Emily Blunt had one of the best years in her career in 2018, with “A Quiet Place” in April and “Mary Poppins Returns” in December. She has earned awards attention for both roles, including Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG Award nominations for playing the titular role in “Mary Poppins Returns” and an additional SAG nomination in supporting for “A Quiet Place.”
Blunt recently chatted with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum about stepping into such iconic shoes for “Mary Poppins Returns,” what it was like to work with beloved stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep and Dick Van Dyke, and the incredible response to “A Quiet Place.” Watch the exclusive video convo above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Emily, I would love to know about that first conversation when they sent “Mary Poppins” to you.
Emily Blunt: Shocked silence on the receiving end from me. Rob [Marshall], he makes everything feel so special for you so even the phone call offering the role had a sense of ceremony to it and I know him very well. We’ve known each other for a long time but it did have a different energy to it, this phone call, so I knew something pretty major was probably coming and when he said it’s Mary Poppins, I feel like the air changed in the room ‘cause you are just instantly bombarded by these thoughts of just how iconic she is and what she’s meant to me, to everybody, the searing imprint she’s had on people’s lives, really, and often the first film that people saw was “Mary Poppins.” So a mix of thrill and some trepidations, like, “How do I carve out a new space for myself? How do I take a big swing and do my own version of her?” So I was bombarded by thoughts of excitement and fear, probably.
GD: I would imagine the fact that it was a sequel of sorts rather than a remake, probably nobody wanted to see a remake of a classic like that.
EB: Well no, and why would you? You shouldn’t. That should just be treasured and left just as it is, but yet there were seven books written so there’s room for more magic. There’s room for more adventure, and this is the next chapter, so I would never want to do some bad impersonation of Julie Andrews, who is like a national treasure for everybody. This was a more exciting prospect. Still with enormous pressure on not just me, everyone, Rob Marshall, production design, costume, everything. They were dealing with some big iconic boulders to move aside to create something new and yet pay homage so it’s just a very fine line and you just need someone like Rob Marshall, who is just so protective and loving of the original and yet brave. Very brave to take this on, and classy and elegant, a meticulous approach to making this film. He cared so deeply and I think you feel those fingerprints all over it.
GD: Have you had any kind of conversation with Dame Julie?
EB: I have not, but I met her years ago and then Rob is quite close with her and when he said that I was gonna play the part she was very supportive of it but I haven’t spoken to her directly.
GD: I’ve got this idea and I wish it would happen so much. I hope you do, too. They have not announced the Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient yet for the Golden Globes. What better perfect year to select her?
EB: Oh god, it would be so awesome! That’s such a good idea.
GD: Well maybe they’ll see this.
EB: They should. Do it.
GD: Rob Marshall being involved had to also make it palatable. If some other director had called it might have been more of a challenge in your mind of whether you wanted to do it.
EB: True. You’re so right, and I think my own prior experience of working with him, my friendship with him, was enormously comforting because I know Rob knows how to dig for the gold. He just knows how to do it and we really get each other. We collaborate well, we work really well together, I knew I’d be protected. I knew this wouldn’t be the sort of 2018 version of “Mary Poppins.” This could still be a classic, which is what we all wanted.
GD: What moment along the way, either prep time or on-set did you really feel like, “Okay, I think I know what I’m doing here.”
EB: Oh god (laughs). I mean, I had a couple of “Aha” moments in prep, just by myself, actually. I remember John [Krasinski] was doing a play and so I had the house completely to myself at night and I would just sort of wander around and try stuff out. This was months before we started rehearsing. So when I started rehearsing I did have a good take on her, I think, or an idea of what I wanted to do, and we rehearsed for nine weeks. The characters, the songs, the scenes were so in our bones by that point that even day one of shooting, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so prepared going into a film, ‘cause normally it’s so fly by the seat of your pants, and you’ve got no rehearsal and you’re just flung in at the deep end day one, barely knowing your co-stars, barely knowing what your material is, knowing there’s work to be done on the script, you’re kind of rewriting on the day and there was none of that. It was just all about the details and the colors. But admittedly, first few days of shooting, things are feeling a little bit sticky. I feel like I haven’t quite fallen into it. I think it takes me a couple of days to really feel like, “All right, I’ve got it together.”
GD: And Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’m sure you’d seen him on Broadway.
EB: Oh, like four times, like a fangirl! Completely obsessed with “Hamilton.” I’m so obsessed with “Hamilton,” and he knew that, and actually, over the course of me seeing it several times, when I first met him, I don’t think either of us had been approached about “Mary Poppins.” Second time, I think I had been cast. Third time I went to see him, he had just been cast. It was just this wonderful secret that we sort of had for a while. He’s such a genius and such a wonderful, optimistic, cool guy. He has that natural exuberance and warmth that was so necessary for the character of Jack, who truly just walks into every day with great hope.
GD: So he even surpassed even what you were expecting from him.
EB: Yeah, yeah. For sure. I think he had a blast doing it. I think it was a relief for him not to be everything to everyone, suddenly. I think it had been a really surreal year for him and so, to just transplant his family to the U.K. and get to be in this extraordinary world for a while, I think it was pretty cool.
