Director Rob Marshall told an audience last night that Mary Poppins was the first film he had ever seen. Marshall was talking to Marc Platt as part of the AFI Fest In Conversation series. He explained that his love for musicals began after that.
Marshall who directed Chicago and Into The Woods said that Mary Poppins Returns gave him the chance to develop a musical from scratch. “You’re not going from stage to screen, you’re creating something for the screen and the only way to create it was to see it first in my head.” He added, “It was a dream come true.”
He referenced the PJ Travers book, but he recruited his creative team, David Magee, John DeLuca and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman to collaborate with him. Of the story, Marshall told the audience how he recruited his cast.
Ben Whishaw plays the older Michael Banks. Marshall said Whishaw told him, “Mary Poppins was why I wanted to become an actor.” And with that, he was cast.
Marshall had nothing but high praises for his Mary Poppins played by Emily Blunt. “You have to be a great actress to be able to play that stern, reserved woman who has a child underneath there.” He went on to say, “She also had to be warm and funny. You have to be able to sing and dance. And she’s British.” He said of Blunt. “She makes the role her own.” Marshall explained how Blunt was his first and only choice. “Emily Blunt was the only choice. Ever since The Devil Wears Prada I thought ‘she’s going to have a career like Maggie Smith and work until she’s 150 years old.’ ”
For Lin-Manuel Miranda who had never done a movie before, Marshall liked his theatrical background. “He has something so authentic. I believe he wants to go on adventures with her.”
Marshall cast Meryl Streep as Topsy Turvy, a quirky character in the film who is a male character in the books. “The best part of asking Meryl to do this was John (DeLuca) and I sat down with Kevin (Huvane – Marshall and Streep share the same agent) and I asked if she’d be interested in doing this.” Apparently, Streep had been waiting for Marshall to call. She replied to him on him saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
The film Marshall says is a gift of joy, love and optimism. “I wanted to bring hope, a ray of light into a world that’s very dark right now.” Streep told him she wanted to be a part of sending that message out.
The audience were treated to a clip of Trip A Little Bit Of Light Fantastic after the conversation. And let’s just say, it’s practically perfect in every way.
Mary Poppins Returns on December 19