We got a chance to visit the set of Mary Poppins Returns and chat with the cast!
When ComingSoon.net got to the set of Mary Poppins Returns in London, we were set up in a room filled with costumes and set pieces, grouped around songs from the new film. The first was for “Under the Lovely London Sky” which showed us Queen Anne’s Gate in Embankment, Cherry Tree Lane and some of the Tower of London. There were pieces of art, as well as a certain kite you remember from the classic film. Though you guys are likely aware of it from the trailers, when we saw it, no one knew it would be there. There were tears being brushed away from most of the journalists.
The cast of Mary Poppins Returns includes Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train, Into the Woods), Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana), Ben Whishaw (SPECTRE), Emily Mortimer (Hugo) and Julie Walters (Harry Potter films), with Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins). In addition, Dick Van Dyke plays Mr. Dawes Jr., the chairman of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, which is now run by William Weatherall Wilkins (Firth), and Angela Lansbury will play the Balloon Lady, a character from PL Travers’ original children’s books.
The next thing we saw was “The Place Where the Lost Things Go.” We saw the kids’ costumes, and then the song “Wash Away,” which clearly takes place in the bathroom. As we were told, this is a fantasy sequence in the film and magic abounds. Next up was Admiral Boom’s house and “The Royal Doulton Music Hall.” Now, this is an animated sequence alongside live action, as you may remember from the first film. There is a carousel, and the characters are transported into the magic land through an old pot. The costumes here are pretty amazing, with each piece of clothing being painted to appear to be part of an animated scene. We saw a map of the Royal Doulton with the bowl, and a dog in costume. There are giraffes and Mary’s umbrella is in evidence. There’s an alligator, because of course there is. Don’t worry. The penguins you remember from the first film will make an appearance.
Next we saw “A Cover is Not the Book,” which is a performance on stage during the sequence, with a background filled with books. Back in the real world, we see “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” which seems to take place in the Crystal Palace. Mary and the kids sit to to the side which Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and the other lamp lighters dance. Later we were treated to a video of the actual scene and the dancing and singing is going to bring you right back to the film you remember from childhood. There is swinging on lamp posts and some pretty acrobatic moves.
Next, there is “Nowhere to Go But Up,” which is outside the Banks home. In “Turning Turtle,” we get to see the amazing Meryl Streep’s home (she plays Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy), which has everything upside down. We later got to tour the set. It’s got a very upside down art deco feel, and the costume we saw reflects it. Topsy is a free-thinking woman with an artistic feel, and her loose and brightly colored clothing reflects that. We did get to hear some of the songs, which were playing as we toured the set up. Between listening to the songs and speaking to the cast, you can tell that, though this is a new film, it’s very much part of a tradition, and has a feel that wouldn’t be out of place in the first film.
We also got a chance to see a bit more of the set. We saw the rose window (from the back) from the Big Ben set, which was made to scale. They shot plates at the real Big Ben, then built up the clock face on H-stage. On C-Stage, we saw Topsy’s upside down room and on D-stage, we got a chance to actually walk through the Banks house. We walked into Mary Poppins’ room, which was full of period correct furniture and brushes on the vanity. The bed had a purple print, and on the side stand was the book “Marie Antoinette Dauphine,” by Pierre de Nolhac. The nursery was full of toys, with a huge toy box and a paper stage. There was also a dollhouse. We got to check out the bathroom as well, the set for the song “Wash Away.”
Then we all sat down as some of the cast and crew came by to chat with us.
Blunt spoke about playing the role. “I think 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. So 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 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 too with our film. It’s very surreal to me being Mary Poppins.”
She also talked about the most challenging thing about the role. “The dancing, probably,” she said. “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.” I think that has been my main focus, is just to approach her calmly, as I would any other character, how I would play her, with what I have given on the page?I have not watched the originals since I saw it as a child, cause I… no one is going to outdo Julie Andrews. I think I just want to… this is just going to be my version her. The dancing has been the most daunting prospect for me.”
Miranda told us a bit about Jack. He said, “Jack is a lamp-lighter. He apprenticed under Burt from the original films so he knows all about Mary. He knows that Mary shows up and stuff’s going to happen and cool adventures will be had. So it’s really nice to play the Burt position in this film. You kind of get to go on all the fun adventures with the Banks family. But the joy of playing — when Rob and John first sort of approached me with this role, it was across the street from Hamilton. I went and met with them between shows. It was at the restaurant in the Paramount hotel across the street. They said, we want you to play a lamp-lighter. I said, what is that? They said they light up the lamps. I said, oh, I played this already, because my first show In the Heights was about — I plays a guy named Usnavi and the central metaphor from that was he’s the street lighter in the neighborhood. At first he sees it as, he’s stuck here and everyone gets to go everywhere else. But then he sort of refocuses himself after the thing and says, oh, it’s my job to tell these stories, to shine a light on these stories on this corner, so it felt very close to home, the role, as soon as they pitched it to me.”
Producer Marc Platt talked about casting. “When it came to casting, really, we could only think of one person to step into the shoes and to own the role of Mary Poppins and that was Emily Blunt, an actress who we’ve worked with on Into the Woods and most recently did Girl on the Train with her. She’s not only a consummate actress, who possesses a tremendous craft as an actress, she sings beautifully. 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. And hopefully we’ll have a few moments to chat with her a bit later.
“What she does with the role is what we’re trying to do with the film throughout, which is have a foot in the original source, a nod to it, if you will. Sort of realize the trope of the original, but move it forward into a contemporary sense of storytelling and tell the story our way with our personality, our sensibilities. And I think, although it’s a period story you’ll find that it’s infused with a tremendous contemporary and accessible sensibility.”
In a separate Q&A, Marshall talked about why this film is relevant now. He said, “It’s funny because PL Travers started writing in 1934 in the middle of their depression, and this whole sense of what she wrote about, a magical person coming and trying to bring wonder and joy into a family and bring a child-like sensibility to adults. She wrote eight books and throughout those eight books you see that theme, this sense that adults forget the joys of childhood. I know she was considered – I didn’t know her obviously – a tough lady, but I think she really understood child-like wonder.
“So when Disney came to us with this, it was right at a point in the world where John DeLuca and myself, my partner and I, were so desperate to do it for that reason; in order to balance out the world in which we live in now, and we have spent three years working on this film. To live in a world that has hope and escape and fantasy and truth and reality and emotion and all those other things, feels so important right now. In fact, it has become more important each day in this world. And when I approached people like Meryl Streep or Colin Firth to play a role, they jumped on it quickly for the same reasons. I remember Meryl Streep saying to me immediately, she said, “I want to be part of bringing this message to the world now.” She said, “This, to me, is a gift to the world now.” And so it was immediately apparent to me that this was the story to tell today, even though the series of books began in 1934, the film is from 1964 so it’s from 54 years ago.
“The first film means a lot to a lot of people, especially to someone around my age, because I saw it when I was four or five years old, and it opened my mind to so many things. So it has been really beautiful to be part of that message for all this time.”
Directed and produced by Oscar nominee, Emmy and DGA Award winner Rob Marshall (Into the Woods, Chicago), Mary Poppins Returns also introduces three new Banks children, played by Pixie Davies (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Nathanael Saleh (Game of Thrones) and newcomer Joel Dawson.
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