Saving Mr Banks - Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson
Saving Mr Banks - Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) shows Disneyland to "Mary Poppins" author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) ©2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc, photo by François Duhamel

Disney’s new movie Saving Mr Banks tells the fascinating story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) fought for the rights to bring PL Travers’ (Emma Thompson) beloved novel Mary Poppins to the screen.

The film is set in 1961, when Disney invited Travers to his studio in Los Angeles to discuss, in person, his interest in obtaining the movie rights. It was a difficult journey for both, with the author strongly objecting to the film being a musical with any kind of animation, but that two week trip would ultimately put the wheels in motion for one of Disney’s most popular and endearing motion pictures.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson spoke about their iconic roles at the press conference for the movie at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where many of the scenes from the movie were shot.

What were the challenges of playing such an iconic person as Walt Disney and what kind of research did you do?

Saving Mr Banks - Tom Hanks
Saving Mr Banks – Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), left ©Disney Enterprises, Inc

Tom: There is a lot of anecdotal information that kept coming to us. There were people who knew Walt, and they still have access to the studio. Diane Disney Miller, his daughter, gave me unlimited access to the archives and the museum in San Francisco.

I had a lot of video and audio that I would work with.

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 and the things that he was going to build.

Emma, you played Nanny McPhee, did you see any similarities between that role and the writer of Mary Poppins?

Saving Mr Banks - Emma Thompson
Saving Mr Banks – PL Travers (Emma Thompson) ©Disney Enterprises, Inc, photo by François Duhamel

Emma: PL Travers likened [Mary Poppins] to Buffalo Bill, and 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 PL Travers 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. Because women don’t have that kind of power, the Western form, what she would have called an essential myth, emerges in the female world in the nursery.

Have either of you been obsessed about a book or a character like Mr Disney was with Mary Poppins?

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 to be. But that’s the problem, isn’t it, if you’re a female. A lot of the heroic models are male.

Tom: I always wanted to play Lestrade of Scotland Yard, just ’cause he’s kind of a buffoon that gets to wear a uniform. I thought that would be fun. So maybe we’ve got something!

Emma: Yeah, let’s do it.

The movie makes it clear what PL Travers thought of Mary Poppins, what do you think she would have thought of Saving Mr Banks?

Saving Mr Banks - John Lee Hancock, Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson
Saving Mr Banks – Behind the scenes, Director John Lee Hancock, Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson ©Disney Enterprises, Inc, photo by François Duhamel

Emma: This is a woman who kept on saying, ‘I don’t want anyone to know anything about me.’ Meanwhile, she kept everything she wrote for the archives at Brisbane University. She felt, I’m certain, that she was an important contributor to the culture, and wanted to have it preserved.

What would she say about this? ‘Absolutely ridiculous film. It has no relationship whatsoever to what was happening. But, you know, it’s about me, at last. And I thought the clothes were really rather nice.’ I think that’s what she would have said.

Tom, With Saving Private Ryan this is your second ‘Saving’ movie. Will there be a third one?

Tom: I like to think of it as a trilogy. There’s gotta be some era of history that we can explore.

Emma, is there going to be another Nanny McPhee movie?

Emma: We had a lovely time making it, but it doesn’t matter how good the movie is, what matters is what it takes during the opening weekend, and [the studio called] on the opening weekend and said, ‘We projected that it would take 14 million. It only took 9.7 million.’ So I better take that as evidence that there won’t be another one.

Tom: I’m hoping to make Saving Nanny McPhee!

One of the journalists at the press conference, in an unusual way of phrasing a question, asked Tom and Emma what breadcrumbs they used to discover how to play their characters, which led to this burst of song. Play the video below to watch their reaction.



Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.