In Mary Poppins Returns, the Banks children are all grown up. Now adults, Michael and Jane (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) have experienced a personal tragedy, and the family once again needs help from magical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). London lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), an apprentice of Burt (Dick Van Dyke) from the original film, joins the gang when Poppins returns via enchanted kite.
Ahead of the film's premiere on December 19, SYFY FANGRRLS recently had the opportunity to attend a press conference featuring the cast and director speaking about playing their roles, taking on a legend, and what the original film meant to them.
Director Rob Marshall is known for his musical adaptations of Broadway plays like Into the Woods, which received three Oscar nominations, and Chicago, which was the first musical since 1968's Oliver! to win Best Picture. This time around, he had to contend with an original musical, despite the fact that he had past projects to base it on. According to Marshall, “Musicals are very difficult to do; an original musical, there are so many layers to it. But with this one, creating an original musical from scratch was actually, for me, a dream, and I'd never done it before, and to be able to create with this beautiful company was exactly what I was hoping for. I have to say the guiding message of this film about finding light in the darkness is honestly what drew me to it and kept guiding me throughout the whole process, including till this very moment, when people are actually now seeing my film, because it feels so current to me.
"And I'm just speaking for myself, but I feel people need this film now. I certainly knew that wanted to live in that world, and be part of that, and sending that message out into the world now, of looking for hope and light in a dark time. That's why we set our film in the Depression era in London, the time of the books. It was really so it could feel accessible and feel like it's a story that needs to be told now.”
Mary Poppins is a complex character, though she's rather more harsh in the books by P.L. Travers that the film is based on. Emily Blunt takes on the role of the titular nanny, made famous on the big screen by Julie Andrews. Blunt shared her inspiration for making the character her own: “I found the books to be a huge springboard and enormously helpful. She leapt off the page at me, just in how complicated she is, how unknowable she is in this wonderful way, that duality of the character. She is stern and she is incredibly rude and vain, but like, funny. And yet, there is this humanity and she has to, herself, have such a childlike wonder in her, in order to want to infuse these children's lives with it. They must, under there, be a generosity of spirit to want to fix and heal in the way that she does."
Blunt also spoke about how long she and Marshall discussed the role, and what aspects of the nanny they would be putting forward in Mary Poppins Returns. “I think for me, and certainly for Rob, when we talked about it, in the year and a half before we even started rehearsing, we would talk about her so much. We both wanted to find those layers and those moments of humanity, and also, the fact that she's probably a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She loves these adventures. It's like her outlet. So just finding those moments so she's not just one thing, because she is so enigmatic. It was great, such a delicious character to play. Loved it.”
Miranda told us that he got the role during a break between shows when he was in Hamilton on Broadway. “When I got a call from Rob Marshall and John DeLuca, ‘We'd like to talk to you about something,’ that became an immediate priority. They came to buy me a drink between shows. I was still on Hamilton at the time, and I have a two-show day. So I finished the matinee, rolled across the street to the Paramount Hotel, and met them for a drink. They said, 'Sequel to Mary Poppins.’ And I said, ‘Who's playing Mary Poppins?’ They said, ‘Emily Blunt.' I said, ‘Oh, that's good.’"
Miranda also admitted he was surprised to be cast in a role so different from Alexander Hamilton. “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 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 he wants to do everything. Whereas Jack, in the movie, as they pitched it to me, has this childlike sense of wonder. He has this ... he's in touch with that imagination you all see in your kids when they can sort of play in their own imagination for hours. Jack sort of never lost that, and I feel so humbled that he saw that in me, and from that moment, 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's universe. It was beautiful.”
Mortimer plays the role of a grown-up Jane Banks, one of the children from the original film. Her adult Jane is an independent woman who is campaigning for the laborers in London. She's close to her brother Michael and his children, more so after a family tragedy affects them all. The original Jane was played by Karen Dotrice, and Dotrice has a small role in the film.
How did Mortimer feel getting to meet and work with her? “It was extraordinary. She's such a great, cool lady, so funny, wicked sense of humor, and really down to earth and ballsy. She came to do the cameo, and we did it so that we all walked onto the set for the first time with her, and she walked onto Cherry Tree Lane for the first time in 54 years, or however long it is since the first movie was made, and she just melted. I mean she just sort of crumbled, and that was so moving being there with her while that happened and seeing that.”
Like the rest of the cast, Whishaw said that the original Mary Poppins had a huge influence on him as a child, but admitted he may have loved it more than most. “Well, I was obsessed with the film when I was a child. It was the first film I ever saw. My dad taped it off the telly on a VHS tape, and I watched it obsessively for my whole childhood. I used to dress up as Mary Poppins and parade up and down the street in our village. You don't expect as an adult to be revisiting something that's such a part of your childhood. I was so moved every day to be involved in that world again, that I still recall so well. I can't watch the first film without crying, and it's just a very tender kind of place in myself."
As for playing an adult Michael, Whishaw told us about his approach. "How did I play the character? I mean, it was brilliantly written, that was the thing. David wrote this beautiful role, so delicate and so perceptive and so clever, [and] also making the whole thing fantastical and magical and thrilling. And you have a great song or two. That helps. It was very instinctive."
Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters on December 19. Are you excited for the film? Let us know in the comments.