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A couple weeks ago I got to spend a practically perfect afternoon with the cast and crew of Mary Poppins Returns! My review of this gorgeous movie is coming soon, but for now I want to take you behind the scenes a little bit, and share with you what Emily, Lin-Manuel, and the rest of the cast felt about bringing this beloved story back to the big screen.
Interviews with the Cast and Creators of MARY POPPINS RETURNS
We got to hear from:
· Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins”)
· Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Jack”)
· Ben Whishaw (“Michael Banks”)
· Emily Mortimer (“Jane Banks”)
· Director Rob Marshall
· Producer John Deluca
· Marc Shaiman (Music)
· Scott Wittman (Music)
· Marc Platt (Producer/Moderator)
WHY WAS NOW THE RIGHT TIME FOR MARY POPPINS RETURNS?
ROB MARSHALL: You know what, I thought to myself when this came our way, my way, if anybody is gonna do it I would like to do it because it was incredibly daunting at first, of course, but at the same time I really felt like I have that film, as many of us on this panel do, in our blood. And I wanted to be able to, in an odd way, protect the first film and treat this film with great care and love. And, you know, musicals are very difficult to do, an original musical, there are so many layers to it, but with this one, you know, creating an original musical from scratch was actually for me a dream, and I’ve never done it before and to be able to create it with this beautiful company was exactly what I was hoping for.
And I have to say, the guiding message of this film about finding light in the darkness is honestly what drew me to it and kept guiding me throughout the whole process including until this very moment, when people are actually now seeing the film because it feels so current to me. And I’m just speaking for myself, but I feel people need this film now. And I certainly knew that I wanted to live in that world and be part of that and sending that message out into the world now of looking for hope and light in a dark time. And that’s why we set our film in the depression era in London, the time of the books. It was really so it could feel accessible and feel like it’s a story that needs to be told now.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN MARY POPPINS RETURNS?
EMILY BLUNT: [Marc Platt] called my agent and said ‘something big is coming down the pike for Emily’ and I got a voice mail from Rob, who is my dear friend and we have known each other a long time, and the voice mail certainly had a sort of charged energy to it, like, I was like, oh my god, what is it? What is this project? And when he called me, because he is so beautifully ceremonious and wants every moment of the process to feel special and transporting and memorable for you, that even the phone call had such a sense of ceremony to it. And he said, ‘you know, we’ve been digging through the Disney archives and, you know, we’ve found by far their most prized possession.’ And I was like ‘what, what is that?’ And I couldn’t think what it was, and when you said ‘Mary Poppins’ I thought, like, the air changed in the room. It was so extraordinary, such an extraordinary rather unparalleled moment for me because I was filled with an instantaneous yes, but also with some trepidation, you know, all happening simultaneously in that moment because she is so iconic. She had such a big imprint on my life and on everyone’s lives, you know. She, people hold this character so close to their hearts. And so, how do I create my version of her? What will my version of her be because no one wants to see me do a sort of cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews because no one is Julie Andrews. And she should be preserved and treasured in her own way of what she did. And so I knew this was going to be something that I wanted to take a big swing with and I knew I could do it with this man who is the most emboldening, meticulous, brilliant director in the world and I was in safe hands with him. However I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I found the books to be a huge springboard and enormously helpful. [Mary] leaped off the page at me just in how complicated she is, how unknowable she is in this wonderful way, that duality of the character, you know, that she is stern and she is incredibly rude, and vain and, but like funny, and yet there is this humanity and she has to herself have such a childlike wonder in her in order to want to infuse these children’s lives with it and there must, under there, be a generosity of spirit to want to fix and heal in the way that she does. So I think for me and certainly for Rob when we talked about it, in the year and a half we spent before we even started rehearsing, we would talk about her so much and we both wanted to find those layers and those moments of humanity and also the fact that she’s probably a bit of an adrenaline junkie, like she loves these adventures. It’s like her outlet, you know. So just finding those moments so she’s not just one thing, because she is so enigmatic and it was a great, such a delicious character to play, I loved it.
