Peace, Love, and Poppins: The Cast and Creators of MARY POPPINS RETURNS Share Backstage Secrets

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The love flowed at Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS press conference, where the film’s stars, director, producers, and composers all took turns waxing poetic about the original film, the new film, and each other. A tight-knit group, the panel was moderated by mega-producer Marc Platt (Wicked), and everyone had nothing but glowing things to say about their experience bring MARY POPPINS RETURNS to life.

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) approached the material with the reverence it deserves. He explained that he’s fiercely protective of the original and that if Disney wanted to make a sequel, he wanted to be sure it was going to be well…practically perfect. He said the movie is about “finding light in the darkness” and that “people need this film now.” Anyone involved had to have the original movie “in their blood” and he said that there’s only one person in the world who could play Mary, and that’s Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place).

Blunt revealed that prior to the production she made a point to not watch the original so that she’d avoid a performative impersonation of the incomparable Julie Andrews. “She had such a big imprint on my life, and everyone’s life…no one is Julie Andrews.” She and Marshall worked to provide her own stamp on the role – familiar, but not a carbon copy. They hewed closer to the books as well. Blunt notes that Mary is often “rude, vain” but has a “generosity of spirit”, in addition to being an “adrenaline junkie.”

Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) plays Jack, a lamplighter who fills the void left by Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke in the original film). Miranda noted that “there’s no childlike wonder in Alexander Hamilton”, as opposed to this character, a wide-eyed working-class optimist. He and Blunt joked about the “white hot sensuality” of Mary Poppins, noting that nothing he does in the movie hadn’t been done in the first, including rap. “Bert has a thirty-second rap about all the women he dated before Mary Poppins,” referring to a sequence in the “Jolly Holiday” song in the original film. Miranda performs a similar rap in the new movie’s “The Cover is Not the Book” song.

Ben Whishaw (Paddington) is the emotional core of the film as a mourning Michael Banks. He said that the original film was a huge part of his childhood, so much so that he insisted on dressing up as Mary and “parading around our village” as a kid.

Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) raved about Marshall and the process of discovering Jane Banks as an adult. She rewatched the original and marveled at the “loving” but “out-to-lunch” Banks parents, and heaped praise on Karen Dotrice, who played Jane Banks in the original film and makes a cameo appearance in the sequel.

Composer Marc Shaiman (Smash, Hairspray) was a delight to listen to as he recounted the impact the original film’s score made on him. His favorite lyrics in the original come from “The Life I Lead (Reprise)”: “A man has dreams of walking with giants, to carve his niche in the edifice of time, before the mortar of his zeal has the chance to congeal,” none of which he understood at four years old. Lyricist Scott Wittman (Smash, Hairspray) joked that he hopes kids will ask their parents what “bathtub gin” is (referenced in the new song “Can You Imagine That?”), just as kids asked their parents what the “edifice of time” is.

Screenwriter David Magee (The Life of Pi) said that the collaborative process of creating this story was the most magical time of his professional life. He and Marshall, along with producer John Deluca (Into the Woods), worked on the story together before Magee ultimately wrote the script. Marshall said that in deciding what to include, they looked to the books for inspiration, as well as asking themselves what they would like to see in a Mary Poppins movie.

Watch the full press conference below.

The cast and creators are clearly passionate about MARY POPPINS RETURNS, and their passion paid off in a spectacular film that will be loved for generations. Look for our full review soon!

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