A most delightful chat with Mary Poppins Returns director Rob Marshall and stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Perfectly perfect in every single way, Emily Blunt is no Julie Andrews replica, putting a fresh spin on Mary Poppins in the eagerly awaited sequel, Mary Poppins Returns.
Once again, the magical nanny must help the second-generation of Banks children, filling their heads with “stuff and nonsense”, laughter, song and Poppins-style wisdoms.
Released 54 years after the beloved original, Rob Marshall’s sequel features all-new music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, so don’t expect any spoonfuls of sugar or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, although listen out for a few familiar refrains.
Reprising Dick Van Dyke’s role, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack is now a lamp-lighter rather than chimney sweep. Emily Mortimer is Jane, sister to Ben Whishaw’s Michael Banks, with Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson as his adorable children.
Set in Depression-era London, Julie Walters is the family’s scatty housekeeper, with Colin Firth as banker William Weatherall Wilkins, Meryl Streep as Cousin Topsy, and Angela Lansbury as The Balloon Lady.
Celebrated for musicals Chicago, Nine and Into the Woods, Marshall’s films have been honoured with 26 Oscar nods, although he makes it clear he would never have taken on Mary Poppins Returns without Blunt on board; his only choice to revive the world’s most famous nanny.
Speaking with Marshall and the cast in Beverly Hills, he tells STACK, “In an odd way, I wanted to protect the first film while treating this new film with great care and love. Musicals are very difficult but, for me, creating an original musical from scratch was actually a dream which I’d never done before.”
Blunt smiles when recalling Marshall’s early proposition. “Rob is so beautifully ceremonious and wants every moment of the process to feel special and memorable, that even his phone call had a sense of ceremony. When he said, ‘We’ve been digging through the Disney archives and by far their most prized possession…’ I was like, ‘What?! What is it?’ I couldn’t think what it was, and when he said ‘Mary Poppins,’ I felt like 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,” says Blunt, coming off a tremendous year after starring in husband John Krasinski’s critically acclaimed horror thriller, A Quiet Place.
“Mary Poppins is so iconic. She had such a big imprint on my life and on everyone’s lives and people hold this character so close to their hearts. So how was I going to create my own version of her? No-one wants to see me do a cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews.
Because no one is Julie Andrews, so she should be preserved and treasured for what she did. So I knew this was something that I wanted to take a big swing with and felt I could do that with Rob, who is the most emboldening, meticulous, brilliant director in the world. However, I knew I had my work cut out for me.”
Miranda was still on Broadway with his hit musical Hamilton when Marshall and producer John De Luca asked to meet.
When he learned Blunt would be Poppins, he instantly agreed, just weeks later chopping off his hair and relocating with his family to London for the long rehearsal and shoot.
“Honestly, I can’t give them enough credit for seeing this role in me because there’s 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. He wants to move so fast and do everything, whereas Jack has this childlike sense of wonder.”
Dick Van Dyke’s presence on set was an emotional high point, the entire cast showing up to witness a legend.
“I don’t think any of us could even breathe that day,” recalls Marshall. “We couldn’t believe we were touching that, and he was basically playing the same old banker he played in the original. He grabbed my hand as we walked on set and said something I will never forget: ‘I feel the same spirit here on the set that I did on the first film.’ That was the dream come true right there.”
Mary Poppins Returns is in cinemas January 1