The legendary singer, actress, and fashion icon, 72, joins the cast as Sophie’s badass grandma
Rita Wilson: Oh, my God. I saw the movie, and you are hilarious!
Cher: Well, I hope I was there long enough to make some sort of impression.
RW: Oh, yes! And I loved when you posted a picture on Twitter of your sparkling platform boots, and everybody went bananas speculating that you were in the film.
Cher: I think somebody told me I should post some sort of hint. And so I did.
RW: For me—and for millions of people—you are a legend of music, fashion, film, television. To what do you attribute your success, your longevity, and your ability to be so versatile as an artist?
Cher: Luck! It’s so underrated. You can be all kinds of things, but if you don’t have luck, no one will know it.
RW: You know what they say about luck? TIME just did an article on this, saying we all have our support systems from our families and friends. But luck is what happens when you go outside of your normal support system and you encounter people who are outside of your world. So to be lucky, you have to get outside of your comfort zone.
Cher: I did that when I was young. I knew what I was gonna do when I was four. By the time I met Sonny, I was just unharnessed energy. And he said, “Okay, we need to do something with this.” I didn’t even have confidence. So I’ve just done all of it with luck. My mother said to me when I was very young, “You won’t be the prettiest, you won’t be the most talented, you won’t be the smartest, but you are special.”
RW: What an amazing message for a child to hear.
Cher: I am dyslexic, so nothing pointed to anything. I was dark and everybody else in my family was light. But my mother kept saying, “You are smart. It’s just not showing, but you are smart.” I can’t see numbers. And my mom would say, “Don’t worry, you’ll have somebody to do that for you.”
RW: That is such a wonderful thing for a mother to recognize in a child. I follow you on Twitter, and I love how vocal you are when it comes to politics and our country. What would you say to other women about how to be in the world right now? I’ve always been inspired by you because you just don’t—can I say “fuck”?—you just don’t give a fuck what other people think.
Cher: Right. I don’t. My sister always said, “You’ve got to watch your language.” And I went, “Oh, you know what? That ship has sailed.” I don’t think like a woman; I think like a human being. I care about the world, and I have my point of view, and it’s not necessarily right. But I see that there’s a person in the White House and all these people in the government who are kind of crazy. I think women are going to save this country—women and young people. We just have to inspire them and support them. This is one time where the combination of older women and younger people is really going to make the difference.
RW: When you were younger, you were married to Sonny Bono. You separated, and then got a divorce. That must have felt like a very scary moment. But you were able to continue working, growing, and allowing people to see you in so many different ways as a fully evolved human being.
Cher: Yeah, but, Rita, I met him when I was 16 and left when I was 27. During that period I didn’t grow a bit as a person; I grew as an entertainer. Sonny and I always got along when we were working. If he came back in this living room right now, we would pick up where we left off because there was something between us. I’m not so sure we should have been husband and wife, but we had a bond that never broke.
RW: I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to be known for one thing and to turn it into something else, like you did when you transitioned from singing to acting in movies like Mask and Silkwood. Then you won an Academy Award for Moonstruck!
Cher: In the beginning, the studio did all these tests [for Moonstruck] and they said, “This movie doesn’t appeal to anybody.”
RW: If a movie stars a woman and is made for a female audience and it’s a success, they’ll say, “It was just a fluke.” Women control the majority of consumer spending in our country. And yet we are always getting short shrift on things like movies being made for us. I was thrilled with Girls Trip last summer because it was like: “Oh, thank goodness, this one’s definitely not a fluke. Women can hold audiences. Let’s make more of these types of movies.”
Cher: I’ve watched The Post so many times. I do that sometimes. When a movie’s really great, I will watch it again and again because there are so many things I wanna see. I kept thinking, “My God, this is the way women used to be treated.” They had to go in the other room when the men were talking business. Or women would be in a room and the men would just talk right over them. I remember when women used to introduce themselves by their husband’s first name. Like “I’m Mrs. John Treacher.” As if. I mean, as if.
“Sonny and I always dressed outlandishly. People thought it was wild, but we were really proud of the way we looked. I got that early: the not caring what people thought. Because, really, who cares?”
RW: As a young woman, I absolutely loved your style. I still love your style—the way you dress in your life, the way you dress for your shows. All those amazing outfits you wore to the Oscars! We’re missing this kind of risk-taking now. Women dress so politely and tastefully these days. But there was nothing safe about the clothes you wore. How did you find the confidence to dress like that?
Cher: I just wore whatever Bob Mackie made for me. At the Oscars in 1986, when I got to the mic [wearing the notorious feathered headdress] I said, “I did receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.” I had Bob, so all I had to do was stand still and he did the work. I was never embarrassed by anything that he gave me to wear. Of course, Sonny and I always dressed outlandishly. People thought it was wild, but we were really proud of the way we looked. I got that early: the not caring what people thought. Because, really, who cares? I liked the dress. I trusted Bob. I had the body to pull it off. I had no boobs; I was straight and not curvy.
RW: Everybody wanted your abs!
