When I was first invited to the premiere of Mary Poppins Returns, my first thought, my very first thought, was Lin-Manuel Miranda. I only had hopes that he would be on my interview schedule, and the very thought of being near him for any amount of time had my mind racing.
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I’ve been a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda since In the Heights won the Tony award for Best Musical in 2008. When word got out that he had written music for Star Wars, the Force Awakens, I convinced my friend to ask the director about it when she interviewed him for the movie’s press junket.
— Enza Ketcham (@EnzasBargains) December 7, 2015
I bought tickets to Hamilton while I was in New York in 2016, but saw it exactly one week after Miranda departed from the show. I’ve written Hamilton gift guides and created Hamilton pumpkin carving patterns.
In short, I’m a huge fan. I had a million questions for him. Most of them had nothing to do with Mary Poppins Returns (Was Alebanza from In the Heights influenced by Rent’s Without You is probably at the top of my list!), so they’re still all in my head. At the same time, once it was confirmed that I would be interviewing Lin-Manuel Miranda, I knew I’d eat up any and all information that he would offer up.
I’m thrilled that I had the chance to interview Lin-Manuel Miranda for Mary Poppins Returns, and now I’m excited to share all the details with you!
It’s been a long time since you professionally performed work other than your own. How did that work for you, doing Mary Poppins Returns?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: It is the fruit of the harvest.
I started writing In the Heights because I quickly realized at age eighteen that no one was going to write my dream musical. I didn’t have the ballet training to play Bernardo in West Side Story. Or Paul in A Chorus Line.If you’re a Puerto Rican dude that’s all you get in the canon.
In the Heights really was the beginning of creating my own opportunities. Hamilton is an extension of that.
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 going to build from there. It felt like the fruit of the harvest. The harvest I began when I was eighteen years old.
How is it different being in musical theater versus starting in a musical movie production like Mary Poppins Returns?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: You finish the eight minute dance number and you wait a year and a half for applause.
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 going to hit them differently depending on your energy, the audience, you’re fellow performers.
The energy source in making a film, 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 with Meryl Streep tomorrow. So the adrenaline source becomes this once in a lifetime moment and you have to be completely present. So it shifts from the audience to the sheer one-of-a-kindness of it.
What scene in Mary Poppins Returns are you most proud of?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: [laughs] Tommy Kail, who directed Hamilton, said that he was most moved when he saw me slide down the bannister in Trip a Little Light Fantastic because that’s like the one thing I actually know how to do really well.
As he 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 bannisters!.”
There were also the moments that represent hours and hours of hard work.
From the eight minute, continuous dance sequence in Trip a Little Light Fantastic; Three minutes of the song are getting to the abandoned playground, and that was on location throughout London. Now we’re here. Now we’re in the sewer. Now we’re here. Then there’s that sequence. That whole 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. I’m very proud of that. I’ve never danced like that in my life.
None of my shows…there’s incredible dancing in Hamilton. Hamilton doesn’t do it. So I was very proud of that [Mary Poppins returns scene] because it was a lot of hard work to get there.
How did you feel about the costumes in Mary Poppins Returns? About dancing in them?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Sandy Powell [the Mary Poppins Returns costume designer] is a wizard and she’s sort of a Mary Poppins herself. She looks not of this world. She comes in with this orange hair and these amazing outfits. The next thing you know, you’re wearing an amazing outfit, which is very Poppins-esque.
But dancing was always given priority. So even in those hand-painted suits in the Royal Doulton Bowl. It is painted, like acrylic paint on the suit, there’s give and there’s stretch in the pants so we can do our work.
Do you remember when you first saw Mary Poppins and what it meant to you?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I remember seeing the first two-thirds of Mary Poppins. We had the VHS cassette and, some of you will remember this, they had their own section of the home library because they were fluffy and white, a little bigger than your shelf. Then I remember turning it off during Feed the Birds. Feed the Birds is the most devastating melody in the history of cinema.
I wasn’t ready for Feed the Birds as a kid. I remember crying and turning it off. I didn’t see the end of Mary Poppins till I was in high school because that song was just too sad for my tender little heart.
Dick Van Dyke was kind of infamous for the accent in Mary Poppins. What was the process of taking on the Bert-esque role in Mary Poppins Returns?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Best accent in the history of cinema!
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 was any indication.
The fun of that is, music is sort of my catalyst for everything. So I had an amazing dialect coach named Sandra Butterworth, which is a very Poppinsian name in and of itself. She became my closest friend and ally on set, whispering in my ear between takes.
Sandra Butterworth realized that music was my way in. So it wasn’t just listening to music sung in the East End Cockney accent, it was music in the 1930s. It wasn’t just about the part of the world, it was about the time of the world. So I listened to a lot of Anthony Newley, who was a big sort of music hall star who wrote a Broadway musical, called Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.
I listened to a lot of Newley’s early stuff, and that was sort of my north star for the accent.
How do you feel that you can inspire children, your son, that everything is possible?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I was inspired by him. We started making Mary Poppins Returns right when my son was turning two. He was just gaining language.
The biggest note Rob Marshall gave me about my character was that all the other grownups forget what it’s like to be a child, except for Jack.
So my biggest research was watching my son play in Princess Di park in Kensington Park in London, watching his imagination.
We’re all born with that. I think it’s inherent in us until life does what it does. My secret weapon in finding Jack was I had a two year old research assistant who kept me childlike and kept me in that mode.
How was it to perform with Meryl Streep?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Every day with Meryl Streep feels like you’re in the upside down. It’s like, how is this my life? How are we on the ceiling? It was a joy.
I watch that sequence more closely every time I watch the movie because it’s a triumph of production design, the way every ceiling element becomes a floor element. Then Meryl…you know, I talked to Emily Blunt about this. She’s done three films with Meryl. She’s gone from being her assistant to being the lead of the movie. It’s kind of an incredible product.
What Emily told me going in was that Meryl stays in character, but not like method, not like Daniel Day Lewis cobbling shoes. She’s kind of in the spirit ofit. I felt so lucky that she was in the spirit of a character that’s so mischievous and flirty and fun.
There’s a moment between setups where she just looked at the kids and went, “Hey, kids. You want to know how to do a pratfall?” And she went from standing up to face down. Everyone ran in like, Meryl Streep has died! And she gets up and says, “I learned that at Yale School of Drama.”
Has your son seen Mary Poppins Returns?
Lin Manuel-Miranda: Not yet. He’ll see it in a couple of weeks.
I brought him to work every time I had a musical number. 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.
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.