Emily Blunt takes on the iconic role of Mary Poppins made famous by Julie Andrews. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Emily Blunt takes on the iconic role of Mary Poppins made famous by Julie Andrews. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Emily Blunt on the ‘daunting’ task of playing Mary Poppins

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Emily Blunt loves a challenge, and in the world of movie musicals there’s no greater trial than following in the footsteps of Julie Andrews to bring one of her most iconic, and beloved, roles to the screen for the first time in over half a century.

It’s only Mary Poppins. No pressure, right?

But the 35-year-old British actress has always been drawn to roles that scare her, and it’s proven to be a good strategy. Some of her most memorable parts have been those “impossible” ones, like stealing scenes from Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” and doing stunts with Tom Cruise in “The Edge of Tomorrow.”

There’s no one type of Emily Blunt role, but some roles seem like they could only be for her, and for director and choreographer Rob Marshall, the practically perfect nanny was one of them. When he signed on for “Mary Poppins Returns,” which would be a sequel to the 1964 classic, hers was the first name he thought of.

“It was the quickest, fastest idea. I knew in one second who it was,” said Marshall. “She had all the requirements.”

He knew how big of an ask it was (“It’s the climbing of Mount Everest,” he said), but he also knew from directing her in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” that she was the right triple threat for the job.

“She’s so fearless,” he added. “I just knew that she would make it her own.”

And Blunt said yes to Marshall in a single conversation.

“I knew I had my work cut out for me just because of how extraordinary the original was and how beautiful Julie was in the original. But I knew that if I was going to take a big swing and carve out new space for myself, if I do it under Rob’s guidance, I’d be all right,” Blunt said. “He’s kind of a magician. He’s a bit of a Mary Poppins himself.”

She was able to take a year, during which she was “massively” pregnant with her second child, before they started rehearsing and filming to figure out her interpretation of the character with the help of P.L. Travers’ books.

“She is very different in the books,” Blunt said. “She is completely batty and funny and vain and rude and terribly empathetic in a very weird way, not necessarily by what she says but by what she does.”

Although she held fond memories of Andrews’ performance, she hadn’t revisited it as an adult and decided not to before filming.

“I didn’t have any of the details of what she did with the character in my head, I just had the sort of lasting impact of the joy bomb that the original was,” she said. “That was very helpful. I just read the books.”

For Blunt, who delights in altering her voice and physicality for every role, her Mary Poppins was going to be “a weird amalgamation” of Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday” and Princess Margaret.

“I wanted her to speak very quickly because I wanted her to have that impact where she almost renders people speechless, so that they’re helpless but to comply with what she wants. It’s like she gives them no time to think,” Blunt said. “You’re almost not quite sure if she’s planting a seed or not and you’re like, ‘Wait is there an enigmatic master plan afoot?’”

The film, out nationwide on Dec. 19, finds the now-grown Banks children Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) faced with their own troubles, and Mary Poppins steps in to help care for Michael’s three children and get their lives back on track.

Blunt uprooted her own family, including her then 5-month-old, to London for about a year to film the massive project, which at the time was one of the biggest productions she’d ever been part of. She said everyone felt the weight of responsibility to do justice to the original, and she hopes that this version will give people joy and an escape.

“Everyone is always trying to do the next thing, the new thing, what else, what else what else, the grass is greener,” she said. “And I think we need nostalgic moments in our lives.”

It’s also capping off a big year for Blunt and her husband, John Krasinski, which started with the unexpected success of “A Quiet Place” and is ending not only with the release of “Mary Poppins Returns,” but awards buzz and nominations for both films as well. On Wednesday, she picked up Screen Actors Guild nominations for both films.

“It is sort of an impossible task to absorb and digest what’s going on,” Blunt said. “It’s almost like it’s happening to somebody else. It’s a bit out of body.”

By The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham has ambitious plans for the airport. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer Regional Airport revenues climb in 2020

Bringing in more business is the 2021 goal, says director

City council will have to wait longer to hear back from administration on possible alternative sites — if the homeless shelter is moved from Red Deer downtown. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alternative sites for homeless shelter will be explored by the City of Red Deer

Council gave administration more time to return with a report

Quentin Lee Strawberry was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with stabbing death of Joseph Gallant in March 2019. (Photo from RCMP)
Updated: O’Chiese man found not guilty of 2019 stabbing death of Red Deer man

Quentin Strawberry found guilty of assaulting murdered man’s common-law partner

(Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer property tax bills are in the mail

Red Deer 2021 tax notices are on their way. Red Deer property… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Canada's Tyler Ardron, right, tries to block the kick by Italy's Callum Braley during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in Fukuoka, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kyodo News via AP
Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

John Velazquez, right, rides Medina Spirit ahead of Florent Geroux aboard Mandaloun to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Canada forward Liam Millar (23) moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal (2) during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux
Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Most Read