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Emily Blunt: When you have children you lose your confidence

Emily Blunt faced her fears of both flying and failure to play literature's most beloved nanny in Mary Poppins Returns. She talks to Laura Harding about taking over the role from Julie Andrews and how motherhood has changed her

High-flyer: Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns
High-flyer: Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns

Emily Blunt is sitting bolt upright, serenely sipping tea from a delicate china teacup. It seems she has taken a lesson in deportment from the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins.

The British star of The Devil Wears Prada takes over the role from Julie Andrews in the highly anticipated sequel Mary Poppins Returns, 54 years after the original film was in cinemas - and that perfect posture has come at a cost.

"I had shin splints the whole way through this film," Blunt confides with a laugh. "You know that feeling where you go for a run and you haven't run for a while? That is what I felt throughout Mary Poppins."

So much pain came from holding the governess's immaculate silhouette as she makes her first appearance in the film just like Andrews, descending from the clouds holding aloft an umbrella, her feet turned out in a perfect first position.

"I was so worried I was going to fall," she remembers. "I was worried the wire would break and I would be that person, like, 'Can you believe how Emily Blunt died?' I really thought about it for a second. I was like, 'This could be how I go'."

This fear actually comes as a bit of a surprise considering the far more daring roles the 35-year-old has taken on in the past. Most notably she starred opposite Tom Cruise in the action film Edge Of Tomorrow, which required much more strenuous stunts, but she attributes her new nerves to the arrival of her daughters, Hazel (4) and Violet (2), with her American husband John Krasinski.

"I didn't have children then when I did Edge Of Tomorrow, so I was just more gung-ho. I think when you have children you lose your confidence.

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"I remember my mum always saying that to me and it's so true."

She pauses.

"But now they think I can fly, so that is awesome."

Has she confessed the truth yet?

"I did have to say that I couldn't, but then Hazel was like, 'How did you do it then?' and I said, 'We had cables'.

"They actually put a little harness on her and floated her around when she came on set."

It has long been a source of regret to Blunt that her little girls are growing up with American accents, but now she is hoping that Poppins' influence will rub off on them.

"I don't think I have a prayer though," she says ruefully. "Because they live in Brooklyn surrounded by American children with an American dad."

Regardless of the impact it has on her kids, Blunt knew it was going to be a huge undertaking when she signed on to play the character.

"I was quite scared," she admits, "but I quite like being scared by something - that is usually why I want to do it. I will say I was probably more scared than I have ever been to play this part, but, hey, I like the challenge."

When director Rob Marshall approached her about the role, he did it with some ceremony. "It was like he was about to propose to me," Blunt says. "Then when he said it's Mary Poppins, I was like, 'Oh my God'.

"I like to imagine he got down on one knee, but Mary Poppins is a big deal for all of us - we all had to approach it with a sense of courage.

Emily Blunt with husband John Krasinski
Emily Blunt with husband John Krasinski

"We have waited 54 years to see her come back out of the clouds, so we very much wanted to walk that fine line between paying homage and being the next chapter and bringing the spirit of the first one."

She was particularly adamant that she would make the role her own, rather than imitate Andrews, who won the best actress Oscar for the part in 1965.

And while original star Dick Van Dyke makes a cameo in the film, Andrews is notably absent from the sequel.

"I really understand why she didn't want to be in it. She said she just didn't want it to be her show, she wanted it to be my show. I thought it was so gracious and sweet," says Blunt.

However, Andrews has seen the film and has given Blunt the definitive thumbs-up: "She wrote Rob Marshall the most beautiful email about it and loved it, so that meant a lot to all of us."

But making the role her own involved revisiting the original books penned by PL Travers.

"I just wanted to do my own version of her. In the books, she is rather different and terribly eccentric and funny and very rude and very mysterious and unknowable really," Blunt says.

"I love PL Travers. She kind of is Mary Poppins - it's like an autobiography. Mary Poppins is a little bit frightening, but that is how she is able to bring order to chaos. She's a bit of a disciplinarian, and maybe we all need that - a bit of a slap around."

Mary Poppins Returns is out now

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