On a recent Friday morning, I drove over to the famous Beverly Hills Hotel for the Saving Mr. Banks Press Conference. As I pulled into the valet , I had a sudden feeling of deja vu. I have had the opportunity of visiting the hotel on many occasions with out of town visitors on sightseeing tours. However, this was the first time, after seeing Saving Mr. Banks that I returned. For a brief moment, I fully expected P.L. Travers to come walking out the front doors.
Once inside I secured what I hoped to be a good seat to hear and see the panel. After a short wait, the cast and crew arrived. Walking in with a spring in their step were:
TOM HANKS (WALT DISNEY), EMMA THOMPSON (P.L. TRAVERS), COLIN FARRELL (TRAVERS GOFF), B.J. NOVAK (ROBERT B. SHERMAN), JASON SCHWARTZMAN (RICHARD M. SHERMAN), BRADLEY WHITFORD (DON DaGRADI), JOHN LEE HANCOCK (DIRECTOR), KELLY MARCEL (WRITER), ALISON OWEN (PRODUCER).
I was star struck and speechless to see such movie greats before me. I could feel the energy and excitement radiating from the other attendees as well. Cameras clicked as picture after picture was snapped. Recorders poised and ready to record were put into action and a feeling of anticipation swept through the room.
As they walked towards the front of the room, Emma Thompson took a wrong turn and ended up climbing over the stage to take her seat. This brought a big laugh and started the press conference on a great note.
Emma Thompson was the first to answer questions about how her character could be “mean and hurtful one moment and funny and irresistibly adoring” the next. To which Ms. Thompson promptly replied that although we, especially Americans are always so polite it’s nice to see someone being rude. “we act quite a lot of time in conflict to what we really feel.”
Being the first actor to portray Walt Disney in a motion picture was a huge undertaking and many still believe could not be done. Tom Hanks was next to discuss playing such a high profile character. Mr. Hanks shared ” There were also many people who knew Walt and were a never ending source of information”. Although Tom Hanks recognized the fact he did not resemble Walt Disney, he discussed the amount of time spent and attention to detail, specifically Walt’s mustache, joking about how it was the “most discussed, photographed, analyzed, diagrammed, uh, tested mustache on the planet”. “Mr. Disney had a bit of a vocal cadence and rhythm that took a while to figure out”. As was, Mr. Disney’s cough due to his 3 pack a day habit and part of the screenplay. Tom Hanks invested time and hard work in researching Walt Disney.
In response to the following question “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, that sort of thing”. The most memorable response came from Tom Hanks
“And you know what you do with breadcrumbs don’t you?” [singing] “You feed the birds, tuppence a bag…” [OTHERS JOIN IN] “Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag…”. That moment was priceless. Watch the video below…
Emma Thompson talked about the challenge in playing P.L. Travers, sharing how in other roles the characters are usually consistent, whereas P.L. Travers was all over. One minute a monster, the next a scared little girl.
Tom Hanks in turn talked about the the abundance of information made available to him. From access to the archives and visits to the museum in San Francisco to the many anecdotes that Richard Sherman shared. “…I had a lot of video and audio..the only handicap, there was a lot of it, (showing) Walt Disney playing Walt Disney.
Writer Kelly Marcel was excited to share how great it was to work with everyone and how unlike P.L Travers, she did not have to make any compromises. She added how thrilling it was to have such wonderful actors and The Walt Disney Studios’ cooperation in making Saving Mr. Banks. And of course, the opportunity to sit next to Colin Farrell was a big plus.
B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (Robert and Richard Sherman) responded to the question asking what Mary Poppins meant to them before they began filming Saving Mr. Banks. Both actors had similar answers in that as youngsters watching Mary Poppins and listening to the songs and the story line, they had a preconceived notion of the magic and the message of the movie. Once they began researching for their respective parts, they discovered the many behind the scenes tidbits. The different versions of some of the songs, how Mary Poppins was filmed in Burbank and it gave a whole new perspective to Mary Poppins. Knowing the background gave a whole new twist to their childhood memories of Mary Poppins.
Colin Farrell shared the joy in working with Annie Rose Buckley who starred as the young P.L Travers and recognized his character’s influence in and contributions to the development of P.L. Travers’ personality in later years.
Director, John Lee Hancock was asked about filming at Disneyland. Mr. Hancock talked about the stress and worry about getting everything done even with the cooperation of the Disneyland Personnel. He shared a moment when the sun was coming up and everyone was busy doing their job and suddenly he realized just” how cool and great” his job was.
My favorite question asked of the panel was what would P.L. Travers think of Saving Mr. Banks? Emma Thompson responded how it appeared that P.L. Travers did not want anyone to know about her life yet she sent all her written works to the Brisbane University archives. Emma Thompson then went on to give the perfect answer. Speaking as P.L Travers, she stated “Absolutely ridiculous film. Uh, I h-, n-n-n-no relationship whatsoever to what was happening. Uh, but, you know, uh, it’s about me. And, uh, um, at-at last. Uh, and I thought that the clothes were really rather nice.”
The press conference was an exciting and informative event. The opportunity to see the cast in person was amazing. Hearing and feeling their excitement about and commitment to making Saving Mr. Banks gave the movie a extra dose of magic. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers were the perfect choice.
Saving Mr. Banks is based on Walt Disney’s 20 year struggle to convince Author P.L. Travers to sell the rights to Mary Poppins. The movie gives us an insight through flashbacks into the childhood struggles of P.L. Travers which lead her to write Mary Poppins. It also provides us with a look into P.L Travers visit to The Walt Disney Studios and some very difficult and funny moments as the Sherman Brothers, Don DaGradi and Walt Disney and staff try to influence P.L Travers to allow the making of Mary Poppins.
Starring alongside Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, the amazing cast also includes Colin Farrell as Travers’ father, Ruth Wilson as her mother, Annie Buckley as a young Travers and Rachel Griffiths as Aunt Ellie (who was the inspiration for Mary Poppins) complete with a carpet bag full of trinkets and quirky advice.
Saving Mr. Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock and produced by Alison Owen, Ian Collie and collaborator Philip Steuer, with the screenplay by Kelly Marcel and story by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel. Executive producers Paul Trijbits, Andrew Mason, Troy Lum and Christine Langan.
Don’t miss this incredible movie available in U.S theatres beginning December 13th and worldwide beginning December 20, 2013.