‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Premiere: Cast and Crew Talk Pressure of Living Up to the Original Film

By Nate Nickolai

When composers and lyricists Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman won the opportunity to create new songs for a “Mary Poppins Returns,” it wasn’t all celebration.

“We heard we were up for it, and we were ravenous to do it, and yet petrified at the same time,” Shaiman told Variety‘s Marc Malkin on Thursday at the movie’s red carpet premiere in Hollywood. “It’s very scary, and believe me I won’t be reading under any of the comments sections of anything having to do with our songs.”

Looking at the film’s legacy, it’s easy to see where Shaiman’s trepidation come from. The original “Mary Poppins” received 13 Oscar nominations and five wins, one of which was for Best Original Music Score.

“Mary Poppins Returns” director Rob Marshall also felt the pressure of living up to the original. “It was the hardest project I’ve ever done because it was literally like three movies in one,” he said. “We were creating an original musical, and this very sort of delicate balancing act of paying homage to the first film but creating something completely new. That was a challenge the entire time.”

Following in the footsteps of its 1964 predecessor, “Mary Poppins Returns” still features the film’s titular nanny, but this time it’s Emily Blunt who arrives at the home of the Banks family, now with a Michael (Ben Wishaw) raising children of his own after his wife dies.

Playing Michael’s sister Jane is Emily Mortimer, who said she never dreamed of being cast in a “Mary Poppins” sequel. Mortimer  also shared her favorite song from the original, “Sister Suffragette,” the lyrics of which she said is perfect for the #MeToo era: “Though we adore men individually/ We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid!”

Ben Whishaw echoed Mortimer’s statements, saying he also never imagined he would be acting in a “Mary Poppins” film, especially since the film had such an enormous impact on his childhood.

“When I was a child, I loved it so much. I watched it endless times,” he said. “It’s always had a very profound place in my heart I suppose.”

Disney shut down a block of Hollywood Boulevard with a tented red carpet leading to the screening at the Dolby Theater. An after party in the Ray Dolby Ballroom featured jugglers, ballon animal makers, a cotton candy stand and displays of the movie’s Sandy Powell-designed costumes for the movie. The menu included English staples, including Shepherd’s pie.

The guest list included Blunt’s husband John KrasinskiMatt Damon, Allison Janney, John Stamos, Matthew Morrison, celebrity chef Ina Garten, Caroline Rhea, Billy Crystal, Beth Behrs, Topher Grace and Jenifer Lewis, among many others.