What We Learned From the ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Press Conference
A few weeks ago, Geeks of Color had the opprotunity to attend the Mary Poppins Returns press conference with some of the talented cast and crew in attendance. Some of the stars who partook in the press conference were:
· Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins”)
· Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Jack”)
· Ben Whishaw (“Michael Banks”)
· Emily Mortimer (“Jane Banks”)
· Rob Marshall (Director)
· Marc Shaiman (Music by)
· Scott Wittman (Music by)
Things kicked off with director Rob Marshall talking to us about why they felt it was the right time to bring back Mary Poppins back after 50 years.
Marshall said, “You know what I thought to myself when this came our way, my way? If anybody is going to do it, I would like to do it. Because it was incredibly daunting at first of course, but at the same time I really felt like I have that film as many of us on this panel do 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.”
Emily Blunt spoke about on tackling a role made famous by Julie Andrews, while still making sure it was different from Andrews.
Blunt said, “I think you even called my agent and said something big is coming down the pike for Emily and I got a voicemail from Rob who is my dear friend and we have known each other a long time and the voice mail certainly had a sort of charged energy to it, like I was oh my god, what is it, you know? What is this project? And when he called me, you know, because he is so beautifully ceremonious and want every moment of the process to feel special and transporting and memorable for you, that even the phone call had such a sense of ceremony to it. And he said, ‘you know, we’ve been digging through the Disney archives and, you know, we’ve been and by far their most prized possession’. And I was like what, what is that? And I couldn’t think, like what it was, you know, and when you said Mary Poppins I thought like the air changed in the room.”
“It was so extraordinary, such an extraordinary rather unparalleled 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. She had such a big imprint on my life and on everyone’s lives, you know. She, people hold this character so close to their hearts. And so, you know, how do I create my version of her? What will my version of her be because there’s no point? No one wants to see me do a sort of cheap impersonation of Julie Andrews because no one is Julie Andrews. And so she should be preserved and treasured in her own way of what she did. 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. However much I knew I had my work cut out for me.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda talked about landing the role opposite Blunt’s Marry Poppins in the film. Miranda said, “Well first of all before any of that, I remember going to the midnight premiere screening of Chicago at the Ziegfeld Theater, RIP Ziegfeld Theater and seeing Chicago with everyone else who had the premiere date sort of written in blood on their calendars and seeing the greatest modern movie musical I’d ever seen in my life. So when I got a call from Rob Marshall and John DeLluca 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 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 and 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.'”
[LAUGH] “And honestly I can’t give them enough credit for seeing this role in me because when I’m playing Hamilton, I mean 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 in this movie as they pitched him to me has this childlike sense of wonder. He has this, you know, 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 that was I feel so humbled that he saw that in me and that, you know, from that moment, from that drink I was in and then, you know, it came along at the perfect time for my family too, you know. We had finished a year of performing Hamilton and then I chopped my hair off and left the country and jumped into Mary Poppins’ universe. It was like beautiful.”
Miranda also talked about the rapping in the movie and said, “Everyone that was like ‘wow there’s rapping in Mary Poppins Returns‘ forgets that Bert had a 30-second rap about all the women he dated before Mary Poppins, you’ve all forgotten it. The Jolly Holiday is one big flirt between Mary and Bert.”
Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw talked about playing the older version of characters that were in the original movie. Mortimer said, “Well gosh yes, all of that is [LAUGH] I’ve got so many things to say. I felt from the minute that I met Rob that I wanted to be part of this film. I, of course, Mary Poppins is a huge part of my childhood as it is of everybody’s. But it was really and it was exciting to think that they were going to make another movie of it and daunting too obviously, but it was meeting Rob and hearing him talk like he has just now about why he was so determined to make this film that just really inspired me and that doesn’t often happen and I’m quite old now and I’ve done a lot of movies and I know enough about life to know or life as an actor or performer or whatever to know that when somebody inspires you and makes you excited about the idea of a movie or a project or whatever, it’s a rare thing and you just have to go with it. You just have to try to jump on that train if you can and so I emerged from meeting Rob and John and rung up my agents immediately and said I just have to be part of this movie no matter what. I just want to be in it. I just want to help Rob tell this story. And then they managed to make it work, but it was. It was really, you know, it was a complicated logistical thing for me because I live in New York and my kids and husband were there and the filming was in London so I think I flew like 16 times across the Atlantic.”
Whishaw also spoke about his experience and said, “Well, I was obsessed with the film when I was a child. It was the first thing – the first film I ever saw and my dad taped it off the “tele” 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. And so it has a huge like mythical – it’s a mythic part of my childhood. So I was – I was sort of moved every day because of course it’s moving and you don’t expect as an adult to sort of be revisiting something that is such a part of your childhood. I was moved every day to be involved in that world again, you know, that I still recall so well. I mean I can’t watch the first film without crying and it’s just a very tender kind of place in myself. And how did I play the character? [LAUGH] I mean it was brilliantly written. That was the thing. I mean it was all there and that’s why I think people never – like you just have to do it. David wrote this beautiful role, so delicate and so perceptive and sort of clever to get that in there whilst also making the whole thing fantastical and magical and thrilling. Then you have a great song or two. [LAUGH] That helps. I don’t know, you just kind of – it was very instinctive. I don’t know. I didn’t have to think too much about it.”
Marshall discusses staying true to the original film, while bringing new ideas to the table. Of this process, Marshall said, “It was the balancing act. Do you mind if I just jump in? It was the balancing act of the whole film and the creation of the film the entire time. That’s what we were doing. I really felt that everyone who was a part of this needed to have the first film in their blood in some way because that’s what we were following. And so we were looking for that balance throughout the entire time we were working on this film and, you know, I use myself as a barometer I have to say because I thought well, you know, what would I want to see? I would want to – 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 to see that. I would want Cherry Tree Lane to have a curve to it because that’s the Cherry Tree Lane we all know. I would feel disappointed if it was a straight street. I mean it was as simple as that although we were finding our new way. There were things; there were sort of goal posts or sign posts throughout that we needed to hold on to because it’s in the DNA of the material. I knew there needed to be; John and I really wanted a big huge production number that Marc and Scott wrote so beautifully with athletic dancers, men with Mary and Jack, Jack leading the entire piece. That needed to be in there in some way. I would feel that if it wasn’t there we’ve gone off track. So it was a way of – it was this insane balancing act of honoring the first film, but at the same time forging our own way, our own story, setting it in the ‘30s helped that.”
“Having Michael and Jane grown up and seeing what’s happened to them and with their journey and what they’ve lost along the way helped that. But it was constantly back and forth and I have to say I just used my own gut about what needed to be there, what we needed to reflect, pay homage, Marc and Scott were incredibly careful about making sure that we didn’t abuse using themes from the first film. It’s so easy to use. 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. And that’s what Marc was very careful about doing. So, but it was all that. I feel like, you know, the whole time it was that, but I did feel that we were coming from the right place and that was the key.”
Mary Poppins Returns arrives in theaters everywhere on December 19! Be sure check out the GOC review of the film here.