It’s taken 54 years for a sequel to Mary Poppins to be made – but it’s finally here. Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, Into the Woods) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) opens on December 19th. It was directed by the masterful Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods).
The story is set in Depression-era London. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is now grown and has three children of his own. He’s struggling financially, and is also coping with the recent death of his wife. His sister, Jane, is helping the best she can, but in times like these it needs a miracle. But the winds begin to change, and Mary Poppins (Emily) enters their lives once again. Along with her old friend, Jack (Lin-Manuel), a lamplighter, they take the Banks’ children on adventures that bring love and laughter back into their lives.
Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda were at the press conference for the movie in Beverly Hills to talk about their experience of bringing the iconic character into the 21st century.
Can you both tell us how this came to you?
Emily Blunt: I got a voice mail from Rob, who is my dear friend. We have known each other a long time. The voice mail certainly had a charged energy to it. I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is this project?’ .
He said, ‘We’ve been digging through the Disney archives and we’ve (found) by far their most prized possession. And I was like ‘What is that?’ And when (he) said Mary Poppins I thought the air changed in the room. It was such an extraordinary and unparalleled moment for me. I was filled with an instantaneous yes, but also with some trepidation, all happening simultaneously in that moment because she is so iconic.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: They (Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca) 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. They said, ‘(The) sequel to Mary Poppins.’ I said, ‘Who’s playing Mary Poppins?’ And they said, ‘Emily Blunt.’ I said, ‘Oh that’s good.’
Honestly I can’t give them enough credit for seeing this role in me, because when I’m playing Hamilton there is no childlike wonder in Alexander Hamilton. He had a very traumatic early life. He goes on that stage and he wants to devour the world, whereas Jack in this movie, as they pitched him to me, has this childlike sense of wonder. He’s in touch with that imagination you see in your kids when they can play in their own imagination for hours. Jack never lost that and I feel so humbled that he saw that in me. From that drink, I was in.
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 beautiful.
Did you see the movie when you were a child?
Emily: She had such a big imprint on my life and on everyone’s lives. People hold this character so close to their hearts. So how do I create my version of her? No one wants to see me do a cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews, because no one is Julie Andrews. She should be preserved and treasured in her own way of what she did.
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 Rob, who is the most emboldening, meticulous, brilliant director in the world. I was in safe hands with him. However, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Did you feel the same way about Rob Marshall?
Lin-Manuel: I remember going to the midnight premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater, RIP Ziegfeld Theater, and seeing Chicago with everyone else who had the premiere date written in blood on their calendars. I (saw) the greatest modern movie musical I’d ever seen in my life. So when I got a call from Rob Marshall that he’d like to talk to me about something that became an immediate priority.
Mary’s a complicated character, where did you find all the nuances and colors that you painted her with?
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, that duality of the character, that she is stern and incredibly rude, vain but funny. And yet she has such a childlike wonder in her in order to want to infuse these children’s lives with it, and there must be under there a generosity of spirit to want to fix and heal in the way that she does.
I felt this Mary Poppins had a sensuality that existed between the two of you that was never part of the 1964 movie. (everyone laughs, including me, what was the journalist thinking?)
Lin-Manuel: (laughing) Go on.
Can you talk about how you see your characters in the 21st century?
Emily: (fanning herself) This is quite (a) white hot sort of chemistry.
Lin-Manuel: First of all I would urge you to re-watch the first film. Because everyone (who) was like, ‘Wow there’s rapping in Mary Poppins Returns,’ forgets that (in Mary Poppins) Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) has a 30 second rap about all the women he dated before Mary Poppins. (everyone laughs) You’ve all forgotten it, but Jolly Holiday is one big flirt between Mary and Bert. (To Emily) Do you want to handle the white hot sensuality of Mary Poppins?
Emily: I never felt that it was romantic between them, but she doesn’t mind flirting with a laborer.
Lin-Manuel: During (the number) Trip a Little Light Fantastic, he’s having a good time.
Emily: That’s like her dream to dance with 30 lamplighters. It’s like. ‘Here we go!’ But I think really the enigmatic master plan is to set him up with Jane Banks.
I think I enjoyed playing the flirtation of it, and really they are such kindred spirits even though he’s not necessary magical. He gets it and believes it and they’re in cahoots with each other.
I love playing that chemistry with Lin. I was so lucky to get to play it with him, because (there was) 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 fictions in either direction. (everyone laughs)