, to her, for about 10 minutes because I was so nervous and I’d had a few drinks, then in the car on the way back I was so distraught at the thought I had embarrassed myself, and Lily sat there and just kept telling me that I was the funniest person she’d ever met, and it was such an exaggeration, but at the time it was what I needed, a mate to tell me to stop worrying. Luckily Julie is great and it wasn’t an issue at all.
What’s it like shooting a musical? The finished product always looks great, it’s gloriously cinematic to watch a film where characters that burst out into song. But when you’re shooting a musical, in the actual moment, does it feel a bit silly? Because what we eventually see is pretty different to what you shot.
We were really lucky, because the songs I was in were done as performances, not that thing where characters are thinking out loud through a song, which I think I would be quite bad at, it’s such a talent people have to make it seem so natural. But I was really lucky that the songs I was in were very much stage performances by Donna and the Dynamos. It’s definitely harder than it looks, Amanda Seyfried is amazing at it, and Lily and Meryl Streep too, they’re so good at making it seem like it’s meant to happen.
You must’ve looked around on set and saw Meryl Streep, and Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard, and Colin Firth and Lily James and Christine Baranski and Julie Walters and Cher and Andy Garcia, and just thought – wow.
Yeah it was the same in the rehearsal, it was just bizarre. You’d walk past Colin Firth who tells you it was the same set they shot Mary Poppins Returns in, then James Bond walks over and gives you a little hug and a kiss on the head, and it was so bizarre. Then five minutes later I’m dancing with Julie Walters. I still don’t think it’s real. That sensation of feeling like a competition winner lasted, I had no idea why I was there in a way, it was ridiculous. There’s one moment when Cher is singing to us and we have to march over, and it was crazy, like a personal concert from Cher singing ABBA songs. I’ve actually taken the call sheet from that day of work and I’ve framed it. I have it on the wall in my living room. I had to frame it.
When you saw the first Mamma Mia film I bet you could never have imagined it would be a world you would enter in to one day and be a part of.
Yeah, I was 12 when the first film came out. I’ve seen it about a hundred times now, because I just love Julie and ABBA music and dancing on a Greek island – how could you not love it? So when the call came in to play the part of a young Rosie I just laughed so much, because I look nothing like her, which was my first hurdle. I went in, so nervous, I had to sing and I had to act and it was terrifying. I was shaking afterwards, and I was working at a bar at the time, and I had to go to work straight after my first audition and I couldn’t tell anyone, so the whole time I was serving people I had this bizarre hope in my mind that maybe I was going to be in Mamma Mia 2. Luckily when it happened and I became a part of it, they were just the most welcoming family of people. To a point where all the extras, playing the teachers in the I Kissed a Teacher song, are the alumni of the Mamma Mia cast from the stage. It is such a big family and it’s so lovely to be a part of it.
Did they let you keep any of your outfits?
No, I wish! Those boots are amazing. There’s a necklace that I wear in every scene though, which is a little apple on a gold chain and I really wanted to keep it, because I found it very sentimental, so I actually did take it home one day and then I got a text asking me where the necklace was, so I had to give it back.
When you were 12 and you saw the first movie, at that age did you know you wanted to be an actor? Did you have a back-up career in case it didn’t work out?
I sort of knew when I was about nine. I was obsessed with Doctor Who at that age and there was a show called Doctor Who Confidential, which went behind the scenes and I knew what actors were and what they did but at that point but I didn’t really realise you could earn a living from it if you worked hard enough. So when my parents explained to me that you could be paid money to run around and pretend to be an alien, I thought, well, that’s what I’m going to do then. But that does not happen to kids from Rhyl, they don’t become actors very easily, but I had my heart set on it. My dad has always suggested law and my mum used to think I could be a translator because I took to French easily at school, but for me, I put all my eggs in the acting basket and I’m still trying my best nowadays that it all goes to plan.
Do you feel like an actor now? I guess for so many years it feels like a dream, something you’ll do when you ‘get older’ – but now, does it feel like it’s actually your career? And if so, when did that moment occur?
I think it was when we found out that Raised by Wolves had been commissioned for a series, because we did a pilot, and that was huge for me. I’d done a couple of short films and bits and bobs like that, but to actually find out you would play a regular in a sitcom on Channel 4, that was my moment I think. The word ‘regular’ is so weird because you do one or two episodes is really fun, but to find out you’re a part of the core cast of something, for me that was when I thought, even if after this series nothing ever happens again, at least I did that.
Do you think the future much? Do you think 10 years ahead or is acting one of those professions where it is literally project by project, and you can only ever think as far as the next audition?
I tend to think project by project. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how fantastic you are, or how ready you are, if the parts aren’t there for you then they’re not there. It’s very much a case of working hard, and always keeping your options open and making sure you’re ready. Sometimes things come so quickly out of the blue. I know a lot of my mates who have either recently graduated from drama school, or are still going, it’s tough. I firmly believe that you have to enjoy the rest of your life, so I go job by job, I start a new drama series in a week, and that will be shooting until October and then my next plan after that is to hopefully go to Germany for a couple of days, and I like to think like that, just see what happens. I’m nearly 23 and in ten years I would like to maybe be a home owner, I don’t know. Maybe be married? It’s tricky, in life you never know, this job I’m doing now could be my last ever job, it might all go to pot.
You’ve collaborated with some incredible people in Mamma Mia – but who is the one person you could love to work with one day?
My list is so long. Maybe Anthony Hopkins. I mean, Julie Walters was top of my list so it’s amazing that I can cross her off. But Anthony Hopkins has always been one of my favourites, but that’s probably because he’s Welsh, I love to see Welsh actors doing well, so it’s got to be him, I think he’s amazing.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out in cinemas now.