Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t just mark the return of one indomitable character after 54 years; it also marks a reunion for two other powerful women who whip up certain magic together onscreen.
Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep have now made three big-budget studio films together: 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, playing a toiling assistant and her monstrous boss; 2014’s Into the Woods, as a peasant baker and the witch who cursed her womb; and now 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns, playing the enigmatic nanny and her gravity-challenged cousin Topsy, who’s perhaps the only person ever to disagree with Mary Poppins.
“It is a bit hilarious that we always play people who are contentious with one another,” Blunt laughs, looking back on her relationship with Streep that’s now into its second decade. “From Prada to the Witch and the Baker’s Wife and now to cousins who drive each other insane, I did finally ask her, ‘When are we gonna play lovers or something?!’” Blunt laughs again. “She said, ‘Dream on.’”
But a dream is perhaps the best way to describe the friendship that has blossomed between the 35-year-old and the 69-year-old actors. On the Prada set, Blunt was a relative unknown in Hollywood with Streep a revered megastar — Blunt even cried when Streep first complimented her after wrapping. Years later, the tables have turned as Blunt now takes on the largest role of her career, with Streep supporting her with glee.
“She’s divine,” Streep declares. Elaborating further, she almost downplays the magnitude of what it’s been like to watch Blunt grow into a role like Mary Poppins over the past decade. “I think Emily’s completely the same person that she was when I met her,” she insists. “In The Devil Wears Prada, she was some preposterously young age — I think she was 21? Ridiculous! — but she was completely the person that she is today. She was already a pretty fully-fledged grown up, or did a good impersonation of one.”
Blunt’s talent, according to Streep, is easy to describe. “Because she’s so smart, her wit informs everything she does. Even her tenderness is inflected with her smarts and her sense of humor and her, oh God, she just has a little curl of irony about her,” Streep gushes. “You know, they wrote [Mary Poppins Returns] for her. The songs were written for her, it’s absolutely in her wheelhouse, and it’s so specific that I don’t know who else could have done it the way she does it. She’s just crackerjack smart and beautiful and she has the thing that you can’t teach in the drama school, and that’s charm. She has it. She’s just charm.”
When Blunt hears pieces of that praise, her reaction is perhaps just as you’d expect. With Prada marking the actress’ big breakout and Into the Woods setting another benchmark for her as a leading lady, Blunt says it’s been “huge” to have Streep along for so many formative roles in her career. “She has, from the moment I met her, really been such a pinnacle for me to look up to. And she is a confidante now. She’s a friend. And she’s really been there with me from the beginning. That’s quite moving to me in some ways, that I’ve sort of grown up with Meryl being there.”
Blunt continues, “I think that it’s been terribly exciting getting to know her. She is somebody who is an inspiration I think to every actor. I certainly find her so inspiring. That defiance she has to keep taking big swings and not conform and not get pigeonholed and not just be one thing or represent just one way of acting. She’s never discovered her whole bag of tricks, and that’s all I want to do, is never to discover that.”
Good thing, then, that nobody’s bag begs more for discovery than Mary Poppins.