Saving Mr. Banks: Hanks and Thompson Talk Disney

By Meredith Alloway · November 9, 2013

Upon being welcomed to the stage, Tom Hanks took a big bite out of a half-eaten apple. His co-star Emma Thompson proceeded to climb over the table to her seat instead of going around. It’s no surprise these two are movie stars. They’re ridiculously charming.

Their chemistry was evident as the LA press day for Saving Mr. Banks commenced at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The film premiered the night before, on November 7th at the AFI Film Festival. It explores the relationship between Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Travers recalls her past with her father as she attempts to navigate the trials of her novel adaptation. The cast is remarkable, including Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novack as Richard and Robert Sherman, Collin Farrell as Robert Travers, and Paul Giamatti as Ralph.

The cast all did extreme research on Walt Disney and the characters.  Hanks reveals, “Richard Sherman was a never-ending fountain of stories, of facts, of anecdotes.” Hanks was able to access the archives and museum in San Francisco. “I had a lot of video and audio that I could work with,” says Hanks. “[Walt] believed everything that he said about his projects. He completely embraced the possibilities of wonder. I had a great road map in order to search it out.”

Hanks was able to re-create Disney’s idiosyncrasies without doing an impersonation. He discovered, “Walt’s cough. Walt smoked three packs a day. You always knew when Walt was coming to visit your office because you could hear him coughing from down by the elevator. It ends up being one of the delightful cards in the deck.”

The cast is asked how they followed the breadcrumbs to uncover mysteries about Travers and Disney. Thompson agrees, “It was very bread-crummy, my search for her. She was like going into a maze. Around some corners you find this terrible monster.  Around another corner you’d find a sort of beaten child. She was the most extraordinary combination of things.” Tom Hanks asks, “You know what you do with bread crumbs, right?” He and Emma proceed to sing, “Feed the birds! Toppins a bag!”  They sing almost a fill verse. It’s hilarious.

Colin Farrell is asked how he worked to create a bond with his young co-star Annie-Rose Buckley.  “A stick.” The dashingly handsome star’s sarcasm is palpable and the crowd laughs.  “Alternated with sugar cubes…which I got from the horse trainer.” He then reveals how wonderful it was to work with her and how her openness on the screen was remarkable. He also joked that you should always work with children. You only work “Eight hours a day.”

Someone points out that this is Hank’s second “Saving” movie.  He’s asked if he’ll do a third. “I like to think of it as a trilogy.” He provokes chuckles again. “There’s got to be some era of history we can explore.” Later on a question is posed to Emma about the return of Nanny McPhee. She explains that the box office on the second film was disappointing and made her realize a third probably wasn’t in the cards. “What matters is what it takes in the opening weekend.” Hanks finds his comeback moment like a true comedian, “I am hoping to make Saving Nanny McPhee.”

Although the actors feel very playful during the conference, Director John Lee Hancock points out a moment when he was truly impressed with Thompson. When they shot the scene where Travers finally shows tender emotion, Hancock remembers something Thompson told him. “I’m not sure where the bridge will be built, but once I know, I can cross it again and again.” It’s exactly what Thompson did, the scene being beautifully vulnerable.

The cast reveals how close they were to the story of Mary Poppins. Jason Schwartzman explains that his realization that the film was actually filmed in Burbank was slightly jarring. “I experienced it as a young person thinking it was in England. In many ways I wish I hadn’t ever seen those photos! I wish I had never seen Cherry Tree Lane in Burbank.” B.J. Novak adds, “The film itself is so much odder than we remember, so much more complicated. All these Disney films, they feel like they’re in your DNA. “

It’s a brave move on Disney’s part to make a film that deconstructs such a beloved tale like Mary Poppins. Luckily, it’s just as intriguing as the fantasy we previously knew.