Why Emily Blunt decided not to watch the original before filming 'Mary Poppins Returns'

Many of us grew up with Julie Andrews offering us a spoonful of sugar and Dick Van Dyke teaching us to step in time. So when the news broke that Disney would be making another Mary Poppins film, titled Mary Poppins Returns, fans were appropriately hesitant. How could Andrews and her cheery charm ever be replaced? Well, she can’t. But Emily Blunt is ready to give everybody's favorite nanny a go in her own high-flying way.

"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,'" Blunt explained when ET visited the film's set in April 2017. "I have not watched the original since I saw it as a child, because no one is going to outdo Julie Andrews. This is just going to be my version of her."

As she sat down to speak with producer Marc Platt about her experience filming the sequel to the 1964 classic, Blunt was especially cheerful, despite spending most of her day singing and dancing on a soundstage outside of London. Decked out in full Poppins regalia, complete with blue lace-up heels and flushed pink cheeks, Blunt talked about her "surreal" time as the Banks family's personal savior.

Marc Platt: When you were little, what was your familiarity with P. L. Travers or Mary Poppins?

Emily Blunt: Mary Poppins as a character is so iconic, and I think the film, for me -- and I think for most people -- is one of those films that is sort of seared into people's memory, an emblem of their nostalgia in many ways. I do remember it very fondly and took such a great comfort in it as a child. That was something that struck me, of that person coming in and [being] so capable and so magical and just sweeping it all up and making it right. I took a lot of comfort in that as a child, so I think we are trying to, obviously, continue that now with our film. It's very surreal to me being Mary Poppins.

Did you know the books, or the film, or...?

I did see the film. I actually wasn't aware that there were books.

You play such diverse roles and you have created such indelible, interesting characters. Now, you have to inhabit a character, make [her] your own, you have to sing, you have to dance, and there are so many different elements to it. What is the most challenging part of doing all of those things?

The dancing, probably. I feel that 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." That has been my main focus, is just to approach her calmly, as I would any other character. I have not watched the original since I saw it as a child, because no one is going to outdo Julie Andrews. This is just going to be my version of her. The dancing has been the most daunting prospect for me.

Having worked with Rob Marshall before [on Into the Woods], what is that experience now? That must help in the whole confidence in dancing, knowing you are in good hands.

I mean, we all laugh a bit about the fact that Rob makes you feel that you could do anything. In fact, all of us come over and then we have to extract the smoke that has blown up-- He just has this way of making you feel that you can do anything. He has this wonderful, ceremonial approach to filmmaking. He makes it magical and special for everybody. He is meticulous about the details and I just love working with him, because he digs for gold every day. He expects a lot of you, and that comes from singing, the acting, the dancing, because he doesn't miss anything. So, you do feel in such safe hands with him, in the same way he approaches me as an actor, he approaches me as a dancer now. He wants it to feel like a confident, exciting experience and he wants to feel characterful, as opposed to perfect. He has depth to him, and I just loved every second. I find him the most elegant, wonderful person to be around.

We have a completely original score, by Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman]. What was that experience like, hearing songs you have never heard before and being the first to perform them? That is a very different thing than doing Into the Woods, where you are listening to other people's recordings and stuff.

To be the person to be first on some of these songs, it has been such a huge honor, really. I felt less pressure approaching it in this way than I would be doing an adaptation of something that has been done before because it is not comparative. You've only got some that have actually been written for me, catered to me, and what my ability is, so in that way it has felt like an incredibly collaborative experience and one that I was invited into. But I think that these songs, even though you haven't heard them before, there is something about the music that seems familiar, and I think that is always a sign of a great song, if you feel like I've heard this and you realize you haven't but it's just that good that it strikes a chord in you.

The last question for you. This is a lovely group of actors. What was the experience working with Lin[-Manuel Miranda], who you haven't worked with before, and Meryl [Streep], who you have worked with before, and the kids?

I'll start with the kids, because it is that they are my main compadres on this. When someone says, "Hey, you want to take on Mary Poppins?" I'm like, "Yeah!" and then you realize that all of your scenes are with children. Actually, our kids are particularly brilliant, and it's been wonderful and quite moving to see them grow up in this experience and become real pros.

Even Joel [Dawson], who wasn't even eight when we started rehearsing, he was really young and hadn't done anything before and having to be told, "This is a mark, you have to take your mark. You have to look here because of continuity." Can you imagine hearing that as a kid? And because he is such a bright boy, he has grasped it and he really is that character. He has got this vibrancy to him as a person, and he is bonkers as well, he is absolutely mad. This boy's imagination is incredible. Nathanael [Saleh], he is more sort of solemn, serious, but a really, really bright boy. Pixie [Davies] is an old pro, she has done more films than me, I think.

It's been very moving for me to be around them. They have become my closest friends really. Lin is just thrilling because he is one of the most positive people I have ever met and nothing is a step too far for him. That energy is quite infectious to be around and it's quite a big thing he has taken on, to not only take on a Cockney accent [but] surrounded by Cockney people in our crew. It's quite daunting. He has approached it with such confidence, and thrown himself into the dancing and singing, and I think it has been quite nice for him not to be having to write and produce and create every single word that is in a film, but just to be an actor. I think he loves that. Meryl just seems to follow me into every film I do. It's quite creepy at this point.

Mary Poppins Returns flies into theaters on Dec. 19.


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