Three weeks into production on Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks spoke recently about his portrayal of Walt Disney in the new movie about behind-the-scenes wrangling to produce the children’s classic, Mary Poppins.
“It’s like another version of Mary Poppins by way of the relationships between P.L. Travers, who wrote it, and everybody that made the movie cause it was a very contentious experience,” said Hanks.
Saving Mr. Banks focuses on the struggle between the author, who wrote the beloved novel in 1934, and Walt Disney who made a promise to his daughters in the 1940s to turn the book into a movie.
After 14 years of negotiating, Disney finally secured the rights and production got under way in 1961.
From the beginning of pre-production through to its successful 1964 release, Disney and Travers disagreed over script, tone and casting, with Travers complaining that her character, as depicted by Julie Andrews in her Hollywood debut, was too pretty and too nice. Not even the overwhelming success of the movie would change the author’s mind.
As part of his research, Hanks made two trips to the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio.
“It’s like a trip to Disneyland itself,” he laughed. “It’s the third happiest place on the planet, behind Disneyland and Disneyworld.”
A three-pack-a-day smoker, Disney died of lung cancer in 1966 and Hanks said he would chain smoke his way through the movie, but that’s about as close as the production will get to any controversy or conjecture surrounding the iconic animator.
When asked if he would be a “warts and all” portrayal, Hanks responded, “He wasn’t a warty guy. There was the labor issues that were in the forties and stuff like that. But by and large, no.”
Playing Travers is Emma Thompson, with Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford and Jason Schwartzman rounding out the cast. John Lee Hancock is directing from a script by Kelly Marcel.
Saving Mr. Banks will be in theaters in 2014.