Saving Mr. Banks follows the story of the life of P. T. Travers, the writer of the beloved Mary Poppins, and tells the fascinating story behind how the story made it’s way from book to Disney screen along a long and bumpy path. The stars and film makers gathered to discuss their work on the movie and how books and Mary Poppins and people responsible for bringing her to us as we know her today touched their own lives.
What were the little breadcrumbs that you used to follow the trail to get the essence of who these people were, rather than to try to do imitations?
TOM HANKS: 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-the-the little anecdotes that we found specifically from the likes of Richard Sherman and were already in the screenplay. For example,Walt’s cough. Walt smoked three packs a day, and Richard Sherman writes, 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.
EMMA THOMPSON: Well, I liked that you used “breadcrumbs,” I think it makes me think of Theseus and the minotaur and the fact that P.L. Travers was so fascinated with myth, and was a searcher all her life. So it was very breadcrumb-y, my search for her. She went everywhere, you can imagine, like going into a maze. Round some corners, you’d find this terrible monster. And round 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, I don’t know whether my colleagues would agree but 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. You could have had a very close moment with her on one day, and I got this from her friends, and then the next day, they might have gone to see her and she would have treated them as if… it’s like that moment that Kelly created and invented with Paul Giamatti’s character, where she says, “You know, you’re the only American I’ve ever liked.” And he says, “Oh, really, how fascinating, why?” And she says, “No. I don’t want to tell you any more about that. Now you’re just asking too much. Go away”.
You’ve won an Oscar for a screenplay, and you have played a nanny in Nanny McPhee. Here you’re playing a person who is helping in a screenplay about a nanny, and I’m wondering if that at all affected your approach to this film.
EMMA THOMPSON: I’ll tell you what is interesting. P.L. Travers used to talk a lot about Buffalo Bill. While I was researching her, I found out that she referred to Mary Poppins in very similar ways. She had understood that there was a spot of Zen mastery in the way in which she worked, but also that, and this is my theory, but I think that, because women have traditionally been locked out of the superstructures or the power structures that we all live in. Buffalo Bill’s a very good example, because I’ve always thought that “Nanny McPhee” was essentially a Western, only set in a domestic environment. And she felt the same way about “Mary Poppins.” There’s a very real connection in the sense that the outsider comes into the place where there is difficulty and solves the problem using unorthodox methods, and then must leave. That’s a Western. And because women don’t have that kind of power, the Western form, which is an essential myth, emerges in the female world in the nursery.
Your rapport with little Annie Rose Buckley is genuinely beautiful. How did you go about creating that special bond with her?
COLIN FARRELL: A stick. A stick, and alternated with sugar cubes. No, she was just a dream, Annie, to be around. I think people say you shouldn’t work with-with children or animals, but you must only work with children, because you work eight hours a day. Um… and, and, uh, she was a dream. To see how beautiful and open her face was on the monitor and just in being around her was kind of like, it was the most exquisite of canvases upon which the later life of P.L. Travers was born, as she witnessed what her father was putting himself through and thereby putting everyone else in the family through as well. I mean, I have to accept some responsibility for the emotional inconsistency of P.L. Travers. I think that probably the apple fell a little bit close to the stump on that one.
Your characters are pretty obsessed with this book and this character. And I was wondering, in your own lives, is there something that, uh, you have just either wanted to do as an actor, or you were just obsessed with the book and the character, and love it?
EMMA THOMPSON: 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, that 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? What does she actually do?”.
TOM HANKS: I always wanted to play Lestrade of Scotland Yard, um, just ‘cause he’s kind of a buffoon that gets to wear a uniform, and I thought, “Well, that would be fun.” So maybe we got something.
What is like to be Tom Hanks as a grandfather? Do you take your grandchildren to Disneyland, for example?
TOM HANKS: We did go, I have taken them to Disneyland on the day that we shot in Disneyland. They came, and an interesting thing happens as a grandparent, that 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.
What have you learned about Walt Disney after doing the movie that you didn’t know before, and how challenging was for you to have to look and sound like him?
We had the most discussed, photographed, analyzed, diagrammed, uh, tested mustache on the planet. I think actually documents went to United States government to discuss the angle of the shave, how much mustache was going to be there. I don’t look too much like him, but there is an angular figure you can get by way of the boxiness of the suits, playing around with, various pieces of hair in order to get there. I had a little bit of luck in that this, Walt Disney at this time in his life was, is very much already Walt Disney. The surprises that-that came down to the fact was,about how much of just a regular Dad this guy was. I mean, 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 his two daughters. And he was sitting eating peanuts on a park bench in Griffith Park and the girls were on the merry-go-round, he said, “God, there really should be place Dads can take their daughters, um, on a Saturday in L.A.” And from that, Disneyland was born.
Did you find any sort of irony in being the writer on a film about the writer, and did you find that you had to make some sacrifices along the way that you didn’t want to make? Did you ever find yourself feeling like P.L. Travers at any point?
KELLY MARCEL: Actually, weirdly no. This particular process was kind of beautiful from day one, really. Um, unlike what Tom was just saying, nobody said “no.” Everybody said “yes” all the way through, um, including all of these amazing people sitting at this table, which sort of still blows my mind. It’s, “my God, Colin Farrell!”.
COLIN FARRELL: I know, I know…
Why do you think Pamela Travers, who can be so hurtful and so mean, is so much fun, and so kind of irresistibly adorable?
EMMA THOMPSON: That is the first time I’ve heard her called irresistibly adorable, but I’ll take it. 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?
Saving Mr. Banks is out in theaters now.
-By Laura Gaddy