Mary Poppins Returns Director Rob Marshall shares his philosophy on directing, what it’s like to work with Dick Van Dyke and more in this exclusive interview! Tons of great information about using props and music from the original film and more.
I was invited by Disney, ABC & Freeform to Los Angeles for an all-inclusive Mary Poppins Returns Event. All opinions and ideas are 100% honest and my own!
I’ve already shared highlights from interviews from the Mary Poppins Returns’ main cast, now it’s time to talk about our experience with the crew behind the magic starting with the director himself, Rob Marshall!
And if you missed any of the previous Mary Poppins Returns interviews, make sure to check those out too!
- Mary Poppins Returns red carpet experience
- Emily Blunt interview
- Lin-Manuel Miranda interview
- Mary Poppins Returns Movie Review (no spoilers!)
- Ben Whishaw & Emily Mortimer interviews
Now let’s hear from Rob!
Rob Marshall on His Team
One of the things we heard numerous times throughout the interviews was that when Rob Marshall likes you, he really likes you. And that he was very positive and encouraging to his cast.
When we asked him how he did this – how he convinced his actors to do the impossible and get over their fears of things like heights and singing, his answer was long but absolutely perfect. I can tell why his team loved working with him!
You know it’s sort of interesting when I work with actors I really find they need to feel positive reinforcement you know, and it’s such a simple thing to do. It’s like being a really good parent you know. And I try to achieve that when we’re working.
For instance, I mean as an example Ben Whishaw, who plays Michael Banks, he’s never sung before you know. He was sort of nervous about how do you do that, and I always feel that people can do so much. It’s just feeling that they can and knowing that they can.
I like to protect them in rehearsals when – you know we had over 2 months of rehearsals. So it was during that time that you know you can fail and be bad and then learn to get better and not feel judged. That’s a really important thing.
I like to protect actors to make them feel they can do things and try things. And everybody was so nervous on this film because you know we were following that extraordinary film that means so much to me and so much to so many people. I’m sure everybody in this room.
And so we knew we were doing the impossible, but I honestly felt like if we did it together from the right place with a great respect from the first film and found our own way at the same time, then we would at least have done it in the right way and then you hope it works.
Can we just pause for a minute and appreciate the brilliance of this style of directing? And parenting to be honest. Who else wishes that we got months and months of rehearsals as parents before the real show went on each day. I know I for sure could use a little practice in patience and positive reinforcement!
Odes to the Original Film
During 2017’s D23 convention, Rob Marshall mentioned that the original table from the first movie was used in Mary Poppins Returns. We of course had to ask him if they used any of the other original props from the first film!
Rob visited the Disney archives to see what he could find and use,
They really didn’t have the archives in the 60’s, not much, there’s some. What there is I saw – so you remember the blocks from Mary Poppins? We replicated the blocks. They didn’t want to give us the blocks, but we replicated the blocks. They’re in the attic if you look. Also the snow globe – we replicated that as well.
So the only real thing is that table in the front hall, which I saw at Club 33 at Disneyland, and I said, ‘That’s in the movie if you let us have it,” and they did! So that was really moving to me, and the kite of course we replicated that – you know created our own version of the kite. Those very specific things from the first film that I really wanted to hold onto if I could you know – that’s for the people who love the first film who know it. It’s those first little Easter eggs. You know I use myself honestly as a barometer the whole time – what would I want to see?
I wouldn’t want to abuse it too much because it’s so very easy to sort of overdo it, but I wanted to specifically and strategically place things that meant something to people.
Rob also gave us a little bit of insider info into how they decided to use music from the original film sporadically in Mary Poppins Returns.
It’s a real puzzle that I knew that obviously you know when you hear strains from Feed the Birds or Supercalifragilistic… you know whenever you hear a Spoonful of Sugar, those mean so much to us. You can abuse that.
So I strategically placed the music exactly like the props and things. In fact, the majority of it happens literally in the last like 15 minutes. Because I feel like we’ve earned it by that time. I feel like she looks in the balloon and you hear a Spoonful of Sugar or they’re up in the air and you hear a little Let’s Go Fly a Kite.
