When it was announced that Tom Hanks was Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, we could not think of a better showman to play the ultimate showman. Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of Disney’s decades-long passion to bring P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) book Mary Poppins to the big screen. Travers was none too keen on letting the “man with the cartoon mouse” make her beloved nanny into a movie. Yet, with her finances in trouble -- one fateful year in the early 1960s -- she changed her mind, and the film chronicles the incredible effort it took to make Mary Poppins the classic we all know it is.
We caught up with Hanks recently where he told Movie Fanatic about his method to the madness that is trying to capture a beloved and well-known American Icon.
“We had the most discussed, photographed, analyzed, diagrammed, tested mustache on the planet. I think actually documents went to the United States government to discuss the angle of the shave, how much mustache was going to be there,” Hanks said and laughed while talking about Walt’s legendary fine follicle line.
“I had a little bit of luck in that Walt Disney, at this time in his life was very much already Walt Disney. He is the accomplished artist, industrialist that he was. I had a lot of video and audio that I could work with. The only handicap was that a lot of it is Walt Disney playing Walt Disney!”
When it came to things he learned for Saving Mr. Banks, much of it played into Hanks’ real life. “[He was] just a regular dad. Disneyland itself came about because he used to spend every Saturday with his two daughters. And after a while, here in L.A., he ran out of places that he could take his two daughters. There were pony rides over where the Beverly Center is now, and there was the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. That was it,” Hanks said.
“He was sitting eating peanuts on a park bench in Griffith Park and the girls were on the merry-go-round, he said, ‘God, there really should be place dads can take their daughters on a Saturday in L.A.’ And from that, Disneyland was born. [I found] that connection that he had through a very tight family.”
One aspect that Disney kept from his public persona was well known to those who knew him, and they even allude to it in Saving Mr. Banks. “He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, and he died of lung cancer,” Hanks reported. That’s just another one of the grim realities of the way the world operated back then.”
As a director/storyteller himself Hanks found a kinship with Disney in his efforts to make Mary Poppins, teased in the Saving Mr. Banks movie trailer.
“The story starts in your head and you see possibilities for it, and it’s just one damn thing after another. You’re always coming across somebody that just says, ‘No, no, no, no, no -- it’s not gonna happen.’ Walt Disney was pretty much used to getting his way because everybody loved him and he’s the guy who invented Mickey Mouse. Listen, in the creative process, which is really what this movie is about, you come to loggerheads and you just have to keep the process moving forward, even if that requires jumping on a plane and flying to London and knocking on hell-in-a-gasbag’s door,” Hanks said in reference to how Disney had to work his trademark magic on an author who did not want his vision for her story.
Where Disney was obsessed with making Mary Poppins a movie, there has to be a figure or story Hanks is also consumed with telling. “I always wanted to play Lestrade of Scotland Yard just because he’s kind of a buffoon that gets to wear a uniform,” Hanks said and laughed. “I always thought that would be fun. So maybe we got something.”
Speaking of Disney and Disneyland, when asked what Tom Hanks the grandfather has to thank Walt Disney for, he relates a story that did not turn out as he would have thought, or Walt for that matter when he designed the theme park.
“I have taken [the grandkids] to Disneyland on the day that we shot in Disneyland. As a grandparent you see no reason whatsoever that your granddaughter shouldn’t be delighted to take a ride on the Winnie the Pooh Adventure. It’s Winnie the Pooh! It’s fun. It’s Pooh Bear. It’s Kanga and Roo and Owl. It’s Christopher Robin. It’s gonna be a blast. She’s gonna remember this for the rest of her life,” Hanks recalled.
“My granddaughter was terrified by the noise, the big spinning bears! She is now haunted for the rest of her days by this first image of Winnie the Pooh in a loud, short, herky-jerky ride that her grandfather forced her to do on the day he played Walt Disney in Disneyland. That is just a sample of the fantastic job I do as a grandparent.”
Lastly, we wondered if it had occurred to Hanks that this was his second “Saving” movie after Saving Private Ryan. Is this a Hanks trilogy of “Saving?”
“I like to think of it as a trilogy. I am hoping to make Saving Nanny McPhee,” he said of his Saving Mr. Banks co-star Thompson’s franchise. “That’s what I’m hoping.”