In 2001, Meryl Streep took ''six screaming 11-year-olds'' to see Mamma Mia! on Broadway for her daughter's birthday party. ''I thought it would be fun for them,'' she says. ''Of course, I was up in the aisle, dancing and screaming and yelling. It was an infusion of joy I just fell in love with it.'' So deeply, in fact, that Streep wrote the cast a fan letter, which eventually made its way to the show's architects: Phyllida Lloyd, writer Catherine Johnson, and producer Judy Craymer. So when it came time to cast the big-screen version of the $2 billion-grossing worldwide hit, Lloyd & Co. figured it couldn't hurt to ask the Most Nominated Actor in Oscar History if she might want to star. ''They called me and said, 'You probably won't be interested, but...''' Streep recalls. ''I said, 'Are you crazy?! I would love to do this!' It was a done deal.''
The latest project to appeal to Streep's lighter side, Mamma Mia! is the buoyant story of a single mother (Streep) whose daughter (Amanda Seyfried) invites three of Mom's ex-beaux to her wedding, hoping to figure out which one is her father. The $65 million flick has romance, laughter, and heartache and it's all stitched together by the exuberant tunes of ABBA. ''The music suffused the whole atmosphere, so it was impossible to be in a bad mood. And I try, believe me!'' jokes Streep, who, like the rest of the cast, did her own singing. She quickly got over any nervousness about performing in front of Benny Andersson (he and fellow ABBA cofounder Björn Ulvaeus are exec producers on the film): ''It was rock & roll. You just did it!'' As for 22-year-old Seyfried (HBO's Big Love), who was born long after the band's heyday, she became a certified Fan especially of the title track. '''Mamma Mia' brings alive something in you,'' she says. ''No matter who you are, it's just a really exciting song.'' My my, how can we resist it? (July 18)