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Interview: Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Mary Poppins Returns

How did the actors re-imagine the 1964 Classic Disney musical movie?

Dec 18, 2018

By: Lynn Barker

In the Disney musical fantasy Mary Poppins Returns, Emily Blunt takes on the iconic Julie Andrews role as Mary Poppins, a magical nanny who returns to the now adult kids she helped raise years before. Michael Banks is now a dad whose home will be repossessed by the bank unless he can find a certificate proving he owns valuable stock shares. Mary can help him and sister Jane save the day all while cheering them up with a magical adventure.

Michael looks for the proof of his stock sharesMichael looks for the proof of his stock sharesCourtesy of Disney

Broadway legend Lin-Manual Miranda, who created and starred in “Hamilton” and “In the Heights”, plays playful Jack, a lamplighter who apprenticed under chimney sweep Bert (Dick Van Dyke) in the original movie. He combines with Mary to give the Banks and their kids the time of their lives.

Mary and Jack take the Banks kids on a fantasy adventureMary and Jack take the Banks kids on a fantasy adventureCourtesy of Disney

In this interview the two share how they both came to be in the project and the flirty relationship they brought to this version of the classic.

Mary Poppins Returns Trailer

Q: Emily, share with us how it came about that you are playing Mary Poppins?

  • Emily:  Producer Rob Marshall called me and said ‘We’ve been digging through the Disney archives and found, by far, their most prized possession’.  And I was like ‘What, what is that?’  And when he said’ Mary Poppins’ I thought the air changed in the room.  It was such an extraordinary rather unparalleled moment for me because I was filled with an instantaneous ‘yes’, but also with some trepidation because she is so iconic.  She had such a big imprint on my life and on everyone’s lives so how do I create my version of her? No one wants to see me do a sort of cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews because no one is Julie Andrews. 
  • She should be preserved and treasured in her own way for what she did.  And so I knew this was going to be something that I wanted to take a big swing with however much I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

Emily as Mary can be stern but fairEmily as Mary can be stern but fairCourtesy of Disney

Q: What did you draw upon?  Where did your performance come from? 

  • Emily: I found the books to be a huge springboard and enormously helpful. She leaped off the page at me just in how complicated she is. She is stern and she is incredibly rude and vain but like funny. There is this humanity and she has to have such a childlike wonder in her in order to want to infuse these children’s lives with it and there must, underneath, be a generosity of spirit to want to fix and heal in the way that she does. (We decided) that she’s probably a bit of an adrenaline junky, like she loves these adventures.  It’s like her outlet.

Mary can be a bit vainMary can be a bit vainCourtesy of Disney

Q: I have to imagine there is an incredible pressure in playing the role of Mary Poppins. How do you balance Julie Andrews' extraordinary performance with the books while adding your own personal signature as well?

  • Emily:  I think for me what I decided to do was, even though I’d seen it as a child, not watch the original film so close to shooting our version. I think probably because she is so beautiful and so extraordinary and I think I would have maybe tried to accommodate that in the same way that she did. I’d let that sort of bleed into what I wanted to do. So, I just decided that I’m just going to go on my gut instinct from the book because she is rather different in all of the books.
  • 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 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 and probably relieved that I hadn’t watched it first because I think she’s amazing.

Emily as Mary with the Banks childrenEmily as Mary with the Banks childrenCourtesy of Disney

Q: And Lin. How did you come to this project?

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:  Well, (filmmakers) Rob Marshall and John DeLuca said ‘We’d like to talk to you about something’ so that became an immediate priority.  They came to buy me a drink between shows of “Hamilton”.  They said (they were making) a sequel to Mary Poppins and I said ‘Who’s playing Mary Poppins’?  And they said ‘Emily Blunt’ and I said ‘Oh that’s good’. Honestly I can’t give them enough credit for seeing this role in me because there is no childlike wonder in Alexander Hamilton. 
  • He has a very traumatic early life whereas (my character) Jack in this movie has this childlike sense of wonder.  He’s in touch with that imagination you all see in your kids when they can play in their own imagination for hours. I feel so humbled that they saw that in me. It came along at the perfect time for my family too. 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 like beautiful.

Jack says Let's go fly a kite!Jack says Let's go fly a kite!Courtesy of Disney

Q:  What was your favorite part of making the film or favorite experience in the film?

  • Lin-Manuel: There are so many. There are a lot of highs on a movie like this and coming from the theater where the only thing that changes in the performance is the audience. (On this movie) you hear, ‘Thursday we’ll be shutting down Buckingham Palace and riding with 500 bicyclists and Friday you’ll be dancing with the penguins’.  Those kinds of moments are really sort of unforgettable. I brought my son to set every time we filmed a musical number, (I’d) 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.

Lin-Manuel as Jack in a dance numberLin-Manuel as Jack in a dance numberCourtesy of Disney

Q: Can you talk about how you see your characters as very modern? There is a flirty relationship.

  • Emily: This is quite a white hot sort of chemistry (sly grin. Is she kidding?)
  • Lin-Manuel:  First of all I would urge you to re-watch the first film because everyone is like ‘Wow there’s rapping in Mary Poppins Returns and they forget that Bert has a 30 second rap about all the women he dated before Mary Poppins. The “Jolly Holiday” (with Mary song) is one big flirt between Mary and Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke in the first movie). 
  • Emily:  I mean I never felt that it was sort of romantic between them necessary, but she doesn’t mind flirting with a laborer.  Mary Poppins loves a laborer.
  • Lin Manuel:  During “Triple A Fantastic”, he’s having a good time.
  • Emily: Oh, that’s like her dream to dance with 30 lamplighters.  It’s like here we go but I think I enjoyed playing the sort of flirtation of it and I think really they are such kindred spirits even though he’s not necessary magical, he gets it and believes it and they’re sort of in cahoots with each other. I love playing that chemistry with Lin and I was so lucky to get to play it with him because there’s such a wonderful bounce back and forth. There’s such buoyancy to him and how he plays his character. 
  • Lin-Manuel: We look forward to all the fan fiction (you might write) in either direction.

Mary and Jack get their flirt onMary and Jack get their flirt onCourtesy of Disney

Q: I particularly loved that this is a musical. I feel like the heart of the film is really “The Place Where Lost Things Go”. Emily, how did it feel singing that on set?

  • Emily: I was so incredibly moved by it that I found it virtually impossible to get through it the first few times I sang it in (rehearsal). It was so emotional for me because I did think of my own children and these children in the film and their sense of loss and that they’re trying to hold their father together and they’ve dealt with something so profound and so agonizing; losing a parent and to be so young and miss her so much. I cried thinking about it. 
  • But on the day, it was one of my favorite days on set and we shot that song all day, in a couple of days because it is that she recognizes what they need in that moment and gives it to them in this very tender way and the sorrow is so true and she doesn’t shy away from the fact that they’ve lost something but that there are cracks of light.  You are going to walk through this loss and nothing is gone forever only out of place.  It’s just such a hopeful way to look at loss really.

Mary Poppins Returns Movie PosterMary Poppins Returns Movie PosterCourtesy of Disney

See Mary Poppins Returns in theaters Dec. 19th

What Is Your Take?

Are you into actress Emily Blunt and are you familiar with famous Broadway powerhouse Lin-Manuel Miranda? Have you watched the 1964 Mary Poppins movie on home entertainment or on TV? Do you wish you could be in a big musical? Talk all about it with comments below or write it up on your Kidzworld profile page.