After seeing Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins in the first brief trailer for Mary Poppins Returns, fans still don’t have enough information to judge how she holds up against the legend who made the oddball nanny come alive for the Disney classic. But, according to Blunt, that was never the point.
Speaking with Jen Yamato of The Los Angeles Times, Blunt and director Rob Marshall explained how the actress’ take on the character would stand apart from that of Julie Andrews’ and how they did some of their more fantastical sequences. One of the most fantastic tricks of all is recapturing the same magic of a classic character without doing an impression. That led Blunt away from the film and toward the source material. P. L. Travers’ books replaced the original movie, as Blunt swore off watching the film again after being cast in the role.
“I didn’t want any natural instinct I might have to be diluted by the brilliance of what [Andrews] did,” the actress said. “I knew that I wanted to take quite a big swing with the character. No one can out-Julie Andrews Julie Andrews! You’ve got to do something else.” So she skewed toward the book version of the character — one a little less sweet than the one fans may feel nostalgic for.
“There’s an eccentricity and a battiness to her. She’s incredibly vain and rude and funny,” Blunt said, “and weird, actually. Like this strange, rare bird. You can’t get a read on where she’s going. But I read the books quite fully, and it became clear to me where I wanted to go with her.”
Some of that sweet-and-sour take comes not from the books, but from other cinematic influences — namely Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. The brusque jabberjaw has an immediate presence and delivers lines at a rapid staccato. “I knew the pace and speed I wanted her to move; I wanted her to come in like a tornado,” said Blunt.
Putting that tornado into use, especially during the more fantastical dance sequences, required a lot of teamwork and plenty of movie magic. The film boasts a hand-drawn animated dance sequence in which Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack, and the three Banks kids are sucked into a magic china bowl. That’s where the dance stars. Jack and Poppins cut a rug with animated animals in the first sequence that Marshall shot. The pair gallivant up and down a staircase of books with a bunch of cartoon penguins. But they didn’t start out that way.
These were dancers, to be transformed in post-production. “Rob hired the shortest dancers he could find,” Blunt said. And it wasn’t all fun and games with them. “It’s a green screen set of books, I’m in heels with a skirt, and I couldn’t see the stairs,” Blunt said. “Rob is the nicest that there is — but also he does it till it’s perfect. He’s got the dancer’s mentality of, ‘You will do it until it’s absolutely spectacular.’ I remember I was about to do another take coming down the stairs and I went, ‘I’m terrified!’ and he said, ‘I know honey, I can see it on your face — OK, action!’ ”
Scared or not, the scene made it into the film (along with plenty of penguins), which should make its own distinct mark in the world of heartwarming kid cinema when it hits theaters on Dec. 19.