Good things take time. Nearly 55 years after the original “Mary Poppins” dropped into theaters, care of Julie Andrews and her iconic umbrella, the film is finally getting a sequel, this one starring Emily Blunt as the eponymous nanny with a magical way of doing things. The film, “Mary Poppins Returns,” reteams Blunt with her “Into the Woods” director Rob Marshall, hinting that there will be no shortage of large-scale musical set pieces. Still, the biggest challenge for Blunt was the most obvious one: taking over such a beloved character, who also happened to be played by an equally as beloved actress.
“Rob Marshall sort of protected me from the idea that I felt like I was moving a boulder out of the way of this iconic role played by someone as iconic and as brilliant as Julie Andrews,” Blunt told IndieWire. “Ultimately, he allowed it to feel like an intimate process where I could just make her my own. It will be my interpretation of her, for better or worse.”
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Set in Depression-era London, the film reintroduces the Banks kids — Jane and Michael, now adults — and picks up after a “personal loss” that has impacted both the siblings and Michael’s own trio of kids. Per the official synopsis, Mary uses her “unique magical skills” to help “the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.”
The film stars Ben Whishaw as Michael and Emily Mortimer as Jane, along with Meryl Streep as Mary’s own “eccentric cousin” and Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamplighting apprentice. Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters, and Colin Firth also appear, and original star Dick Van Dyke is reportedly on board for a cameo appearance.
“It’s beautiful. I’ve seen it,” Blunt said. “It’s absolutely magical, yet grounded and I think will hopefully stand alone as an independent feature. It’s the next chapter of Mary Poppins and I absolutely adored doing it.”
The actress didn’t rematch the original film during the process of making her own “Mary Poppins,” all the better to allow the character to become her own. “I tried not to be swayed by the details of what Julie did, so that I could really just have my own impression of her from the books,” she said.
Instead, Blunt and Marshall turned to the original source material: author P.L. Travers’ eight-series set of children’s novels, first published in 1934 (the original film adapted the first four books).
“‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is set during the Great Depression, which is actually when the books were set, 30 years after the original one, [and it’s] set during the slump where people were feeling that they were living in a fragile time,” she said. “We’re kind of there now. That was really what P.L. Travers wanted, the idea of a quite profound time where hope literally reappears from the skies. That’s really what Rob wanted to pay homage to, her original intention with the books.”
For Blunt, that idea translated to a message that, nearly a century old, is just as timely and relevant as it was when Travers wrote it. The film also offers an interesting counterpoint to Blunt’s next feature: the John Krasinksi-directed “A Quiet Place,” which offers a dystopian vision of a world overtaken by monsters that prey on humans through sound.
“It’s the most hopeful, beautiful escape, honestly. In some ways it’s quite timely,” Blunt said. “‘A Quiet Place,’ I feel like is a statement of the world we’re in, and ‘Mary Poppins’ offers people hope from the world we’re in.”
Perhaps that hope can translate to yet another much-hyped sequel with Blunt’s name on it: a follow-up to the sci-fi actioner “Edge of Tomorrow,” which featured Blunt and Tom Cruise in a slick mash-up of “Groundhog Day” and “Independence Day.” The movie wasn’t a huge hit when it opened in the summer of 2014, but it’s picked up plenty of steam in the interim, enough for both Cruise and director Doug Liman to keep hammering away at the possibility of a reunion. Blunt, for one, is all in.
“It’s a lot for all the stars to align for everyone to be free at the same time and available to do it at the same time,” she said. “They asked me to do [it] two months before I started ‘Mary Poppins.’ Tom was like, ‘Can you go this autumn?’ and I was like, ‘No, I can’t go, I’m playing Mary Poppins for like a year, dude! I can’t do ‘Edge of Tomorrow.'”
After “Mary Poppins Returns,” Blunt set about shooting “A Quiet Place,” while Cruise kept busy making the next “Mission: Impossible” film, which is due out later this summer. Still, the actress is hopeful that the band will get back together at some point to churn out a sequel for the unexpected “culty” hit.
“Doug Liman has got an awesome idea and he’s excited and they just need to write it,” she said. “There has been a script, but now I gather there’s another one in the works.”
“Mary Poppins Returns” opens on December 25.