Emily Blunt is in town celebrating two movies that are earning her much acclaim, A Quiet Place and Mary Poppins Returns. But when we met at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, our focus was her performance as one of Disney’s most iconic characters.
How does an actress dive into a role that that’s so ingrained in our filmlover DNA and make it her own? Her close friends had advised her with a mix of excitement and apprehension. She says she was able to drown out the white noise by leaning on the duality of the character that she found in the books to make her own mark on everyone’s favorite nanny.
Well, I have to ask, what was your first memory of Mary Poppins?
You know what I remember most? I remember feeling really safe with her because she is a little bit of a disciplinarian and she’s quite stern. She’s completely confident with what she’s doing and when someone comes in with that surehandedness and that ability to bring order to chaos, I think even as a child, I felt really safe with her. She is very healing in that way and I realized that’s what a lot of people felt. They hold her so dear to their hearts. Yes, she’s iconic and all of that, but I think there’s a very personal connection that people have with this character.
I think a lot of it is because she leaves at the end, it’s almost like a bit of a death when she goes and that’s why my 4-year-old reacted the way she did. She was completely inconsolable after she leaves. That’s what I remember, that and her mystery.
How did you craft her and make her your own, given everything we know of Julie Andrews as the icon?
That was the challenge. Also, for me, the thing that I was really excited about, and I was scared to take her on and unsure of how to carve out a new space for myself and wondering what my version of her would be. I dove so deep into the books and she absolutely leaped off the page at me. I was very clear after I read the books. I think that the duality of the character was the thing I found most delicious to play. She’s grounded and yet she’s airborne. She’s fastidious and yet she’s eccentric and flirtatious. She’s vain and rude and yet of great depth and understanding of people and what their make up is, and what makes them tick, and how to fix them and how to heal a situation.
Rob and I talked a lot about it. We tried to find those moments of humanity and the private moments. I said to Rob, “She has to love those adventures. It has to be her outlet.” She’s like an adrenaline junkie. She can’t wait to go on another adventure. If her job is to infuse these kids lives with childlike wonder and adults. It’s really about Michael Banks and she makes it about him. If her job is to bring back optimism and hope and childlike wonder, you have to see it in her as well. It’s finding all those moments that make her completely unknowable because she’s not just one thing.
Did you collaborate with costume designer Sandy Powell to create her look?
Yessss. But Sandy is just Mary Poppins. [laughs] She is eccentric, wonderful and creative and sort of magic.
We did talk a lot about my take on her. Rob very much — this is Rob’s favorite word — “She needs to be very chic.” We always knew she was going to be chic. There’s such vanity to her and any mirror she can find she’s checking herself out.
Because Sandy has this natural eccentricity to her. She was just the perfect person to create costumes for Mary Poppins because she’s just so bold and so brave.
The costume I loved was the arrival costume because it’s this beautiful blue coat that is austere and put together on the outside and the inside is this bonkers orange polka dot lining because that’s really who she is. That’s the character.
What was it like putting that blue coat on for the first time?
It was pretty nuts. It’s not just the coat, right? It’s everything. You put it on together and then you’re transported and then you’re her. It’s slightly surreal looking in the mirror for the first time.
Rob just said he didn’t know you could dance until he saw you in this.
[laughs] I know. It’s a bit of a leap of faith. I was like, “What if I was dreadful?” and he said, “We would have worked around you.”
He had a long prep process. How did that help you?
We arrived and on day one I was thrown a hat and a cane and we were off to the races. It was quite daunting. I think Lin and I are on a par with our dancing abilities. I think if I’d been dancing with Justin Timberlake, I’d have felt very intimidated. We really were thrown in at the deep end together.
He hadn’t really fully choreographed A Cover Is Not a Book but he was seeing what we could do and he built on it. I think he was just surprised that we could move.
How did playing her challenge you as an actress?
I think the initial challenge was overcoming everyone’s reaction when I told them I was playing Mary Poppins. Everyone was so scared for me or completely over excited over the idea of a sequel. I think the challenge was allowing all of that to be just white noise and to be oblivious as possible to how iconic the undertaking was. I think that was probably the first challenge.
After that, I can honestly say I’ve never loved playing someone more than her. Never.
Last time we spoke, it was for Into the Woods and you said John didn’t like musicals at that time. Does he still hate them?
No. He really loved Into The Woods as well. I said, “Maybe you love musicals. You loved Hamilton. You loved Dear Evan Hansen. I think he’s a secret hat and cane guy.”
Let’s play a One-word association game. Three films. First thing that comes to mind:
The Devil Wears Prada
Oh, was that painful?
Those are mean.
That was Sandy Powell. She wedged me into those things. She was the foot-in-the-back type of woman.
Sicario. You told me a story last night.
Maybe I’ll say tequila and dust. I remember it being very dusty that whole shoot. Tequila Dust.