Why Blunt made her Mary Pop­pins ‘a bit raunchy’

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Arts & Entertainment - Rob­bie Collin

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

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