Mary Poppins Returns! Hold on to your kite strings as we go on a journey behind-the-scenes of this magical film. You’ll hear from director Rob Marshall, top-billed cast Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and more as they discuss magical on-set stories. So let’s fly to November 28th and Beverly Hills’ Montage Hotel. Walt Disney Studios presented a press conference with these illustrious cast and creators in attendance:
Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Jack”)
Ben Whishaw (“Michael Banks”)
Emily Mortimer (“Jane Banks”)
Director Rob Marshall
Marc Shaiman (Composer)
Scott Wittman (Lyricist)
Moderator: Producer Marc Platt
P.L. Travers introduced the world to the no-nonsense nanny in her 1934 book “Mary Poppins,” which Disney adapted for the screen and released in August, 1964. The film, which was directed by Robert Stevenson and starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, won five Academy Awards®, including Best Actress for Andrews. It is largely considered “Walt’s Masterpiece” and to many, including me, it is our favorite Disney film.
Subsequent adventures of Mary Poppins remained only on the pages of P.L. Travers’ seven additional books, which she published between 1935 and 1988. MARY POPPINS RETURNS uses these books to tell a new story. It is not a remake of the cherished 1964 film. Instead, it is a sequel, set approximately 20 years later in the 1930’s – depression-era London. Now an adult with three children, bank teller Michael Banks learns that his house will be repossessed in five days unless he can pay back a loan. His only hope is to find a missing certificate that shows proof of valuable shares that his father left him years earlier. Just as all seems lost, Michael and his sister receive the surprise of a lifetime when Mary Poppins — the beloved nanny from their childhood — arrives to save the day and take the Banks family on a magical, fun-filled adventure.
Because so many adore the original MARY POPPINS, many of us wonder – why tackle this untouchable classic? Director Rob Marshall explained that while MARY POPPINS RETURNS has many of the same characters, the 2018 film tells a new story.
ROB MARSHALL (Director): 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. I feel people need this film now. I certainly knew that I wanted to be part of sending that message out into the world now of looking for hope and light in a dark time. And 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.
It is comforting to know that MARY POPPINS RETURNS is in good hands. Rob Marshall has an amazing body of work. After many years in theater on Broadway, he burst into the mainstream film scene with 2002’s CHICAGO, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. His work also includes 2014’s INTO THE WOODS – which absolutely blew me away. That film, combined with Emily Blunt’s performance as The Baker’s Wife sold me on MARY POPPINS RETURNS. Now Marshall explains his attachment to the new film.
ROB MARSHALL: If anybody is gonna [take on Mary Poppins Returns] I would like to do it because I really felt like I have that film, as many of us on this panel, in our blood. And I wanted to be able to in an odd way protect the first film and treat this film with great care and love. Creating an original musical from scratch was actually for me a dream and I’ve never done it before. To be able to create it with this beautiful company was exactly what I was hoping for.
Besides directing MARY POPPINS RETURNS, the second most-daunting job is playing Mary Poppins – a role so intrinsically linked with Julie Andrews over 60 years that it’s hard to separate. So what did Emily Blunt do when approached by Rob Marshall to play this iconic role?
EMILY BLUNT (Mary Poppins): When Rob Marshall said “Mary Poppins” I thought the air changed in the room. It was such an extraordinary moment for me because I was filled with an instantaneous “yes!”, but also with some trepidation, you know, all happening simultaneously in that moment because she is so iconic. People hold this character so close to their hearts. And so how do I create my version of her? No one wants to see me do a sort of cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews because no one is Julie Andrews. And so 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 this man who is the most emboldening, meticulous, brilliant director in the world and I was in safe hands with him.
What I found fascinating is that Emily Blunt did not, in fact, study Julie Andrews’ mannerisms. Instead she found her own interpretation of Mary Poppins within the pages of the original books.
EMILY BLUNT: I found the books to be a huge springboard and enormously helpful, you know. She leaped off the page at me – that duality of the character. She is stern, incredibly rude and vain; and yet there is this humanity and she has such a childlike wonder in her in order to infuse these children’s lives with it. She is such a delicious character to play.
Many are excited by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s presence. He plays lamp-lighter Jack, who apprenticed with Bert. If Mary represents duality, Jack represents an adult who still retains his imagination. He is, for all intents and purposes, the “Bert” of MARY POPPINS RETURNS.
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA (Jack): And honestly I can’t give [the producers and directors] enough credit for seeing this role in me because when I’m playing Hamilton, I mean there is no childlike wonder in Alexander Hamilton.
So what is it like to film scenes that take place on Cherry Tree Lane? The Bank? The streets of London?
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: There are a lot of highs on a movie like this. “Okay, Thursday we’ll be shutting down Buckingham Palace and riding with 500 bicyclists.” “And Friday you’ll be dancing with the penguins.” Those moments are unforgettable. I brought my son to set every time we filmed a musical number and to watch his eyes like saucers while daddy danced – I’ll never forget the look on his face as long as I live.
Emily Mortimer was incredibly well-cast as grown-up Jane. Out of all the cast I thought she stood out as embodying the lovely young woman Jane has become. How did she do this so well?
