Emily Mortimer says inspirational people—both fictional and real—surrounded her while filming Mary Poppins Returns. “There were so many days on the movie where you wanted to pinch yourself,” says the English actress. “You couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Fifty-four years after Julie Andrews made her debut as “the practically perfect in every way” nanny, who flew in (courtesy of her parrot-handled umbrella) and introduced magic to the lives of the dysfunctional Banks family, the beloved character returned to the screen on December 19, 2018.
The new Disney musical-fantasy picks up 25 years after the events of the classic, with Poppins, played by Emily Blunt, returning to help the Banks children after tragedy befalls the family.
“I think we all fantasize about having that kind of person in our lives,” says Mortimer, who portrays the now-adult Jane Banks. “They are looking after you, and being quite tough and quite scary, yet they allow you to do all sorts of crazy, impossible things—like jumping through a chalk painting on the pavement or dancing on the rooftops of London with chimney sweeps.
“They encourage you to feel like you could do anything. As a child, there are people who give you that feeling of exhilaration and the potential of the universe and allow you to think in a big, bold way.”
While she is speaking of the Poppins character, who was first introduced to readers in the book series by P.L. Travers starting in 1934, Mortimer says it also describes the way she feels about the movie’s director, Rob Marshall.
“He wants the audience to be transported and have their imaginations firing on all cylinders,” Mortimer says. “It is in every fibre of his being, the urge and the need to entertain and make things exciting and exhilarating for the audience. It felt like he was putting on a show for us every day. It really got me caught up in the whole magic of the story.”
Yet, in a film filled with magical moments, it was a real-life encounter that stood out most for Mortimer. “When we all walked on set, and there was Dick Van Dyke, being absolutely brilliant and hilarious and heartbreaking at age 92,” she says of the actor who portrayed Bert in the 1964 movie. “He is another of these magical people because he doesn’t seem to age at all. He loves life and he hasn’t become a jaded person. I think that is why he is still going strong.”
Emily Mortimer’s Favourite London Spots:
“It was an old car showroom opposite the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. It is where my father loved to go. My father’s great line was that, ‘There’s no problem so big it can’t be solved by a nice white tablecloth and a glass of champagne.’ That was the restaurant that solved all our problems. It’s a really great restaurant in an incredible building.”
“[My children] are American, so I am trying to teach them about English life. The Tudor and Stuart sections of the National Portrait Gallery are amazing. You learn the order of the kings and queens and the history of the country from looking at these incredible paintings. It’s a really magical place and they have a lovely café [there] as well.”