Cher: I never had to work for them.
RW: That is just depressing.
Cher: Yeah, well, I have to work my abs off now.
RW: You’ve kept your passion alive over six decades. What drives you?
Cher: When I get out there, I still have a good time. I also realize that there will eventually come a time when I can’t do it, so I want to enjoy it as long as I can. Also, I can still sing. I’m gonna be like Tony Bennett.
RW: He’s extraordinary. You’re obviously good friends with Meryl [Streep], and now with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again we’re kind of reuniting you. I worked with Meryl on It’s Complicated. And I remember being in a scene with her and thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m in a scene with Meryl Streep!”
Cher: I’m also a huge fan.
RW: Tell us a little bit about your friendship.
Cher: I met her for the first time in a sushi place in Texas when we were working on Mike Nichols’s Silkwood. I walked in, and she came over and hugged me and said, “I’m so glad you’re here.” We were together all the time after that. We used to go to the movies on Sundays. When I was in New York, I would go to her house every day.
RW: Over the years you’ve been honored for your philanthropy and social activism. Can you tell me a little bit about why you got involved with AIDS research, LGBT rights, and the Cher Charitable Foundation?
Cher: There are so many things that still need to be done. When I was growing up, we were really poor. If we complained, my mom would sometimes say, “I complained that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” I was so sick of hearing that when I was young. But it made an impression.
British actress Lily James, 29, steps into Meryl Streep’s shoes to play the young, free-spirited Donna
Rita Wilson: You do a fantastic job playing a young Donna in the flashback scenes. In preparing for the role, was there anything that you tried to channel from Meryl’s performance in the first film?
Lily James: I wanted to capture Donna’s gung-ho spirit. She’s so feisty and brave and uninhibited. I wanted people to believe that my Donna could grow into that woman. I also watched the film to try and sprinkle in a few gestures that felt like Meryl. She uses her hands a lot. I also took note of the way she moves her hips and her body—it’s so beautiful and grounded.
RW: Your scenes are set in the ’70s. Given our current political climate, I’m wondering what modern audiences will make of the fact that Donna slept with so many men in such a short period of time.
LJ: I think it’s great because she’s in control of the choices she makes, and I think that’s an important story to tell. Men behave like that all the time, so why not have a story where a girl follows her gut, going with whatever guys she fancies, and figuring it all out after? And getting past the fact that she does sleep with all these guys, her character is also her school’s first female valedictorian. She’s an intelligent, feisty young woman. I didn’t want to apologize for that, ever.
RW: What does it mean to you to be an empowered woman today?
LJ: I feel really grateful and proud to be part of everything that’s happening right now. It’s made me question stuff I’ve put up with over the years—things I had gotten used to—that are total bullshit, really. I’m so inspired by the women around me. What I love about Time’s Up, Me Too, and Equal Representation for Actresses 50:50 is that now I’m hanging out, going to meetings, and engaging in discussions regularly with lots of actresses my age or older. Suddenly we’re all together like never been before. It’s almost as if we were deliberately kept apart, and now that we’re together there’s no stopping us. There’s an honesty now and a confidence to be open about things.
“I’m a big believer in maintaining a bit of mystery. I’m not quite the generation that does social media like breathing, without a second thought.”
RW: You’ve also spoken about your struggle to embrace social media. As an actress, how do you maintain privacy and yet also connect with fans in an authentic way?
LJ: I’m actually a big believer in maintaining a bit of mystery. I’m not quite the generation that does social media like breathing, without a second thought. I feel I need to maintain a certain mystique because, as an actor, I need people to believe that I can transform into characters. Instagram gives away too much. I also think it creates so much pressure. When you look at all the beautiful people on Instagram and the perfectly curated lives they show—which is probably not what their lives are really like—you can’t help but wonder what a young teenager must feel when they see that. I struggle with it myself!
RW: You had a wild fashion sense as a child. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LJ: I think my style was really great when I was a kid. My mom used to let me wear whatever I wanted, and apparently I used to like looking like a tiger. I wore this bright orange dress and lots of other garish colors. But then I sort of lost my confidence for a while. I went through a phase where I always wanted to be the least dressed-up person in the room. I never wanted to look like I’d made an effort.
RW: What is your attitude toward fashion now?
LJ: One of the things that’s been great about acting is this whole unexpected part of it that involves fashion. At first it was quite intimidating, but now I really embrace it, and I’ve grown to love it. I know that everyone says it, but it’s true: If you feel good in what you’re wearing, it really does make you more confident.
RW: Do you think there is a distinct difference between British and American style?
LJ: New York and London have a similar vibe because they’re both walking cities. You’re always out and about, so it’s a lot of coats and wearable stuff. I don’t know if it’s because I’m always working when I’m in L.A., but I feel more of a need to dress up when I’m there. In general, in America I think there is a bit more of a polished-chic thing going on. In England, it’s all about shabby cool.
RW: That reminds me, I wanted to ask you about the Burberry fragrance campaign you did a couple of years ago. In the ad, you basically strip off your clothes and end up topless. Tell me about your decision-making going into that process.
