In this month’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” Dick Van Dyke plays a surprisingly nimble elderly London banker — who bears an uncanny resemblance to the elderly Mr. Dawes he played in the original 1964 film “Mary Poppins.”
The 92-year-old actor, who’s best know for playing the “step-in-time” chimney sweep Bert in the Walt Disney classic, has said that he went to great lengths — and his own personal expense — to land the bonus role in the film.
“I loved portraying old men, and since first reading the script, I had been secretly eyeing that part, which included the song ‘Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,’” the actor wrote in his 2011 memoir, “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.” “I saw a lot of potential for extracurricular amusement.”
To his surprise, though, studio chief Walt Disney insisted that his young star test for the role. So Van Dyke donned white hair and a beard to be made up like “a balding old man in his nineties.” “I was stooped over, talking like the very senior banker, and having a blast amusing both the crew and myself,” he wrote.
During the actual screen test, he ad-libbed lines in front of the on-set house of George and Martha Banks where much of the film took place — and even pretended to “pee in the bushes” every few minutes.
“‘I’m a weak old man because of a hernia,’ I explained in a wheezy voice,” he wrote.
The gambit worked. Disney relented and allowed him to take on the extra role — but at a steep price. Namely, he insisted that Van Dyke donate $4,000 to his 3-year-old art school, California Institute of the Arts — which would be more than $32,000 in 2018 dollars.
“I ended up paying him a not insignificant amount of money to play a part I had offered to do for free,” the actor wrote. “I’m still scratching my head over at that one.”
Even so, Van Dyke added, “It was worth every dollar. I would have, in fact, paid even more.”
The actor’s cameo in “Mary Poppins Returns” was considerably less costly. At a Q&A in New York earlier this month, director Rob Marshall explained that Van Dyke’s character was the son of the original Mr. Dawes since the new film is set roughly 25 years after the original.