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Twenty-five years is a long time for things to change on Cherry Tree Lane, but Number 17 still stands — and the home that once belonged to mean banker Mr. Banks is now inhabited by his son, sensitive banker Michael Banks.
Ben Whishaw plays grown-up Michael and Emily Mortimer is his sister, Jane, in Disney’s forthcoming sequel Mary Poppins Returns, which finds the magical nanny (Emily Blunt) returning to her former charges when tragedy strikes the family.
Michael, a banker by day but artist at heart, has run his home with warmth and love, but when his young wife dies suddenly, the home becomes nothing more than a cold house. Michael is distraught over the daunting task of singlehandedly raising three children — twins John (Nathanael Saleh) and Annabel (Pixie Davies) and youngest son Georgie (Joel Dawson) — so much so that he makes a grave oversight about a very important adult responsibility that could mean losing the house on Cherry Tree Lane.
“He’s struggling to cope with looking after three children on his own, so he’s trying to be very upright and English and not betray any stress or insecurity, but actually, everything is going completely wrong for him,” says Whishaw, 36.
While Michael has followed in his banker father’s footsteps at Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (run by Colin Firth’s William Weatherall Wilkins), Jane has decidedly taken up the cause of her mother: She’s now a union organizer for a group called SPRUCE — the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Underpaid Citizens of England. (Mrs. Banks would be so proud!)
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“She’s inherited the mantle of her mom, and she’s very socially conscious and wears trousers, which is quite a big thing for a 1930s girl,” says Mortimer, 45. “She lives alone in a little flat, and she’s given her life to the cause. She’s a looker-after of people, and so she’s desperately trying to cheer Michael up and get him back on track, but she’s kind of a child, too. She’s a little bit too ditzy and disorganized to be much help. She’s a very loving soul who gives herself to other people, but doesn’t think too much about herself. They’re both infantile in a way, like their parents, and in need of help themselves.”
Surprisingly, it’s Michael’s children — or two of them, at least — who may have their act together moreso than their father and aunt. “The kids each bring their own beautiful, anarchic, sparkly personalities to their characters,” says Whishaw. “Little Joel is a law unto himself, which is wonderful. And Nathanael and Pixie are very mature and have a wonderful, serious quality about them. They’re completely, alarmingly on top of everything and know everyone’s lines, which is very much the characters they’re playing. I suppose the film is about the way these children have become little adults and are really looking after Michael, although he doesn’t realize that.”
As siblings, Whishaw and Mortimer say that their shared quest in this film is only bolstered by what they (and audiences) already know about the Jane and Michael Banks of 1964. “There’s something lovely about revisiting these two people that an audience has seen as children, and rediscovering them as adults with all the problems and stuff that life inevitably throws at you,” says Whishaw.
Mortimer adds, “Your backstory is the first movie, in a way. I suppose I was trying to think about who would be the [children] of those two parents, who were quite dysfunctional but really sweet and sort of slightly mad. We know who Jane and Michael’s parents were, because they were living and breathing on celluloid before we were even born, just how it is in real life. And on the one hand, that might be daunting because they’re all iconic characters, but on the other hand, you feel as if you’ve lived this life. I remember these people. I recognize them. I remember Jane and Michael’s childhood almost as if it was my own. Because in some ways, it was.”