To be cast as a character who is supposed to be practically perfect in every way seems like a daunting proposition, but Emily Blunt doesn’t appear to be intimidated by the role of Mary Poppins.
“I just try to approach her as I would any other character and not be caught up in the white noise of, ‘Oh my God, you are Mary Poppins,'” she told a small group of reporters on set of the upcoming film Mary Poppins Returns. “That has been my main focus—just to approach her calmly, as I would any other character, how I would play her with what I have been given on the page. I have not watched the original since I saw it as a child because no one is going to outdo Julie Andrews.” Julie Andrews, of course, originated the role from P.L. Travers’ books in 1964’s Mary Poppins, and she set a high bar. The classic Disney film was part of many a childhood, infectious music and all. And producer Marc Platt hopes to recreate that magic with the sequel, set about 25 years after the events of the first film. The Banks children have grown, and Michael has lost his wife; when things are supremely grim, Mary Poppins returns (get it?) with magic.
“I just try to approach her as I would any other character and not be caught up in the white noise of, ‘Oh my God, you are Mary Poppins.'”
The first full trailer for the film has a glimpse of the sort of fantasy and whimsy they’re embracing:
And for that magic to be captivating, Mary has to be played by just the right person. Director Rob Marshall said Blunt was the only option for him; he worked with her in Into the Woods and fell in love. “There’s quite a list of things you must be able to do to play Mary Poppins,” Marshall explained. “You need to be a great actor, but there’s also a humanity in the character. Even though she’s very upright and a strict nanny who is proper and so forth, underneath that there is this magical being who is bringing joy. It was so important to find an actor who could do those things. But she also needed to sing and dance, which is very rare these days. And I thought it was important that she be British because it’s such an iconic British character. And having just worked with Emily, I get what she does. In fact, I don’t know who else could play the role besides Emily, to be quite honest.”
Blunt does admit, however, “The dancing has been the most daunting prospect for me.”
Her dancing doubts don’t hold her back from making the role of Mary Poppins her own. Platt also stated Blunt was the only person they could think of to fill the shoes of the magical nanny and own the role. “She’s not only a consummate actress, who possesses a tremendous craft as an actress, she sings beautifully,” Platt gushed. “By the way, she dances magnificently, you’ll see in the film, which was a big surprise. But she’s also instantly authentic as the role of Mary Poppins. She’s very related to it, she grew up in this world. And she has a way, and has found a way, to make the character her own. It’s her own interpretation. And she’s quite sublime in the role.”
Mary Poppins Returns will whirl into theaters on December 19, 2018.
Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy (pre-order it on Amazon). Follow her on Twitter.