LJ: As an actress, sometimes I enjoy just letting loose and being open. With a fragrance, sensuality—the smell of it on your skin—is a key part of its appeal. I found the shoot really fun. I felt that there was an honesty and bravery and truth to the campaign that really worked. I was a bit bored with being this sort of period-drama girl.
RW: The truth is that you weren’t doing anything that anyone hasn’t done on Instagram. It was a very tasteful ad. I have to say that if I looked as amazing as you did, I would go naked too.
LJ: Well, I have to give some credit to the magic of the filming process. I did feel good, though, and I’m young, so …
RW: I remember Nora Ephron said in one of her books: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.”
LJ: Yeah. I wear them all day.
Life imitates art as new mom Amanda Seyfried, 32, reprises her role as Sophie, who is expecting a baby in the new film
Rita Wilson: It’s been 10 years since you portrayed Sophie in the original movie. What was it like re-creating the role?
Amanda Seyfried: It was a weird parallel for me because I am also 10 years older. In the movie, it’s supposed to be like only four or five years have passed. But in real life, I had 10 years of life experience, which were full of crazy changes between 20 and 30. In the film, Sophie’s now running a business, she’s got a husband, or a partner. She is strong and independent; she’s been taught well. Donna [Sophie’s mother, played by Streep] radiates light, beauty, and strength. And in the second film, you can see that she has passed on all those qualities to Sophie.
RW: I remember watching your audition tape for the original movie, and it was so pure and beautiful. I know that you trained early on with a Broadway vocal coach, but what does it feel like now to be part of this major musical franchise?
AS: Oh, it’s like a little piece of magic that I am lucky to be a part of. Maybe it seemed pure because I was just so in love with ABBA, and so in love with singing. Now that I’m a mother [Seyfried has a one-year-old daughter with husband Thomas Sadoski], I felt really primed to be a part of something so family-oriented, musical, and positive. ABBA just makes you happy.
RW: ABBA is pure joy. Have you ever thought of recording an album?
AS: Every time I see [ABBA member] Benny Andersson, I tell him, “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll go in your studio; I’ll fly to Sweden.”
RW: I say, why not? I got into singing later in life, and it’s been an absolute thrill for me.
AS: Yeah, that’s the thing. I mean, if you love it, why not do it as much as you can, and for people? Right?
RW: Exactly. Do you think your perspective on life has changed since becoming a mom? What values do you want to pass down to your daughter?
AS: There’s an amazing George Saunders graduation speech called, “Congratulations, By the Way.” It’s about being kind and how those moments when you are not absolutely kind will probably be the ones that you’ll end up regretting later in life. Compassion is the most important thing that Tommy and I want to instill in her.
“We shouldn’t have to change the way we dress to be taken seriously or to be respected as women. I feel empowered when I wear a really sexy dress.”
RW: You’ve been so brave in acknowledging that you suffer from OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, and stage fright, and that you take medication for OCD. I think we need to be more honest about stuff like that because there’s no shame in it.
AS: I think as soon as there’s a stigma attached to something, it throws a lot of people in the closet. People are terrified of being judged—and nobody should be judged for mental illness. It is a disease, just like addiction is a disease. I was suffering from seven on. Not every day, but I would have dark moments as a preteen, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t have anybody to talk to, and I constantly judged myself for having all of these weird fears. I didn’t get the help I needed until I was 19.
RW: What made you recognize it? What was the moment when you said to yourself, “I think I could get help for this”?
AS: I finally went to see a psychiatrist, and I read a checklist in his office. It immediately became clear that the things I was experiencing—the obsessions—were common symptoms for people with OCD. And that was the day my life changed. Not to say that it got so much easier, but it definitely opened a door of understanding. Now I know a lot of people in my life who have OCD. We joke about our compulsions.
RW: Have you been involved with the Me Too and Time’s Up movements? Do you think they will have an impact on the way women dress?
AS: My first instinct is to say, “I hope not!” We shouldn’t ever have to change the way we dress to be taken seriously or to be respected as women. I feel empowered when I wear a really sexy dress. Behavior needs to change, not the way we dress.
RW: Speaking of fashion, can you describe your personal style? Do you have a uniform?
AS: I have a lot of T-shirts from this company called the Great.
RW: I love the Great. I have the slipdresses. Oh, my gosh, I live in them.
AS: I’ll go shopping on Reformation online, but every time I think I’m gonna put on a dress, like for Easter, I just end up putting on either a white, black, or gray sweater, or a T-shirt and jeans—Frame, to be more specific, because they’re the best.
RW: What’s the best piece of advice your mom ever gave you?
AS: Stylewise, she always said that less is more. But probably the best advice she gave me was, “Don’t react to things immediately.” I didn’t take her advice for a long time. I used to wear my heart on my sleeve, which is good in some ways, but it also got me into trouble. I’m finally learning to take a breath.
This article originally appears in the June/July 2018 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR.
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