Like al­ways, Emily Blunt chal­lenges her­self in ‘Mary Pop­pins Re­turns’

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Emily Blunt loves a chal­lenge, and in the world of movie mu­si­cals there’s no greater trial than fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Julie An­drews to bring one of her most iconic, and beloved, roles to the screen for the irst time in over half a cen­tury.

It’s only Mary Pop­pins. No pres­sure, right?

But the 35-year-old Bri­tish ac­tress has al­ways been drawn to roles that scare her, and it’s proven to be a good strat­egy. Some of her most mem­o­rable parts have been those “im­pos­si­ble” ones, like steal­ing scenes from Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” and do­ing stunts with Tom Cruise in “The Edge of To­mor­row.”

There’s no one type of Emily Blunt role, but some roles seem like they could only be for her, and for direc­tor and chore­og­ra­pher Rob Mar­shall, the prac­ti­cally per­fect nanny was one of them. When he signed on for “Mary Pop­pins Re­turns,” which would be a se­quel to the 1964 clas­sic, hers was the irst name he thought of.

“It was the quick­est, fastest idea. I knew in one sec­ond who it was,” said Mar­shall. “She had all the re­quire­ments.” He knew how big of an ask it was (“It’s the climb­ing of Mount Ever­est,” he said), but he also knew from di­rect­ing her in Stephen Sond­heim’s “Into the Woods” that she was the right triple threat for the job.

“She’s so fear­less,” he added. “I just knew that she would make it her own.” And Blunt said yes to Mar­shall in a sin­gle con­ver­sa­tion. “I knew I had my work cut out for me just be­cause of how ex­tra­or­di­nary the orig­i­nal was and how beau­ti­ful Julie was in the orig­i­nal. But I knew that if I was go­ing to take a big swing and carve out new space for my­self, if I do it un­der Rob’s guid­ance, I’d be all right,” Blunt said. “He’s kind of a ma­gi­cian. He’s a bit of a Mary Pop­pins him­self.”

She was able to take a year, dur­ing which she was “mas­sively” preg­nant with her sec­ond child, be­fore they started re­hears­ing and ilm­ing to ig­ure out her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the char­ac­ter with the help of P.L. Travers’ books.

“She is very dif­fer­ent in the books,” Blunt said. “She is com­pletely batty and funny and vain and rude and ter­ri­bly em­pa­thetic in a very weird way, not nec­es­sar­ily by what she says but by what she does.” Al­though she held fond mem­o­ries of An­drews’ per­for­mance, she hadn’t re­vis­ited it as an adult and de­cided not to be­fore ilm­ing.

“I didn’t have any of the de­tails of what she did with the char­ac­ter in my head, I just had the sort of last­ing im­pact of the joy bomb that the orig­i­nal was,” she said. “That was very help­ful. I just read the books.”

For Blunt, who de­lights in al­ter­ing her voice and phys­i­cal­ity for ev­ery role, her Mary Pop­pins was go­ing to be “a weird amal­ga­ma­tion” of Ros­alind Rus­sell in“His Girl Fri­day” and Princess Mar­garet. “I wanted her to speak very quickly be­cause I wanted her to have that im­pact where she al­most ren­ders peo­ple speech­less, so that they’re help­less but to com­ply with what she wants. It’s like she gives them no time to think,” Blunt said. “You’re al­most not quite sure if she’s plant­ing a seed or not and you’re like, ‘Wait is there an enig­matic mas­ter plan afoot?’”

The ilm, out na­tion­wide on Dec. 19, inds the now-grown Banks chil­dren Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mor­timer) faced with their own trou­bles, and Mary Pop­pins steps in to help care for Michael’s three chil­dren and get their lives back on track.

Blunt up­rooted her own fam­ily, in­clud­ing her then 5-month-old, to Lon­don for about a year to ilm the mas­sive project, which at the time was one of the big­gest pro­duc­tions she’d ever been part of. She said ev­ery­one felt the weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity to do jus­tice to the orig­i­nal, and she hopes that this ver­sion will give peo­ple joy and an es­cape.

“Ev­ery­one is al­ways try­ing to do the next thing, the new thing, what else, what else what else, the grass is greener,” she said. “And I think we need nos­tal­gic mo­ments in our lives.”

It’s also cap­ping off a big year for Blunt and her hus­band, John Krasin­ski, which started with the un­ex­pected suc­cess of “A Quiet Place” and is end­ing not only with the re­lease of“Mary Pop pins Re­turns,” but awards buzz and nom­i­na­tions for both ilms as well. On Wed­nes­day, she picked up Screen Ac­tors Guild nom­i­na­tions for both ilms.

“It is sort of an im­pos­si­ble task to ab­sorb and digest what’s go­ing on,” Blunt said. “It’s al­most like it’s hap­pen­ing to some­body else. It’s a bit out of body.”

Lin-Manuel Mi­randa (left) and Emily Blunt in ‘Mary Pop­pins Re­turns.’

Pro­ducer John DeLuca (left), ac­tors Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel Mi­randa and direc­tor dur­ing the pho­to­call .

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