The AFI Film Festival kicked off on Thursday with the Oscar-hopeful, Saving Mr. Banks. The film follows the two-week saga of Walt Disney and his creative team courting the curmudgeonly English author P.L. Travers to bring her beloved character Mary Poppins to the big screen. At the official press conference on Friday, Tom Hanks, who plays the iconic Disney, and Emma Thompson, who plays Travers, talked about their roles and how they approached such nostalgic material. For Hanks, there was a lot of pressure in tackling the role because Saving Mr. Banks is the first feature-length film to portray Disney. Outside of his all-important mustache, perfecting the film studio head’s vocal quality was crucial to his portrayal.
Hanks said, “There is a bit of a vocal cadence and a rhythm that Mr. Disney had that took awhile to figure out. A lot of little anecdotes that we found, specifically from the likes of Richard Sherman, [one half of the Sherman Brothers, the composers for Mary Poppins]…for example were Walt’s cough, Walt smoked three packs a day. Richard Sherman said, ‘You always knew Walt was coming to your office because you heard his cough from down by the elevators.'” He also had unlimited access to the Disney Archives up in San Francisco as well as utilizing Richard who was a “fountain of stories and anecdotes.”
For Thompson, it was important to discover all of the layers of woman who wasn’t an easy personality. “She was like going into this maze. Around one corner you would find this terrible monster another corner you would find this beaten child. She was an extraordinary combination of things. She wasn’t consistent in any way. You didn’t know what you were going to get from one moment to the next,” shared Thompson.
Another aspect the film delves into is Travers’ relationship as a child with her father. These flashback sequences give insight into the English author’s damaged psyche. Her father Travers Goff is played by Colin Farrell. “People say you should work with children or animals, but you must only work with children because you work eight hours a day,” Farrell joked with reporters.
The two-week journey with Disney and the author took the unlikely pair to Disneyland in 1961. For director John Lee Hancock, shooting in the modern-day theme park presented its own set of challenges. This is only the third time in history that a film has been allowed to shoot at the Anaheim location. Hancock revealed, “We were very prepared for Disneyland, kind of military precision. We knew at 9:17 a.m. we needed to be on Main Street. We scouted many, many times with lenses because if you would pan over here there would be something from 1981, pan to the left then it’s 1969.”
Even with all of the obstacles that Travers presented to Disney and the Sherman Brothers, the movie debuted in 1964 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Mary Poppins went on to win five out of its 13 Academy Award nominations. Julie Andrews walked away with her only Oscar win while the Sherman Brothers won the Oscar for Original Score and Original Song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Saving Mr. Banks opens nationwide on Dec. 20.