Thank you to Disney Studios for hosting me during the Mary Poppins Returns Event!
I actually have a little history with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Specifically having him turn me into a Twitter meme a few years ago. To this day it’s one of my favorite interviews. And meeting him again to talk about Mary Poppins Returns just adds another favorite interview to the list. If there was one word I had to describe Mary Poppins Returns it’s “joy”. And if there was one word to describe talking to Lin? It’s the exact same word.
What was it like performing works written by someone else after so long performing his own works?
It is the fruit of the harvest. No, honestly, I started writing In The Heights because I very quickly realized at age eighteen that no one was gonna write my dream musical, that I did not have the ballet training to play Bernardo in West Side Story or Paul in A Chorus Line. And if you’re a Puerto Rican dude that’s all you get in the canon. So In The Heights really was the beginning of creating my own opportunities. Hamilton is an extension of that. And then to have Rob Marshall call you and tell you it’s Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins and you’re the only other person we have in mind and we’re gonna build from there, it felt like the fruit of the harvest. The harvest I began when I was eighteen years old.
What are the differences between performing on the stage and performing in a movie?
You finish the eight minute dance number and you wait a year and a half for applause. But honestly, you’re trying to tell the truth on stage and you’re trying to tell the truth in film. The difference is the energy source. Doing eight shows a week is a yoga. You’re gonna hit the same positions every night but you’re gonna hit ’em differently depending on your energy, the audience, your fellow performers. And you have two the next day. The energy source in making a film is, especially a film like this, today you’re dancing with penguins. Tomorrow you’re singing with Meryl Streep. Friday you’re shutting down Buckingham Palace with 800 bikers. And you’re not coming back. We’re not going back to the penguins next week. You don’t get two shows a day with Meryl Streep tomorrow. So the adrenaline source becomes this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment and you have to be completely present. And so it just shifts from the audience to the sheer one-of-a-kindness of it.
Which scenes in the movie make him the most proud?
There’s so many scenes I’m proud of. There are scenes I’m proud of because they’re my own fault. And there are scenes I’m proud of because they took so much practice and mastery. Tommy Kail, who directed Hamilton, said the he was most moved when he saw me slide down the bannister in Trip A Little Light Fantastic because that’s the one thing I actually know how to do really well. And as Tommy Kail put it, “You don’t know how to land a joke or sing a note or grow a beard without practice. But man you were born to slide down banisters.” And then there are moments that represent hours and hours of hard work from the eight minute, continuous dance sequence in Trip A Little Light Fantastic. And Rob ran it as an eight minute dance sequence, you know. We were three minutes of the song that are getting to that abandoned playground, and that was on location throughout London. And now we’re here, and now we’re in the sewer, and now we’re here. And then there’s that sequence. And that sequence was run as if it was a Broadway musical number. From jumping on the lamppost to the flaming sticks balancing on my foot, that was all run as a piece with hundreds of cameras around. And I’m very proud of that. I’ve never danced like that in my life. There’s incredible dancing with Hamilton. Hamilton doesn’t do it. You know what I’m talking about. And so I was very proud of that because it was a lot of hard work to get there.
What were his Mary Poppins memories from childhood?
I remember seeing the first two-thirds of Mary Poppins. We had the V.H.S. cassette and it was, some of you will remember this. You know, they had their own section in the home library because they were fluffy and white, a little bigger than your shelf. And then I remember turning it off during Feed The Birds. Feed The Birds is the most emotionally devastating melody in the history of cinema. And I was not ready for it as a kid. So I remember crying and turning it off. I didn’t see the end of Mary Poppins until I was like in high school because that song was just too sad. It was just too sad for my tender little heart. So I remember the first two-thirds of it on repeat. And then Feed The Birds was like, “Oh, okay, I’m gonna go play.” That was my experience growing up with it.
What was it like taking on Bert’s accent?
What I realized going in was that no matter what I did, my accent would be scrutinized for the rest of my career if Dick Van Dyke is any indication. But the fun of that is music is sort of my catalyst for everything. I had an amazing dialect coach named Sandra Butterworth, which is a very Poppinsian name in and of itself. And she became my closest friend and ally on set, whispering in my ear between takes. And also music. She realized that music was my way in. So it was not just listening to music sung in the east end Cockney accent, it was music in the 1930s. Because it’s not just about the part of the world, it’s about the time of the world. It’s about the when as well. So I listened to a lot of Anthony Newley, who was a big sort of music hall star who then also wrote a Broadway musical called Stop the World, I Want To Get Off in the 1960s. But I listened to a lot of his early stuff and that was my sort of north star for the accent.
What was it like riding a bike so often on the set?
So the bike, I called it Gertie because she was not your average bike. This is not your Schwinn 10-speed. This is an old bike with a 20 pound ladder in a basket on your right side. So you’re constantly accounting for that. So I would bike to craft services. I would bike around. I biked that thing all over Shepperton Studios until it was second nature to me. And then in the sequences where all the kids and Mary Poppins are on the bike, we just had a set of training wheels that we C.G.I.’ed out. So it’s really me driving those kids on that bike. There’s just a certain limit to how far they can tip over thanks to the training wheels. And those are taken out in post.
Is he ready for his son to see the movie?
He’ll see it in a couple of weeks. I brought him to work every time I had a musical number. And when we would drive through London while we were living there, he would point at Big Ben and say, “Daddy climbs that for work.” So I’m so curious now that he has much more language than he did, how those moments will sort of percolate and solidify in his brain. We made this movie right when my son was turning two. He was just gaining language. The biggest note Rob Marshall gave me is that all the other grownups forget what it’s like to be a child except for Jack. And so my biggest research was watching my son play in Princess Di park in Kensington Park in London, watching his boundless imagination. We are all born with that. That’s inherent in us until life does what it does. That was my secret weapon in finding Jack. I had a two-year-old research assistant who kept me childlike.
I have lots more to share about Mary Poppins Returns right here on As The Bunny Hops-you don’t want to miss it! Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters on December 19, 2018!
In Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” an all new original musical and sequel, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family find the joy and wonder missing in their lives following a personal loss. Emily Blunt stars as the practically-perfect nanny with unique magical skills who can turn any ordinary task into an unforgettable, fantastic adventure and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays her friend Jack, an optimistic street lamplighter who helps bring light—and life—to the streets of London.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is directed by Rob Marshall. The screenplay is by David Magee and the screen story is by Magee & Rob Marshall & John DeLuca based upon the Mary Poppins Stories by PL Travers. The producers are John DeLuca, p.g.a., Rob Marshall, p.g.a. and Marc Platt, p.g.a. with Callum McDougall serving as executive producer. The music score is by Marc Shaiman and the film features all new original songs with music by Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman. The film also stars Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and introducing Joel Dawson as the Banks’ children, with Colin Firth as Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’s William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy. Angela Lansbury appears as the Balloon Lady, a treasured character from the PL Travers books and Dick Van Dyke is Mr. Dawes, Jr., the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character.
Fans of Mary Poppins Returns will want to pick up these adorable Funko POPs from Entertainment Earth-they’re practically perfect in every way!