Robert Marshall is an American film and theatre director, producer, and choreographer. His most notable work is the Academy Award-winning film Chicago (2002), for which he won the Directors Guild of America Award. A five-time Tony Award nominee, he also won a Primetime Emmy Award for his choreography in the television film Annie (1999). He talks about what it was like to recreate such an iconic world in Mary Poppins Returns and his experience working with the legendary Dick Van Dyke who portrayed the chimney sweep, Bert, in the original Mary Poppins (1964).
Screen Rant: Here we are again. Mary Poppins Returns, again.
Rob Marshall: I know again, again, again.
Screen Rant: It seems like you've been kind of, this has been your life, I mean from your filmography to what you're doing now. From your background in music and the stage and dance. Have you been training for this movie your whole life?
Rob Marshall: It's such a great question. And you know what I guess I have, I really have. I mean, I've been dying to do for many, many years now an original musical for film. And so to be able to do it with this one, especially because the first film means so, so much to me. It was an, and I knew the bar is so high. That I just wanted to do it with every ounce in every inch in me. And to be able to gather this kind of team, this kind of cast, to do it this way, you know, with Disney's incredible support behind me. I mean, I will say this was a dream come true and it was a three year process. But I have to say, I loved escaping into the world of Cherry Tree Lane. For me personally, especially in the world today. I was so happy to go there and to bring the story to life.
Screen Rant: One thing I love about the film is the 2D animation, and I know that that's traditional 2D animation and now it's kind of a lost art. So can you talk and what better place than at Disney to find 2D?
Rob Marshall: The animation building's right there.
Screen Rant: Right. Was that really hard to find animators that were actually knew that style of animation because it's still kind of a lost art.
Rob Marshall: It is a lost art. And I will say that everybody was so excited when I said I want to do 2D hand drawn animation for this. And people were so excited because it's so fresh and so new again, but you're absolutely right because we, it was hard to find animators who knew that. So we did a lot of looking and a lot of guys came out of retirement to do it. And a lot of wonderful artists also that were young who are interested in the old school style came onboard too. So you had these sort of older folks and then you had this younger team of people who are excited about that. I mean it's that classic thing, you know, the drawing, every frame, flip, flip, flip and all of that you do. I mean, and I think you feel the artistry. I think you feel it. I think you, it's, there's nothing like seeing it and then to see it with live actors, you know, it's thrilling.
Screen Rant: I also know that you were one of the choreographers on the film as well. What was the biggest challenge of adapting what you know now to the style of Mary Poppins was fifty-four years ago?
Rob Marshall: Wow. Well, you know what? I will say that I was anxious to do. I mean in terms of choreography goes a lot of choreography, but the big huge dance number, a trip, a little light, fantastic is an eight minute sequence and that was my dream. From in my whole life to do a big huge production number of that scale with, you know, athleticism and guys dancing. And you know I always said that I'd probably would have been one of those, her lamplighters up there dancing away because it's, you know, what I did. And so that was also a dream come true to be able to do something like that on that scale. And you know, led by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Emily blunt. It was, that was great.
Screen Rant: Well Lin-Manuel said in the behind the scenes featurette that most of the times when he would do the stage stuff that he never had that much prep time. And the way that you had that scene kind of developed, everything looks so natural with their choreography. Speaking of Lin-Manuel what did, what was it like collaborating with him and did he like kind of help inform any of the choreography at all or any of the music?
Rob Marshall:Well, I like to try and create the choreography, John DeLuca and myself around the talent, you know, take advantage of their strengths. So, you know, we have something mapped out, but then we tailor make it to who we're working with. And that happened with Emily and with Meryl Streep and anybody that's dancing, you know, what are, what do they do well? And so that's what we were looking for. And that's what we're working on. And I mean, they're just, there's nothing like working with actors who are in a way new to dance or new music and learning how to express yourself in that way. And that it's a continuation of the character. You know, it's not just sort of like a little production, you know, presentational number. It actually is a development of your character. And so I don't, I think because I'm a director, choreographer, you know, it doesn't sort of stop the, you know, the story doesn't stop when the numbers begin and then then pick up again. It's like, it's all part of it. And I think weaving that fabric of it altogether is very helpful, I think for the film, but also for the actors as well.
Screen Rant: Well, you'll be collaborating with Lin again on The Little Mermaid, which was actually my first Disney movie I've ever seen. How's that process going?
Rob Marshall: That's thrilling. I mean, we're just at the stage of writing it and I actually, David McGee, who wrote Mary Poppins returns with us and John Deluca and myself. It's the same team. We're just starting to put it together and create you know, the story. I mean, you obviously have the incredible animation movie animated film, But you know, a live action films different. It's a whole 'nother thing. So you, you have to work from that and create something. So we're at the writing stage and there'll be some new songs by Alan Menken Lin-Manuel Miranda, which is thrilling and I can't wait. So it's all in the works right now.
Screen Rant: 17 Cherry Tree Lane, down to the slight, every detail was there. When you first stepped on that set, what went through your head?
Rob Marshall: It was very moving to me. I have to say, it was sort of like, well here it is, you know, that thing that you've seen on screen for so many years. We are here in the middle of it living it. And I think it was that way for everybody. I remember when I brought people onto the set to see it for the first time I played music, you know, so that when they came out it was an emotional experience at the same time. And you know, all of us felt, I know humbled to be there or grateful to be there and continue the legacy.
Screen Rant: You said that the bar was set pretty high for you. Cause it's Mary Poppins. It's so many people are protective of it. When you had Dick Van Dyke on set, can you talk to me about some of the emotions that you were going through? Cause I saw even you had a tough time saying the word cut when he finished his scene. I had a tough time just watching that.
Rob Marshall: No, I did. I did. Well, it was a dream come true to have him involved in this film. For him to touch this film, having come from the first film, all of that was just surreal. But he brings with him such a sense of, I don't know, joy and wonder and magic, just who he is, how he lives his life. It's the lesson of the film about approaching your life from that place. And he's the embodiment of that. And I just, I couldn't quite believe it was happening. I will say for me and I, you know, he said to me as we walked onto the set, he said, I feel the same spirit on this set as I did on the first film. And that was the greatest compliment ever, because, you know, that's what you hope to achieve. You hope to achieve that kind of place. And I felt it. I certainly felt it then, I couldn't believe that he felt it too.
Mary Poppins Returns is now available on Digital and Blu-ray.