GD: One of my all-time favorite performers, well you’ve got two or three of them in this movie, but Dick Van Dyke, when we were in our audience screening, you and Rob appeared right after that, he gets the most massive amount of applause just appearing onscreen, and then to see him dance in his 90s.
EB: It’s just extraordinary, isn’t it? I mean, that was a really moving day for everyone. I think people just couldn’t stop crying, ‘cause he’s also so full of life. He’s so youthful. He almost had to play older in the character ‘cause he’s so sharp and with it, and Lin and I were there to assist him onto the desk that he then tap-dances on at 92, and he sort of waved us away like he didn’t need it. That was a deep lunge to get up on that! Seriously! I would find it hard to get up there. He started dancing and the crew went crazy. People applauded him all day and for Rob Marshall, who was so affected by Dick Van Dyke growing up and he was such a hero for Rob, when Dick does this beautiful monologue, Rob couldn’t even speak. He couldn’t even say, “Cut.” He was crying. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment working with him.
GD: And you get to work with Meryl Streep again. I remember you being part of her Kennedy Center Honors, so you’re not just a coworker of hers but a big fan of hers as well. She’s not really done anything like this particular scene that she has that I can recall.
EB: I know, she’s so wild in it. She’s so brilliant. That is actually her swinging around the chandelier like a lunatic. I was like, “Oh my god, Meryl.” She’s just so awesome and I think she had a really good time on it and definitely signed on in the same way that all of us wanted to sign on, that, during this time where things might feel fragile for a lot of people, to make a film like this, took on a new poignancy. She was like, “This film needs to be out there in the world right now, this film about hope and healing.” That was her feeling going in and then she got to play this absolutely bonkers characters. She’s the coolest.
GD: We’re an awards website so I wanna ask you a couple questions along those lines. I think your career really took a huge jump winning your first Golden Globe. That’s 12 ceremonies ago.
EB: Was it really? Yikes!
GD: We were looking up the date earlier. It was the 2007 ceremony so almost 12 years ago. What did that mean for you and your career?
EB: Well, to be honest, it was such early days for me in my career as well, so to get two nominations at the Golden Globes that year and then I won one, I was like, “What is happening?” It was just so surreal. And I think all of it was so new to me, so I knew it was a really big deal, but I think it was probably a bit of a blur, the whole thing. Certainly “The Devil Wears Prada” did change a lot for me because I was seen as a character actress then, as someone who could do not just one thing. That was all I’ve ever wanted, was to not be pigeonholed as one thing, so if you’re in a film that everyone loves and everyone sees and then there’s success and awards for it, it will certainly shape-shift your career really quickly.
GD: Was that your first big award show to attend?
GD: And you get all the big TV and film stars in one room.
EB: Yeah, it was crazy. I met a lot of them that night. It was all so new to me. All of it was so new. I still get rather overwhelmed at those shows. It can still be overwhelming.
GD: And we could see you there for “Mary Poppins” and “A Quiet Place,” I wanted to bring that movie up just for a moment, of course with John, your husband. Now that that’s been out in the world for several months, what’s your big takeaway from doing that movie? What do you hear from people?
EB: That it’s people’s favorite movie of the year. That’s what I hear so much, is people say, “It was my favorite film of the year. I’ve seen it three times.” I think that the stratospheric life that it took on was so unexpected, so it’s so rewarding for John and I, obviously, massively for John ‘cause it’s so his baby. Page one rewrite of the screenplay, directed, produced, is in it, it’s me and him together. It’s so personal to both of us, and especially to him. I think that people feel that, so people are very moved by it and surprised by it. People who hate horror love the movie, and I hate horror movies and I love this film. I think to do something that’s original and for it do as well as it did and the word of mouth spreading like quick-fire, I think it was the most rewarding thing, and people talk about specific scenes that they are horrified by, like the bathtub scene. People talk to me about the bathtub scene a lot, and the nail scene. Those are the two ones people are like, “Oh my god, the nail scene!”
GD: Well there’s at least two or three movies every year — one thing I love about what I’m about to say — they come so unexpectedly out of nowhere that they do captivate people. I’m thinking the previous year maybe of “Get Out,” not because of their similar horror movie vein, but you go into a movie and you don’t necessarily have any expectations and then you get blown away. Those are the kind of movies that you love forever.
EB: Oh yeah. And I think that that has been such a joy for he and I. There was no strategy when he made this film. He made an art movie, really, and we shot it in six and a half weeks. I feel like John made this movie with a gun to his head under the time constraints and the budget. We didn’t know. We had no idea and I remember going to that South by Southwest screening and nobody had seen the film. I’d seen it, the producers, and that’s about it. We went to that South by screening and it was like being in a Beatles concert. It was just madness. The response to it was so insane. And we knew after that, and the word of mouth started to spread and that’s when you have the benefits of social media, which I’m such a dinosaur about, but the benefits of it, you really see it when you have a movie like that that screens at South by.
GD: Well nobody’s had a bigger year than you and a better year so congratulations and good luck on “Mary Poppins.”
EB: Thank you very much. Thank you.