Why Blunt made her Mary Poppins ‘a bit raunchy’
If, while reading the news over the past weeks, you’ve found yourself longing for a responsible adult to miraculously set everything straight, be assured that Emily Blunt is on the case.
The 35-year-old actress has descended into cinemas via kite-string in the long-delayed sequel to Mary Poppins, which was vetoed by the creator, P L Travers, for 30 years.
The Australian-born writer had always resented the original’s cartoons and show-tunes approach, and was still hectoring Walt Disney at its 1964 premiere.
But three years ago, Travers’s more amenable estate gave the go-ahead – so here is Mary Pop- pins Returns, an antidote to our troubled times.
I met Blunt, her co-star LinManuel Miranda (who plays Jack, a lamplighter and onetime apprentice of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert), and their director, Rob Marshall, at a hotel near Mansion House in London.
The story picks up 25 years after the first, with Jane and Michael Banks, played by Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw, as adults: Michael is a widower and father of three, whose household is sorely in need of a magical nanny’s touch.
Blunt hadn’t seen the original since she was “six or seven years old”, and opted not to refresh her memory.
Instead she pulled ideas from Travers’s stories: “She’s quite different in the books – terribly rude, vain, and batty, which made me laugh so much,” she said.
“Rob and I talked about her being an adrenalin junkie, and the adventures were her outlet.”
One such escapade involves Blunt performing a music-hall number with nudge-nudge lyrics.
I try to discuss this without using the word “raunchy”, but can’t.
“It’s a raunchy number!” laughs Blunt. “Who’s to say she doesn’t like to get a bit raunchy now and then? She’s a bit sassy, Mary Poppins. She loves flirting with labourers.”
It was Blunt’s idea to perform the song in a thick Cock- ney burr. “She’s talking about people taking their clothes off and having sex, so it made sense that she and Jack should sound of the same world.”
That in itself is a cinematic milestone: Blunt plays the first ever realistic-sounding Cockney in a Mary Poppins film.
In the half-century since the original’s release, Van Dyke’s Bert has become the gold standard for bad accents in cinema: Miranda’s Jack picks up the vowel-mangling torch, and I tell him that I greatly enjoyed his “tribute”.
To my horror, he looks crestfallen, then explains he worked for months with a dialogue coach.
“I’d never really done accent work on this level before,” he says. “And I knew it would be scrutinised, because we’re still talking about Dick’s accent now. I wanted to do the best job I could.”
I hastily add that I think it works beautifully, which is true: the London of Mary Poppins has always been an unreal hybrid.
Marshall was keen his film should retain the mirage-like quality of the original – not least because he spent a year in the north London suburb of Golders Green.
Mary Poppins was the first film he saw as a child, and he remembers roving around as an 11-year-old, trying to find places from the film – which didn’t exist, as it was shot on studio sets.
A SPOONFUL OF SASS: Emily Blunt (left) plays Mary Poppins in the remake of the Disney classic and (above) Julie Andrews in the original movie