ROB MARSHALL: And can I just add one quick thing and that there is not another person on this planet who could have played that part but you, no one.
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: So I got a call from Rob Marshall and John DeLuca who said ‘we’d like to talk to you about something.’ That became an immediate priority. They came to buy me a drink between shows. I was still in Hamilton at the time and I had a two show day. So I finished the matinee, rolled across the street to the Paramount Hotel and I met them for a drink and they said ‘sequel to Mary Poppins’ and I said ‘who’s playing Mary Poppins?’ And they said ‘Emily Blunt’ and I said ‘oh that’s good.’ And honestly I can’t give them enough credit for seeing this role in me because when I’m playing Hamilton, I mean, there is no childlike wonder in Alexander Hamilton. He has a very traumatic early life. He goes on that stage and he wants to devour the world and he wants to move so fast and he wants to do everything, whereas Jack in this movie as they pitched him to me has this childlike sense of wonder. He has this, you know, he’s in touch with that imagination you all see in your kids when they can sort of play in their own imagination for hours. Jack sort of never lost that and I feel so humbled that he saw that in me and that, you know, from that moment, from that drink I was in and then, you know, it came along at the perfect time for my family too, you know. We had finished a year of performing Hamilton and then I chopped my hair off and left the country and jumped into Mary Poppins’ universe. It was beautiful.
EMILY MORTIMER: I felt from the minute that I met Rob that I wanted to be part of this film. Mary Poppins is a huge part of my childhood as it is of everybody’s. But it was really exciting to think that they were going to make another movie of it, and daunting too obviously, but it was meeting Rob and hearing him talk … about why he was so determined to make this film that just really inspired me. You just have to try to jump on that train if you can, and so I emerged from meeting Rob and John and rung up my agents immediately and said ‘I just have to be part of this movie no matter what. I just want to be in it. I just want to help Rob tell this story.’
WHAT WAS A FAVORITE MOMENT FROM FILMING?
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: There are a lot of highs on a movie like this … Thursday we’ll be shutting down Buckingham Palace and riding with 500 bicyclists. And Friday you’ll be, you know, dancing with the penguins. You know those kind of moments are really sort of unforgettable, but for me I brought my son to set every time we filmed a musical number and to watch his eyes like saucers while daddy danced with, what seems like 500 dancers and bikers. I’ll never forget the look on his face as long as I live.
EMILY MORTIMER: It just felt like incredible good fortune every time I walked on the set to be there and as Lin said just every single moment was magical. It was like sort of intravenous entertainment. It was almost too much at times. And getting to know Ben and having that friendship was immediate and so sweet and it was just – it was the whole thing was magical and something I’ll treasure forever and I feel very lucky to have been a part of.
[Karen Dotrice (the original Jane)] came to do the cameo as a little moment where Ben is emerging from the house with his briefcase late and he bumps into her and we’re out together, but – we did it so that she – we all walked on to the set for the first time with her and she walked on to Cherry Tree Lane for the first time in 54 years or however long it has been since the first movie was made and she just melted. I mean she just sort of crumbled and that was so moving being there with her while that happened.
ROB MARSHALL: [Speaking of when Dick Van Dyke came to set for the first time] I mean every one of us was there and it was beyond. I don’t think any of us could even breathe that day because we couldn’t believe that we were touching that. And he was basically playing the same old banker that he played. He grabbed my hand as we walked on to the set and he turned to me and he said something I will never forget. He said ‘I feel the same spirit here on this set that I did on the first film.’ And that was, you know, that was the dream come true right there.
JOHN DELUCA: I was so moved when my favorite moment on the set of the whole filming was when, after Dick did his monologue to the kids in the bank, we were all waiting for Rob to call cut because he was with him reading a long time and then he couldn’t because of all the emotion. He was crying and he couldn’t literally say the word. And just realizing that was so touching.