EMILY MORTIMER (Jane): Well the only thing I really thought about in preparing for the part of Jane was what I took from the original movie. The mother and the father, Glynis John and David Tomlinson are so eccentric; they’re so ‘out to lunch’! The mom and dad are on one hand terrible parents and then on the other hand full of love. And I just felt like ‘oh what would this girl be that had those two people as a mother and father?’ And that was how I approached it.
Ben Whishaw had the incredible task of playing a grown-up Michael. He has several moments in this movie that bring me to tears. It’s no wonder that the original Mary Poppins is in his blood.
BEN WHISHAW (Michael): Well I was obsessed with the film when I was a child. It was the first film I ever saw. I used to dress up as Mary Poppins and parade up and down the street in our village. It’s a mythic part of my childhood. So I was moved every day to be involved in that world again. And how did I play the character? I mean it was brilliantly written. That was the thing. David wrote this beautiful role. Then you have a great song or two. That helps. It was very instinctive.
Beat for beat, dance numbers and musical moments in MARY POPPINS RETURNS match the original film. Rob Marshall felt it was important to have similar moments as an homage to the original.
ROB MARSHALL: I used myself as a barometer because I thought, “what would I want to see?” If I came to a sequel to Mary Poppins I would want to see an animation sequence with live action and I would want it to be hand drawn in a 2D world. I would want Cherry Tree Lane to have a curve to it because that’s the Cherry Tree Lane we all know. John and I really wanted a big huge production number with athletic dancers, Jack leading the entire piece. It was this insane balancing act of honoring the first film, but at the same time forging our own way, our own story. Marc and Scott were incredibly careful about making sure that we didn’t abuse using themes from the first film. We used it in very strategic places throughout the film. Most of it actually very much at the end where we feel we’d earned it by then.
Indeed, if you listen carefully to the soundtrack as you watch the film, you can pick out music from the original. A strain from “A Man Has Dreams”, a tiny bit of “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”. I really can’t wait to download the soundtrack and focus only on the music. Marc Shaiman composed the songs, as well as the musical score. Scott Wittman provided the lyrics.
MARC SHAIMAN (Composer): Like everyone else, Mary Poppins was an extremely large part of my childhood. When it starts with the F triad which I learned later and its violins tremelowing which I learned later. And then the English horn comes in on “Feed the Birds” and I didn’t know what those instruments were. I was 4 and I didn’t know what those words were. “A man has dreams of walking with giants, to carve his niche in the edifice of time, before the mortar of his zeal has a chance to congeal.” What the f*** are they talking about? But I knew I wanted to know. Why are those chords making me feel something so deeply? And it’s not just the chords, but it’s the strings and the way that they’re playing those chords and so all these things were just flowing into my brain and my ears and my heart. And I learned everything I could from that album. So then I grew up and the dream came true where I got to incorporate every single thing that I ever learned from that album into real life and got to write songs with Scott and then got to score the movie which is a whole other thing outside of songwriting.
SCOTT WITTMAN (Lyricist): We went back to the books. And I think my favorite part of the whole experience was the months that Rob, John, David, Marc and I spent together in the books and carving out what the musical numbers were gonna be and I think that’s probably one of the most creative times I’ve had in my very long time in show business.
At this point, I wanted to know more specifics about the music, especially the song “The Place Where Lost Things Go.” So I asked, or rather, I tried to ask. It was at this moment that Emily Blunt interrupted me and said “you look awesome.” And she and Rob Marshall and Lin-Manuel Miranda began asking ME about my outfit!
“Is that a penguin lunch box?” Because I was wearing the Disney Dress Shop Mary Poppins dress and carrying a Mary Poppins penguin handbag, and I happened to be sitting in the front row. (Clip should start at 36:48)
After thanking them profusely I was able to ask about the creation of “The Place Where Lost Things Go” and also, how did Emily Blunt bring that song to life on set?
SCOTT WITTMAN: Well the song came from one of the books, where Mary’s uncle is the man in the moon and so she takes the children there for a tea party, but on the other side of the moon he tells her this is where the things are that people can’t find, it’s the dark side of the moon and not in the Pink Floyd way!
MARC SHAIMAN: Yeah, we had to find a way for her to sing about loss to the children in a way that they can comprehend. The song doesn’t actually speak of their mother until the final verse, until she feels like they’re really getting it.
EMILY BLUNT: I was so incredibly moved by the song that I found it virtually impossible to get through it the first few times I sang it in your apartment. It was so emotional for me because I did think of my own children and these children in the film and their sense of loss and that they’re trying to hold their father together and they’ve dealt with something so profound and so agonizing. It’s just such a hopeful way to look at loss really.
“Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place.”
The lyrics really are fantastic in this film. So many songs have simple words, but a profoundly deep meaning.
My advice? Watch MARY POPPINS RETURNS on opening day or opening weekend. I’ve seen the film twice, and the second was with a crowd of Mary Poppins fans who gasped and clapped as one when we saw or heard certain things. There are several cameos, some Easter egg props and art, and plenty of other Mary Poppins-inspired lines, looks and music that will catch an attuned eye and ear. It only enhances the experience. So take the family for a jolly holiday when MARY POPPINS RETURNS in U.S. theaters on 12/19!