“I really felt like I have that film in my blood,” says Director Rob Marshall, who takes on his first original musical with Mary Poppins Returns after breaking through with Chicago, and then making Nine and Into the Woods, all adaptations of successful stage shows.
“The guiding message of this film, about finding light in the darkness, is what drew me to it and kept guiding me throughout the whole process. It feels so current to me. I feel that people need this film now; sending that message out into the world of looking for hope and light in a dark time.”
“I was obsessed with the film when I was a child,” says Ben Whishaw about the original 1964 film. In Mary Poppins Returns, Whishaw plays a grown-up Michael Banks, with three children of his own, who faces financial strife and potential foreclosure on the family home when the magical nanny returns to save the day.
“It was the first film I ever saw,” Whishaw continues about Mary Poppins. “My dad taped it off the telly on a VHS tape. And I watched it obsessively through my whole childhood. And 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. I can’t watch the first film without crying. And it’s just a very tender kind of place in myself.
“I was moved every day,” he says about being on the Mary Poppins Returns set. “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.
A very moving day on the set was when the original film’s star, Dick Van Dyke turned up for his scene. “Everyone was there. I don’t think any of us could even breathe that day,” says Marshall, who wasn’t even able to call cut at the end of the scene. “We couldn’t believe that we were touching that. He grabbed my hand as we walked onto the set and he turned to me and he said something I will never forget. He said, ‘I feel the same spirit here on the set that I did on the first film.’ That was a dream come true right there.”
Playing the equivalent of Van Dyke’s chimney sweeper Bert in Mary Poppins Returns is so-hot-right-now Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose show Hamilton, telling a historical story with a modern hip hop twist, was, and continues to be, a smash hit on Broadway. In the film, there’s a bit of hip hop, and also, an undeniable chemistry between his Jack and Blunt’s Mary Poppins.
“First of all, I would urge you to rewatch the first film,” says Miranda when questioned about his musical input to the film. “Everyone who was like, ‘wow, there’s rapping in Mary Poppins Returns’ forgets that Bert has a 30 second rap about all the women he dated. You’ve all forgotten it. But ‘Jolly Holiday’ is one big flirt,” he says about the song in the original film.
“I never felt that it was romantic between them necessarily,” adds Emily Blunt. “But she doesn’t mind flirting with a labourer.”
“During ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’, she’s having a good time,” adds Miranda about one of the song highlights in Mary Poppins Returns which emulates the ‘Step in Time’ chimney sweepers song in the original film.
“That’s like her dream – to dance with 30 lamplighters,” laughs Blunt.
“I enjoyed playing the flirtation of it,” she continues. “I think they are such kindred spirits. Even though he is not necessarily magical, he gets it and believes it. And they’re in cahoots with each other. I loved playing that chemistry with Lin. And I was so lucky to get to play it with him, because he’s just such a wonderful bounce back and forth. You know there’s such buoyancy to him in how he plays his character…”
“We look forward to all the fan fictions in either direction,” laughs Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Mary Poppins Returns is in cinemas January 1, 2019