Emily Blunt has established herself as one of Hollywood’s go-to leading ladies, with strong turns in such work as The Devil Wear Prada, Sunshine Cleaning, Into the Woods, The Young Victoria, The Wolfman, and Edge of Tomorrow. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the genius behind Hamilton, and has recently stretched his musical talents into Walt Disney’s neck of the woods by penning the songs from Moana. They appear together onscreen in Mary Poppins Returns, with Blunt as the titular magical nanny and Miranda as Jack, the son of Dick Van Dyke’s redoubtable street busker Bert. They spoke about the project during a recent press junket for the film.

 

Question: How did you get this opportunity? How does one land a role like this?

Emily Blunt: It was Rob Marshall, who is my dear friend; we have known each other a long time. I think he actually called my agent and said, “something big is coming down the pike for Emily.” Then he left me a cryptic voice mail that had a sort of charged energy to it. I was thinking, “oh my god, what IS it? What is this project?” And when he called me with the news… he is so beautifully ceremonious, and wants every moment of the process to feel special and transporting and memorable. So even phone calls have such a sense of ceremony to them. He said, “We’ve been digging through the Disney archives and we’ve got, by far, their most prized possession.” And I was like, “What? What is that?” And I couldn’t think for the life of me what it was. Then he said, “Mary Poppins,” and the air changed in the room. It was such an extraordinary, unparalleled moment for me.

I was filled with an instantaneous yes, but also with some trepidation, all happening simultaneously in that moment. She is so iconic. She had such a big imprint on my life and on everyone’s lives. People hold this character so close to their hearts. So how do I create my version of her? What will my version of her be, and is there even a point to such a version? No one wants to see me do a cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews because no one else is Julie Andrews. And her performance in that film should be preserved and treasured. So I knew that I wanted to take a big swing with this – I had to if I was going to take the project – and I knew I could do it with Rob, who is the most emboldening, meticulous, brilliant director in the world. I had my work cut out for me – we all did – but I was in safe hands with him.

 

Q: What did you draw upon for the performance?

EB: I made sure not to watch the original so close to shooting our version. Julie is so beautiful and so extraordinary and, were I to look at it, I might try and accommodate it in some way, and let that bleed into what I wanted to do. If I was going to carve out new space for myself, it needed to be without watching the details of what Julie did while I prepared. Then as soon as we wrapped, I watched the original. I was just floored by it all over again, and probably relieved that I hadn’t watched it. If I had, it probably would have paralyzed me.

I found the books, the original PL Travers books, to be a huge springboard and enormously helpful. She leapt off the page at me: how complicated she is, how unknowable she is in this wonderful way. And the duality of the character. She is stern and incredibly rude and vain, but funny and endearing. And there is this humanity. She must carry a deep, childlike wonder in herself in order to infuse these children’s lives with it, and there must be a generosity of spirit to her. To want to fix and heal in the way that she does. There’s also the fact that she’s probably a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She loves these adventures. It’s like her outlet. It meant finding all those moments so she’s not just one thing, and yet doing so in a way that preserves her enigmatic qualities. Rob and I would talk about her so much in the year and a half we spent rehearsing this, and we both wanted to find those layers and those moments of humanity.

 

Q: Lin, you’re known for your stage work, but this really your first big-screen experience as an actor. How did it come about and how was the experience?

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Like Emily said, Rob Marshall made it much easier. I remember going to the midnight premiere screening of Chicago at the Ziegfeld Theater. (RIP Ziegfeld Theater.) I saw Chicago with everyone else who had the premiere date sort of written in blood on their calendars, and saw the greatest modern movie musical I’d ever seen in my life. So when I got a call from Rob Marshall and John DeLuca, that became an immediate priority. They came to buy me a drink between shows. I was still in Hamilton at the time and I had a two-show day. So I finished the matinee, rolled across the street to the Paramount Hotel and I met them for a drink. They said, “sequel to Mary Poppins” and I said, “who’s playing Mary Poppins?” And they said, “Emily Blunt” and I said, “oh that’s good.”

Honestly, I can’t give them enough credit for seeing this role in me. 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, and he wants to move so fast, and he wants to do everything. Whereas Jack, my character in Mary Poppins, has this childlike sense of wonder. He’s in touch with that imagination you all see in your kids, the kind they just play in for hours. Jack never lost that. I remember them pitching that to me over this drink, and feeling so humbled that they saw that in me. From that moment, from that drink, I was in.

 

Q: How did the spectacle of it compare with your theatrical experiences?

LMM: There are a lot of highs on a movie like this, and that can be something coming from the theater where the only thing that changes in the performance is the audience. Suddenly, you’re saying, “okay Thursday we’ll be shutting down Buckingham Palace and riding with 500 bicyclists.” Those kinds of moments are pretty hard to forget, and nothing can prepare you for them. I brought my son to set every time we filmed a musical number, to watch his eyes like saucers. I’ll never forget the look on his face as long as I live during some of the things we did.

 

Q: The adult problems loom a little larger in this movie than they did in the first film.

EB: I remember those early days of rehearsing some of these songs, the ones that really get at the struggles of these characters. I was so incredibly moved by one that I found it virtually impossible to get through it the first few times I sang it. 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 how they’re trying to hold their father together and they’ve dealt with something so profound and so agonizing. To lose a parent and to be so young and miss her so much and oh my god, I cried thinking about it. But that was one of my favorite days on set. We shot that song all day, and she… Mary recognizes what they need in that moment and gives it to them in this very tender way: a way that’s true to their sorrow. She doesn’t shy away from the fact that they’ve lost something. But she also wants to show them the cracks of light that show through, and that there’s something to learn from their loss. Nothing is gone forever; only out of place. It’s just such a hopeful way to look at loss really.

Our Score

By Rob Vaux

A Southern California native, Rob Vaux fell in love with the movies at an early age and has been a professional critic since the year 2000. His work has appeared on Flipside Movie Emporium, Mania.com, Collider.com and Filmcritic.com as well as the Sci-Fi Movie Page. He lives in the heart of surfer country and still defends the Star Wars prequels against all logic and sanity.

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