Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson on Saving Mr. Banks
By: Lynn Barker
In the new film Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has promised his young daughter that he will make a fun movie out of her favorite book “Mary Poppins” about a nanny who enters the lives of some troubled kids and makes things better. The author of the popular book, P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), is super protective of her book and lead character Mary and will have none of it! No animation, no cute songs etc. There is a funny but kinda sad stalemate between Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. Emma Thompson is no stranger to nannies, having played the strict and funny Nanny McPhee in two films.
Emma entered this press conference interview wearing a nice pants outfit and, when not seeing how to get to her seat, she climbed over the front of the long table. Just a hilarious entrance for this witty and smart Oscar winner. Tom Hanks tells us all about his research and determined attempt to do justice to Walt Disney in his portrayal. BTW the “Mr. Banks” in the title of the movie is the character in the book and film who represents author Pamela Travers’ troubled father.
Kidzworld: Why do you think “Mary Poppins” author Pamela Travers, who can be so hurtful and so mean, is still so much fun to watch?
- Emma: Is it not rather nice for all of us, who’ve been so well brought up, and we’re all so bloody polite all the time, Americans particularly, to see someone being rude? It’s bliss, isn’t it? I think we act quite a lot of the time in conflict with what we really feel (Pamela doesn’t).
Kidzworld: Tom and Emma, you are playing characters who were real people. Did you research them and just try to get their basic essence rather than doing imitations?
- Tom: There is a bit of a vocal cadence and a rhythm that Mr. Disney had that took a while to figure out. But a lot of the little anecdotes (about him) were already in the screenplay. For example, Walt’s cough. Walt smoked three packs a day, and you always knew when Walt was coming to visit your office, ‘cause you could hear him coughing from down by the elevator. So you’re able to put that kind of stuff into it, and it just ends up being one of the delightful cards in the deck.
- There were people who knew Walt and they searched us out. Diane Disney Miller, his daughter, gave me unlimited access to the archives and the museum in San Francisco. I made a couple of visits there. I had a lot of video and audio that I could work with and there’s that true sense that he believed everything that he said about his projects. And he completely embraced the possibilities of wonder in the movies that he was going to make as well as the rides he was going to come up with (for Disneyland) so I had a great road map in order to search it out.
- Emma: P.L. Travers (was all over the place). Around some corners, you’d find this terrible monster and around another corner you’d find a, a sort of beaten child. She was the most extraordinary combination of things. And I suppose that was the scary thing, because in films, we often get to play people who are emotionally or at least morally consistent in some way. And she wasn’t consistent in any way. You would not know what you would get from one moment to the next. (Her friends said) you could have had a very close moment with her and then the next day “Go away”.
Kidzworld: P.L. Travers made it very clear in the film what she thought of Disney’s movie Mary Poppins but how do you think she would have responded to Saving Mr. Banks?
- Emma: I reckon this is a woman who kept on saying, “I don’t want anything. I don’t want a biography, I don’t want anything like that, I don’t want anyone to do or know anything about me.” Meanwhile, she kept everything she wrote and sent it to the archives at Brisbane University. So I’m certain, that she was an important contributor to the artistic, to culture, and wanted to have it preserved. And I think that’s what she would say about this, “Absolutely ridiculous film that has no relationship whatsoever to what was happening but it’s about me and I thought that the clothes were really rather nice.” I think that’s what she would have said. (laughter)
Kidzworld: Tom, what did you learn about Walt Disney that you didn’t already know before playing him? Any memorable details?
- Tom: Well, we had the most discussed, photographed, analyzed, diagrammed, tested mustache on the planet. How much mustache was going to be there? But many of the surprises were coming from Diane, about how much of just a regular dad this guy was. Disneyland itself came about because he used to spend every Saturday with his two daughters. And after a while, here in L.A., he ran out of places that he could take them. There were pony rides over where the Beverly Center is now, and there was the merry-go-round in-in-in Griffith Park, but that was it.
- And he was sitting eating peanuts on a park bench in Griffith Park and the girls were on the merry-go-round, he said, “There really should be place Dads can take their daughters on a Saturday in L.A.” And-and from that, Disneyland was born. He was sadly a victim of the times. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and he died of lung cancer. That’s just another one of the grim realities of the way the world operated back then.
Kidzworld: Both of your characters, Walt and Pamela, are obsessed with the novel and the Mary Poppins character. Is there a literary character or book you feel strongly attached to and would like to play or see filmed?
- Emma: Just off the top of my head, for me as a child, it was always Sherlock Holmes, with whom I was deeply in love, and who I wanted really to be. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? If you’re a female, a lot of the heroic models are, in fact, male. So one of my first questions to everybody as I was getting older is, “Who’s the female hero? Who is she? What does she do?
- Tom: I always wanted to play Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, just ‘cause he’s kind of a buffoon that gets to wear a uniform, and I thought, “Well, that would be fun.” So (looking at Emma) maybe we got something.
- Emma: Yeah. Let’s do it.
Kidzworld: Tom, you have two grandchildren. Did you take them to Disneyland?
- Tom: I have taken them to Disneyland on the day we shot there. As a grandparent, you see no reason whatsoever that your granddaughter shouldn’t be delighted to take a ride on the “Winnie the Pooh Adventure”. It’s Winnie the Pooh. It’s fun. It’s Pooh Bear. It’s Kanga and Roo and Owl. It’s Christopher Robin. It’s gonna be a blast. She’s gonna remember this the rest of her life, her ride on Winnie the Pooh’s Great Adventure! My granddaughter was terrified by the noise, the big spinning bears. She will now be haunted for the rest of her days by this first image of Winnie the Pooh in a loud, short, herky-jerky ride that her grandfather forced her to do on the day he played Walt Disney in Disneyland. That is just a sample of the fantastic job I do as a grandparent. Thank you. (laughter)
Kidzworld: Tom, as a storyteller, you are also a director and producer. Do you relate with what Walt Disney had to do to just get the Mary Poppins movie made?
- Tom: Yeah. A story starts in your head and you see possibilities for it, and it’s just one thing after another. It seems like you’re always comin’ across somebody like this (indicates Emma and is talking about her character in the film) hell-in-a-gasbag right here that just says “No-no-no-no-no, it’s not gonna happen.”
- Walt Disney, at this point was pretty much used to getting his way because everybody loved him and he’s the guy who invented Mickey Mouse. But, in the creative process, which is really what this movie is about, you come to loggerheads and you just have to just keep the process moving forward, even if that requires jumpin’ on a plane and flying to London and knockin’ on hell-in-a-gasbag’s door. (Emma laughs). It’s just what the creative process requires sometimes. It’s a good thing it’s fun, otherwise, it’d be too much work.
Saving Mr. Banks is in theaters December 13th!