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Only In Hollywood

‘Mary Poppins Returns’ as Emily Blunt

By: - Columnist
/ 12:40 AM December 09, 2018

Emily Blunt—Walt Disney Pictures

LOS ANGELES — Emily Blunt brings her own charm and grace to the magical nanny in “Mary Poppins Returns.” Bravely taking on the role famously originated by Julie Andrews in the cherished 1964 original, Emily read P. L. Travers’ books on the character noted for her hat and parrot umbrella. And she made it a point not to watch again “Mary Poppins,” which she saw as a child.

As a result, Emily puts her own stamp on the vain but caring nanny in director Rob Marshall’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” which also stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, and has wonderful appearances by Dick van Dyke (Bert/Mr. Dawes Sr. in the original) and Angela Lansbury.

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Julie Andrews does not make a surprise appearance but Meryl Streep, who worked with Emily Blunt in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Into the Woods,” shows up in one number as Mary Poppins’ aunt.

Emily, who wore a color block dress by Roksanda in this recent interview at the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel, also talked about her life with husband, actor-director John Krasinki, and their two daughters.

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Excerpts from our chat:

Who put the magic in your own childhood? I would have to say my mother’s mother—my nana, we called her—she was like a Mary Poppins for us. She was a very magical person, quite eccentric and bizarre. So she reminded me of Mary Poppins (laughs). Funny, warm and loving, she was the kind of person who could rustle up an incredible feast with a few items in her fridge.

And she was an amazing artist. She would make up stories for us and was endlessly loving. So I would say my nana was a huge influence on all of us.

Emily Blunt. RUBEN V. NEPALES

What do you remember about watching “Mary Poppins” when you were a child? And what memories of seeing the original came to your mind when you were offered the role? I am pretty sure it was one of the first films that I ever saw.  Probably at a really young age, 6 maybe. And because I decided before I played Mary Poppins not to rewatch the original as an adult, I did have this searing memory of her that I wanted to honor. Yet this was going to be my version of her. I didn’t want to just impersonate Julie Andrews, who is so beautiful, and what she did should be treasured, preserved and not butchered by me, hopefully.

So I knew if I was going to take on this role, I just had to completely carve out a new space for myself as this is the next chapter in a different time, a darker time, during the Great Depression.

How did your children react when they saw your version of Mary Poppins? They have seen the original. It was almost like I was worried that they were going to reject my version (laughs) because they are such die-hard Julie Andrews fans. I thought Hazel would be like, “Well, you are not Mary Poppins. She’s Mary Poppins.”

But I explained to her. I said, “You know how you have just seen Mary Poppins? Do you want to see mommy play Mary Poppins? Mommy is going to play Mary Poppins in this film.” That must be so bizarre for my kids to understand what I do for a living. God knows what they think I do.

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Did you take care of kids in one of your first jobs before becoming an actress? I was a babysitter. I babysat from a really young age, from 14. Then, I also worked in a catering company. I was usually washing the dishes in the kitchen. So it was a combination of babysitting and the catering company work.

Is it stressful when you shoot those big musical numbers with many actors and dancers involved because if you make a mistake, everybody has to do the scene again? You are right and I think very often, I did make mistakes. You could see 30 lamplighters like out of breath (laughs). “OK, let’s go back, let’s go back.” And I had an easy task. I was just lifted by the lamplighters, and they were doing all the lifting.

I am sure it was very often me making the mistakes because they are professional dancers. But that was a really big number. That was one of the most exciting times for me on a shoot.

Emily Blunt brings her own grace and charm as the magical nanny in “Mary Poppins Returns.” —WALT DISNEY PICTURES

Can you talk about working again with Meryl Streep? I adore being around Meryl Streep. I love breathing the same air as her all day. She is so exciting to work with as an actress, completely unexpected and surprising. She throws curve balls at you all day. And she is absolutely bonkers in this role, and she is so funny.  That’s actually her swinging around the chandelier. She is completely mad.

Meryl said to the kids who were doing a scene with her—everyone was hanging around between takes—“Have you ever seen a pratfall?”  The kids were like, “No.” She goes, “Watch this.” She stood and just went like that—she just hit the deck. I thought she was dead and I was like, that’s it, that’s how Meryl Streep dies.

It was extraordinary. She fell flat on her face and everyone gasped. The crew ran forward, but she stood up and was like, “I learned that at Yale (laughs).” She is so awesome. The kids were like, “She is my hero after that.”

Still on kids, were you bullied as a child? Kids didn’t understand why I couldn’t speak properly. Stuttering is something that people still poke fun at. It is a disability. You can’t tease just because people sound and look funny when they stutter. I looked and sounded funny. The kids were like, “Why can’t you say it, just say it!”  Even a teacher of mine was like, “Spit it out!”

And that is a problem. People are very misinformed on the issue. A lot of adults are still going through [stuttering]. There are many adults out there who have never been given the right treatment. They find it impossible to get the kind of job that they deserve and which they are highly qualified for. They can’t represent who they are in these meetings because they are hindered by their speech impediment. It’s just been an interesting experience for me with the stuttering organizations that I have worked with.

What advice would you give to youngsters who are being bullied? My advice to kids is—my daughter said it best—she was at this summer camp and a kid was mean to her.

I said, “So, what are you going to say to that girl tomorrow if she says something mean?”  She goes, “I am going to say, I am going to go find a kind kid.” I went, “There you go, that is the perfect thing to say. There are always kind kids around you and there are always people around you who are happy to talk to you and are there for you and don’t feel alone. Everybody gets bullied, everybody goes through it and everybody has something. I promise you there’s light on the other side.”

That is what I say to all of those kids. It will pass, and you will grow and learn from it. To be different and be an individual is the most important thing in the world.

E-mail rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.

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