While tackling the role of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, when Emma Thompson dug deep into her research, she found a woman of contrasts. “This is a woman who kept on saying, ