Those aren’t film tricks or special effects. That truly is Dick Van Dyke, 91 at the time, dancing up a storm on a desk in “Mary Poppins Returns.”
The climactic moment, teased in the film’s trailer, is a showstopper for Van Dyke, and one of two memorable appearances by legendary actors – the other by Angela Lansbury – in the sequel to 1964’s “Mary Poppins” (in theaters now).
Van Dyke, who just turned 93, starred in the original film with two roles: as Cockney chimney sweep Bert and as aged banker Mr. Dawes, who died laughing in the end. In “Mary Poppins Returns,” set 20 years later, Van Dyke literally jumped at the chance to play Mr. Dawes Jr.
“Every frame is him,” says director Rob Marshall. “He’s fearless, has such a joy and he loves to dance. He’s truly an original.”
Marshall made contingency plans for the routine he and choreographer John DeLuca had worked out for Van Dyke before the actor’s two days of shooting at London’s Shepperton Studios.
They set up a stool and a chair as steps leading onto the high desk. Stars Emily Blunt (as Mary Poppins) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (as lamplighter Jack) were positioned at both sides of the desk – to be in the scene and to assist Van Dyke in getting up to the desk.
Marshall says he has run into Van Dyke at Ralphs, the star’s local grocery store in Malibu, Calif., and knew he can still shake it.
“I have seen him literally dance stepping down the grocery aisle,” Marshall says. “He’s a bright spirit. And I know for a fact he goes to the gym every day.”
But the director admits he held his breath before the first desk mount. Van Dyke didn’t even need the assistance.
“He sort of waves us away and it was a big lunge onto a chair and onto the desk,” says Blunt. “And he just hoofed away on that desk like there was no tomorrow. Rob was so touched, he couldn’t even say cut. He was crying.”
Van Dyke performed the scene four times to make sure Marshall had the perfect cut. Blunt is sure the actor had to “play up” his age to portray an elderly character. “He’s still so alive, so sharp and with those blue eyes,” she says.
The two days of shooting were highlighted by Marshall giving Van Dyke a tour of the rebuilt Cherry Tree Lane house, which had been the center of the original film.
“He said ‘I feel so at home here,’ ” says Marshall. “He said that the spirit of the first film was here on the set, too. That meant the world to me.”
The director says Lansbury, 93, was an obvious choice to star as the magical Balloon Lady in the new film’s colorful ending, a character taken directly from “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers’ books. Lansbury is a Broadway and Disney icon with roles that include Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” and Miss Price in 1971’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”
“There’s a shorthand with Angela Lansbury. You see her and there’s a magic about her,” says Marshall. “And she sounds unbelievable. The voice is still there, the same voice from (Broadway’s) ‘Mame’ and ‘Sweeney Todd.’ “