ROB MARSHALL: I think Emily called cut. [LAUGHTER]
WHAT DOES MARY POPPINS MEAN TO YOU?
BEN WHISHAW: I was obsessed with the film when I was a child. It was the first thing – the first film I ever saw and my dad taped it off the “telly” on a VHS tape and I watched it obsessively through my whole childhood and I used to dress up as Mary Poppins and parade up and down the street in our village. And so it has a huge like mythical – it’s a mythic part of my childhood. So I was – I was sort of moved every day because of course it’s moving and you don’t expect as an adult to sort of be revisiting something that is such a part of your childhood. I was moved every day to be involved in that world again, you know, that I still recall so well. I mean, I can’t watch the first film without crying and it’s just a very tender kind of place in myself.
MARC PLATT: It is so honest and true and just indulge me one second. We’ve only been screening the film for about four weeks. But I have gotten so many unsolicited e-mails and phone calls from fathers and grandfathers who are so moved at the portrayal of [Michael Banks], of how that character is written and how [Rob] directed it and his ability to be honest with his children, about what he can and can’t do, his emotional reality in front of his children. And it has spoken to dads in a way that I never saw coming and I thought and I sort of wanted to point that and share that with you because it’s having such a – it speaks so much to today what dads try and hopefully hold on to for their families.
MARC SHAIMAN: Like everyone else I, you know, it was an extremely large part of my childhood. I think it was the complete – my entire childhood was Mary Poppins. I really have no other memory of my childhood except listening to that record and reading the synopsis of the story and the fact that I would grow up and even as a child had the ability to write music and lyrics and was even fascinated by the orchestrations on it. When it starts with the F triad, which I learned later, and its violins tremelowing, which I learned later. And then the English horn comes in on “Feed the Birds” and I didn’t know what those instruments were. I was 4 and I didn’t know what those words were. A man has dreams of walking with giants, to carve his niche in the edifice of time, before the mortar of his zeal has a chance to congeal. I mean I was 4 years old. Why are those chords making me feel something so deeply? And it’s not just the chords, but it’s the strings and the way that they’re playing those chords and so all these things were just flowing into my brain and my ears and my heart. And I learned everything I could from that album. So then I grew up and the dream came true where I got to incorporate every single thing that I ever learned from that album into real life.
EMILY BLUNT: I think for me what I decided to do [in playing the role of Mary] was, even though I’d seen it as a child, was not watch the original so close to shooting our version because I think, probably, because she is so beautiful and so extraordinary and, I think would have maybe tried to … let that sort of bleed into what I wanted to do and so I just decided if I’m going to do this, I’m just going to go on my gut instinct from the book because she is rather different in all of the books, you know. And that was the decision really is just to – if I’m going to carve out new space for myself it was gonna have to be without watching the details of what Julie did so close to shooting. I mean I have this searing memory of Mary Poppins, but not of all of the tiny details of how she played the character. And so as soon as we wrapped I watched the original. I was just floored by it, you know, and probably relieved that I hadn’t watched it because I think I was all ‘my god, she’s amazing,’ you know.
WHAT DO YOU WANT AUDIENCES TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE MOVIE?
ROB MARSHALL: You have to get up and approach your life in a certain way and to look at it from the angle from a different point of view which is in our film too – from the point of view of looking for the light. It’s in the P.L. Travers’ books. It’s about finding that childlike joy in life which might sound trivial to some, but to me it’s very profound And I honestly was able to explore that idea in making this film It was incredibly hard work, probably the hardest work I’ve ever had to do on a film, but at the same exact time incredibly joyous for that very reason.
We also got to get up close and personal with some of the costumes and props from Mary Poppins Returns! Some of these items are now on display at Disneyland in the Opera House.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS is rated PG and is in theaters Wednesday December 19.