Original-Cin Q&A: Mary Poppins Returns' Emily Mortimer on her dual fear of heights and singing

The long awaited, much anticipated Mary Poppins Returns hits theatres just in time for the holidays on Wednesday, Dec 19th. It is every bit as magical and delightful as the original Mary Poppins which was released more than a half-century ago, in 1964. 

Emily Blunt stars as everyone’s childhood-favourite nanny alongside Broadway veteran Lin-Manuel Miranda who plays Jack the Lamplighter.  

The sequel is set 30 years after the original Mary Poppins film, when Jane and Michael (now played by Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) are grown up. Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family in order to help them to re-discover the magic of life once again. 

Read our review of Mary Poppins Returns

With plenty of nods to the original film, this sequel not only pays homage to the classic nostalgia but also transports us to a new, exciting age of adventures with the magical nanny.

Emily Mortimer as a grown-up Jane in Mary Poppins Returns

Emily Mortimer as a grown-up Jane in Mary Poppins Returns

Our Bonnie Laufer spoke with Emily Mortimer who plays Jane about working on the film and why the entire experience has meant so much to her.  

 ORIGINAL-CIN: Welcome to Toronto and thank you for coming to discuss this absolutely spectacular film. I loved it so much,  I have already seen it twice! 

EMILY MORTIMER: “Are you serious?” 

OC: I am completely serious! 

EM: “How?” 

OC: I have my ways .. much like the magical Mary Poppins! (Both laugh)  Emily, what has it meant to you personally to be a part of this?  I am sure as a young girl you grew up with the original. And now fast forward 50 years, and you are in the sequel.

EM:  “It’s quite extraordinary, and I know it’s only going to feel better and better as time moves on and more people see it. But already, the reactions have been so fantastic. I have never been part of anything that has had such a broad appeal  and has been so universally loved.”

OC: It really is quite an amazing and special opportunity.

EM: “I grew up loving cinema and loving the original movie. But I love movies, and the fact that I am in a film that is actually going to be seen by millions of people in a movie theatre to me is  about as thrilling as it gets.  

This film kind of connects us to the history of cinema since it’s the history of Disney, and there are so many connections to the original movie, including the marvelous Dick Van Dyke, so it’s just  a total thrill to be a part of all this.”

OC: Since you mentioned Dick Van Dyke, let’s go there.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to have someone like him on set.  What he does in this movie is mind boggling. Tap dancing on a desk at the age of 91. He’s truly fantastic! 

EM: “I know, right? It’s insane. People keep asking me if that scene was CGI and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? He’s the real deal!’ 

There is no doubt in my mind that he embodies the spirit of  what the message of this movie is. There’s nothing more important than to try and keep the spirit of the child alive into adulthood, and  very few people manage it.  He is full of life and love and  curiosity and fun, and he is now 92 and still going strong. He’s an advert for how to age, which is basically, ‘Don’t!  Just remain a child and love life to the fullest.’”

OC: I understand you spent a little time with Karen Dotrice, the actress who played young Jane Banks in the original movie.

EM: “Yes, I did and she is so cool.  She’s about 65 now and has her own children, but she is just so cool and funny and feisty and so down to earth. 

“To see her walk on to the set and walk down the recreated Cherry Tree Lane for the first time in 54 years was an extraordinary moment.  She was literally taken back in time and was so overcome with emotion. It was tremendously nostalgic and moving. It was a real privilege to be with her when it happened.”

OC:  Your director Rob Marshall did such a great job on this movie. But he also was adamant about staying true to the original film as much as possible.  Is it true that he would play the original soundtrack during the set-up of certain scenes to make it nostalgic for the cast?  You had to be pinching yourself for most of the shoot. 

EM: “Yes, I was pinching myself a lot while making this movie. Actually for once in my life I truly did not want the experience to end.  I normally wish everything away, or want to be somewhere else. I am constantly feeling guilty being away because I want to be with my kids or I think, ‘What am i doing here, looking after somebody else’s kids?’

“But on this film shoot I never felt like that.  On this one occasion I actually managed to feel very grateful. It would have been impossible not to realize how lucky you were, and I know that everyone in this cast and crew felt the same way. I just knew that I was so privileged to be there and treasure every moment and not take one minute for granted.”

OC: Why do you think 'Mary Poppins' is still such a family favourite? 

EM:  “I think because it captures something in all of our fantasies about this kind of magical parent figure that isn't our parents. Mary Poppins, although strict and proper, has a sense of wonder about her and is very loving and of course magical. She represents the person we would ALL love to take care of us and have fun with. 

“The story and the movie is an important part of all of our childhoods. It was my mother's and then it was my childhood, and it was my own kids' childhood (now 15 and 16). They first watched that film from when they were about three years old.”

OC: You got to conquer a few of your fears making this film. You not only have a fear of heights, but you are not particularly fond of singing and you had to do both! 

EM: “You’re right, I hate doing both of those things.  They terrify me. Yet in one scene I had to do both at the same time!  I was being suspended in the air to make it look like i was flying and I had to sing! I’m very bad at both things and I hate them. I am very scared of heights and I can’t sing for toffee.”

OC: You did great! 

EM: “Well I have to tell you that I had very sweaty palms for the entire time. And I felt most sorry for poor Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is my love interest in the movie. He had to hold my hand for hours at a time. He had to keep wiping the sweat from my clammy hands off his hands. It was awful.”

OC Rob Marshall has said that, especially in the times we are currently living in, he hopes that this movie will bring joy and hope to people. How do you feel about that? 

 EM:  “I completely agree and from what I am hearing already it’s making people happy. This film is intravenous entertainment. Just when you think you can’t take any more of it, Dick Van Dyke pops up, or there’s another incredible song and dance number, or beautiful hand-drawn animation, or appearances by Angela Lansbury or Meryl Streep, and so on.  

“It just makes you feel good and I agree, it is something we need right now and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!”