When I was in Los Angeles for the Mary Poppins Returns premiere I had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer, who play Michael Banks and Jane Banks in the movie.
In Mary Poppins Returns, Jane and Michael Banks are the adult versions of the kids who needed a nanny in Mary Poppins. Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer were perfectly cast as the older Banks siblings, and I love that they looked and acted a bit like siblings offscreen, too!
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How do you work joy and wonder into your life?
Emily Mortimer: Alcohol…and cigarettes! [laughs]
Ben Whishaw: [laughing] None of them are healthy, if I’m honest with you.
Emily Mortimer: Same! I’ve got two kids and, I guess it’s a cliche, but cliches are true! That’s why they’re cliches. They’re very helpful in abating the opposite of joy and wonder…the pain and fear and the loneliness that’s just sort of constantly there, you know.
One of them is coming with me to the premiere tonight. Sam, my 15 year old. Then my 8 year old is coming to the one in London. So I’m giving them both this whole thing.
It’s such a treat to come to these things but you forget, because you get stressed out about how you look and whether you look like an idiot and whether you deserve to be there at all.
But when you bring your kids you see it through their eyes and you appreciate it.
How did your kids feel about the original Mary Poppins? Have they seen Mary Poppins Returns?
Emily Mortimer: Neither of them have seen the new one, but they love Mary Poppins. They’re psyched about the whole thing.
We were in Barnes and Noble the other day and my daughter found the book of Mary Poppins Returns and Emily Blunt was on the cover. She flipped through it and found my picture and she’s never been more impressed by me, ever. She kept telling everyone, “Mum’s in a book!”
Rob Marshall has said that he got his first choice for all the actors in Mary Poppins Returns. How does it feel to have him saying that about you?
Ben Whishaw: When Rob Marshall likes you, he really, really, really likes you. He doesn’t hold back. You feel his love. You feel his excitement about what you might bring to the table.
Having worked with some directors who don’t have that quality; I really, really value that. In a way that’s everything.
Emily Mortimer: It makes you your best self. My dad always said that if you tell people they’re beautiful and wonderful and cleaver and talented and special and amazing, they are. We feel like that’s Rob’s strategy. You believe him.
Ben Whishaw: Why would you not want to believe him?
Emily Mortimer: He’s so encouraging and he makes you feel special and that you have a right to be there.
Did you get a chance to talk to Karen Dotrice, the actress who played Jane Banks in Mary Poppins?
Emily Mortimer: We had about half a day with her. She just hung out with us. She saw Cherry Tree Lane for the first time since she was a little girl. She was really moved and sort of blown away by the whole thing. We talked about making the movie when she was a little English school girl and had been transported to Los Angeles, because they shot the original movie in Los Angeles.
We talked about how bizarre that was. Both with her and with Dick Van Dyke, it was just an extraordinary thing to have these connections to the original movie. It felt so validating that they were excited about it and into it and felt thrilled by the whole experience.
What was the most challenging scene for you both to create?
Ben Whishaw: I think that the final scene was quite challenging. I mean, everything was, but that had to be the climactic moment. It’s weirdly much easier sometimes to play misery and grief. But being open-hearted and happy can be quite hard…especially when you’ve been miserable the whole movie.
Emily Whishaw: I remember feeling quite confused by how to be when we talked into the house, when it was empty of all the furniture and we were clearing out the stuff. The temptation was to really make a meal out of the scene.
Rob Marshall was really good. He said, you’ve done your grieving. The sadness is going to come from seeing people trying to be happy. Trying to do their best and to be happy. Which is what most of us spend their lives trying to do. Not kind of wallow in the pain. And then it will be more heartbreaking.
As an actor, when you put in this sad moment you’re tempted to really milk it. I remember feeling grateful to his direction at that moment he was like, no. Keep the ball in the air. Keep it optimistic.
Is there anything special you did to capture your sibling chemistry?
Ben Whishaw: We were really lucky. we immediately enjoyed each other’s company and giggled about things and gossiped. And we had an awful lot of time in rehearsals, waiting.
Emily Mortimer: Waiting to go on for rehearsals, and there were weeks and weeks of rehearsals. then acting together. Then sitting around the set for months, months, months together.
Ben Whishaw: So much waiting. You spend most of the time sitting in a little tent. By a heater.
Emily Mortimer: Planning your lunch. Getting obsessed by what you’re going to have for lunch.
Do you have a favorite scene from Mary Poppins Returns?
Ben Whishaw: I really love the big dance number, Trip a Little Light Fantastic. I’m just knocked out by it. It’s tremendous.
Emily Mortimer: I’m the same. I think it’s amazing. You almost can’t catch your breath. It’s like intravenous entertainment. Just when you think you’ve had enough, it’s like you’ve gorged yourself. Then along comes Dick Van Dyke and then there’s that dance. Just more, more, more. It’s amazing.
Mary Poppins Returns opens on December 19, 2018. Get your tickets and see local showtimes now!
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Mary Poppins Returns arrives in theaters everywhere on December 19, 2018. See more details and information about your local showtimes here!
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About Mary Poppins Returns
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 and the screenplay is by David Magee. The screen story is by Magee & Rob Marshall & John DeLuca and it’s based upon the Mary Poppins Stories written 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 is set in 1930s Depression-era London, almost 25 years after the original Mary Poppins took place. The grown Michael Banks works for the same financial institution that employed his father. He still lives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his three children, Annabel, John and Georgie, along with Ellen, their housekeeper.
Jane Banks continues in her mother’s honor as she campaigns for workers’ rights and offers a helping hand to Michael’s family.
When the Banks family suffers a personal loss, Mary Poppins magically returns to their lives. With Jack’s help, she brings joy and wonder back into their home at Cherry Tree Lane.
The film also stars Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and introducing Joel Dawson as the Banks’ children, with Colin Firth as William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Mary’s cousin, Topsy. Angela Lansbury appears as the Balloon Lady, a treasured character from the PL Travers books and Dick Van Dyke appears as Mr. Dawes, Jr., a retired chairman of the bank that’s now run by Firth’s character.