Because we’re coming full circle. Michael’s now a child, and we tried to make it something that was emotional.
I will say when Dick Van Dyke does the monologue to the kids… and you hear Feed the Birds. I will tell you now that when I shot that scene… I had Feed the Birds, the music, in my ear, and I’m watching Dick Van Dyke, and I have him in my ear too, and he’s delivering this monologue, and I honestly broke down. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t say cut. I couldn’t say it.
I just couldn’t – nothing came out. I was so moved. I mean I think Emily said cut or something. I think that’s it, that’s it, because I was just couldn’t believe my life had come full circle. From a 4-year-old boy having seen the film with Dick Van Dyke there, hearing Feed the Birds, watching him say that. He’s in our film 54 years later as a 91 year old man. I mean that’s just magic to me. It was total magic – I’m really, I’m still not over it.
Rob Marshall on Dick Van Dyke
Speaking of Dick Van Dyke – the question we all wanted to know from every member of the cast and crew was how was it working with Dick Van Dyke. I mean he’s just an icon and when we walked into the red carpet premiere theater, everyone immediately stood and cheer. What a magical moment.
Rob continued the sentiment,
He’s something else. I mean that’s no one like him. I was so excited and nervous to even call him to ask him to do this you know because he’s a hero for me. …talking to him he just disarms you immediately. He’s so joyous and it’s just sort of who he is, and he said yes so quickly. He wanted to be part – he was excited to be part of it.
And when he came onto the set he honest to God grabbed my arm as we were walking on. He said, ‘I feel the same spirit here on this set that I did in the first film.” And I thought okay well that’s everything, that’s all I needed to hear. That was everything for me to hear that from him.
And after you’ve watched the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about but it is in fact Dick Van Dyke dancing in the movie.
Rob Marshall on the Animation
The animation sequences in Mary Poppins Returns are amazing, one of the reasons I raved about the movie in my Mary Poppins Returns review! According to Rob, those animation sequences are actually the hardest of all the scenes in the movie.
It’s the first thing we shot, right away, because the animators – you know it’s all hand drawn animation, every frame. We needed to get that material to the animators right away.
And the reason our post production was I think close to 14 or 15 months was because of the hand drawn animation. They needed that time. Can you imagine – flip, draw, flip, draw. It’s crazy – it’s so hard.
So you know putting that together we started with the musical number The Cover is Not the Book, and we had to shoot it literally three different times. The first time you shoot it, you shoot it with Mary Poppins.
So it’ll be Mary Poppins and then we would have reference dancers being the penguins. And then we would take them out, and she would dance alone and pretend they’re there. And then I would take Mary out and put just the penguins, reference dancers, in so that the animators would know exactly how, so all that’s very specifically choreographed.
The layers of it were so complicated. You walk into a huge green room and everyone’s – you know, I’m trying to pretend that they’re in a carriage. The carriage isn’t moving because that’s all background, but the kids have to have an eye line that watches a big giraffe go by. And we have this huge giraffe for instance, on a pole, just walking it past as the kids are imaging it. You know everybody have to really launch their imagination to see what it was gonna be.
But I don’t think anybody quite expected what it was going to end up being until they saw it. And that was mind blowing for Lin, Emily, and the kids. They were blown away – ‘wow, that’s what we were doing?’
Rob Marshall on More Movies
The last question was asking Rob about next steps. With eight books, there’s plenty of material to use for more Mary Poppins adventures. And I think I’ll just with Rob’s final quote when we asked him about more movies.
There are other stories there for sure you know. There’s a lot of Star Wars stories. There can be a lot of Mary Poppins stories. That’s my fill.
Check back tomorrow for fun details and facts from two of the youngest Banks’ children – Pixie Davies and Joel Dawson.
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 (“A Quiet Place,” “The Girl on the Train”) stars as the practically-perfect nanny with unique magical skills who can turn any ordinary task into an unforgettable, fantastic adventure and LinManuel Miranda (“Hamilton,” “Moana”) plays her friend Jack, an optimistic street lamplighter who helps bring light—and life—to the streets of London.
Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters everywhere on December 19, 2018.