Emily Blunt on her Surrey education and playing Mary Poppins

Emily Blunt by Gordon Correl (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flic.kr/p/aBkr17

Emily Blunt by Gordon Correl (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flic.kr/p/aBkr17 - Credit: Emily Blunt by Gordon Correl (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flic.kr/p/aBkr17

She’s the Hollywood star who was born in London and educated in Surrey, so it makes perfect sense that Emily Blunt should play one of the most iconic British characters in cinematic history, Mary Poppins, in this month’s highly anticipated follow-up to the 1964 classic

Emily Blunt must have been born with a wry expression and a mischievous take on the world. The Westminster-born beauty is a sassy, happy-go-lucky woman whose spirit is infectious to anyone who has the good fortune to make her acquaintance. This makes her the ideal choice to succeed cinema legend Julie Andrews as everyone’s favourite nanny in the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns.

The Disney follow-up – which hits cinemas later this month – has been shrouded in secrecy, so fans can only wonder at what treats lay in store. And while Rob Marshall, the film’s director, insists the 35-year-old was “born to play Mary Poppins”, the ever-humble Blunt is aware that no actress could ever match Andrews’s inimitable performance, and that’s why she, Marshall, and Disney wanted to reinvent the character with a modern spin on Poppins.

“No one is ever going to ‘out-Julie’ Julie Andrews. She’s just unbelievable,” Blunt said while presenting the first trailer for the film at the recent D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. “I needed to pay homage to what Julie Andrews did but also carve out space for myself… I just had to do my version of [Mary Poppins].”

As part of her research, Blunt took time to read the original series of books by P. L. Travers, and this helped her move away from Andrews’ more saccharine interpretation of the character, adding: “We were loyal to the books. I think she’s a little more acerbic and vain and weird in the books and we went in that direction. The idea of this magical, mysterious person whisking into their lives and making everything right again was really comforting. Children respond to the lack of sentimentality that she has. She’s rude, and eccentric and odd!”

The film will hopefully serve as the final glory in a steady winning streak Blunt has enjoyed, coming hot on the heels of her outstanding performances in Girl on the Train, Sicario, and her most recent turn opposite real-life husband John Krasinksi – who also directed and wrote the screenplay – in the critically acclaimed A Quiet Place. But despite wowing audiences since her entrance into Hollywood over a decade ago as the ditzy, shallow but ultimately lovable fashion assistant Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt hasn’t always been the confident and charismatic woman we see today, and in fact it was during her time in Surrey that the Golden-Globe-winning star finally found her feet.

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Becoming a Surrey rose

Raised in Roehampton, South-west London, she is the second-born in a family of over-achievers. Her father Oliver, is a highly-regarded barrister, her mother Joanna a teacher and former actress, and her uncle Crispin looks after his own lofty rank as a Conservative MP, so it should come as no surprise that Emily and her three siblings were expected to aim high academically. But life wasn’t straightforward for Blunt who developed a stutter aged 12 (which she overcame in her teens), leading to self-esteem issues and a general feeling of unease at the direction she ought to take in life. And when her elder sister Felicity landed a sixth form place at the illustrious Westminster School while Emily failed to do so, it almost broke the dispirited young woman.

“I was unbelievably upset,” she admits. “I remember feeling very lost and hurt because, you know, I adored my sister and I just wanted be like her, and I suppose I felt like I had failed.”

Blunt’s second option was Hurtwood House in Dorking, where her talent for acting would be discovered. “It’s strange to imagine how things might have turned out had I not gone to Hurtwood, because it was there I was discovered by an agent, who saw a play I was in. So, I’m very grateful now that I didn’t go to Westminster.

“My sister has ended up being a great help too. She is a literary agent and I try to follow her every piece of advice in that respect. We also have very similar tastes and we’re always discussing possible adaptations, Mary Poppins being the last.

“She’s also sometimes able to let me read the galleys of new novels before they are printed which might turn out to be advantage one day if I find some incredible story that I could buy the rights to or speak to a studio about.”

Though she remains the quintessential Surrey rose, Blunt spends much of her time across the pond these days in Los Angeles where she lives with Krasinski and their two daughters Hazel, four, and Violet, two. The couple wed on George Clooney’s lavish Lake Como estate in Italy in 2010 and have one of the most stable marriages in Tinseltown.

For Blunt, the secret to the success of their relationship is very simple: “We’ve always been able to talk to each other and discuss everything together. Being very open and talking and not hiding any worries or concerns is so important I think,” she explains. “I also think it’s an advantage having someone in your life who understands the kind of things you go through in our profession.”

She also credits him for being an incredible father, who takes care of the little things, like ensuring there is always fresh food and milk in the house. “That’s been a great source of comfort to me because it’s not always that easy to pursue a Hollywood career when you’re raising young children and have to be working on movie sets for months at a time,” continues Blunt.

Even so, when it comes to having it all, there are always sacrifices to be made, and when considering work these days, the actress will always take into account the effects a project will have on her daughters. “I only choose films now that I definitely want to do and, even then, I have to really love the story and my character, because when your children are so young you have such a strong desire to be with them as much as you possibly can,” Blunt says frankly.

Of course, it helps when you’re playing a role that children can’t help but adore. “Mary Poppins is such an iconic, nostalgic figure and it’s a gift to give to my kids – I think they’re going to find it joyous.”

Mary Poppins Returns hits UK cinemas on December 19.


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