Portraying Banks siblings Michael and Jane in Mary Poppins Returns, Brit actors Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer hope Julie Andrews enjoys their new film.
“We know she gave her blessing because she’s a friend of Rob [Marshall, director] and John [De Luca, co-writer]. She was definitely excited about the whole thing,” says Mortimer, 47, when STACK meets the actors over tea and chocolate.
“Getting to know Ben and forming an immediate and sweet friendship was one of the best things about making this movie, although the whole thing was magical, to be treasured forever.”
For Whishaw, it was a full-circle moment. “Mary Poppins was the first film I ever saw. My dad taped it off the telly on a VHS tape and I watched it obsessively through my whole childhood, dressing up as Mary Poppins and parading up and down the street in our village,” the 38-year-old says. An award-winning Shakespearean actor, Wishaw delighted audiences with his quirky portrayal as Q in the Bond films as well as his recent celebrated role in A Very English Scandal. He also featured in The Danish Girl, Cloud Atlas and Stoned, as well as voicing Paddington Bear over two movies.
“You don’t expect as an adult to be revisiting something that’s such a huge mythical part of your childhood, so I felt moved every day to be involved in that world again.
“I can’t watch the first film without crying, so it’s just a very tender place in myself,” says Whishaw, whose partner is Australian composer Mark Bradshaw, best known for his work on Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake and Bright Star.
To prepare for his role as an anxious widower struggling to support his family, he channeled his twin brother. “I’m not a dad so I don’t know what it’s like, so I thought about my brother and how difficult it is to have two little ones and the anxiety and stress and the money, food, jobs and everything. It must be very hard.”
Whishaw actually still has a childhood snap of himself, aged three, dressed as Mary Poppins. “It was cobbled together from an old lunch-box, instead of a carpet bag, and I wore a kilt and had an old brolly,” he says.
“All children love make-believe and dress-up but, as actors, that never stops. As an adult, I’ve just kept on doing the things that I loved doing as a kid. I’ve always thought of acting as an extension of dressing up.”
Mortimer laughs when we ask how her two young kids react to mum playing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s love interest. “That trumps everything! If things are flagging in a conversation with a teenager, I just say that I’ve met Lin-Manuel Miranda and I’m immediately in with them,” says the actress, recently returned from Melbourne after shooting horror drama Relic with Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin.
When asked if they stole anything from the set, they both laugh. “Why does everyone think we’re kleptomaniacs?!” asks Whishaw. “But it was very strict. I got told off for even taking photographs on the set.”
Both Brits marvelled at their unparalleled access to London’s historic landmarks. “One of our trailers was parked on The Mall, next to Clarence House where Prince Charles lives,” reveals Mortimer. “Mary Poppins opened so many doors. I can’t imagine any other movie being able to shut down London in quite the same way.”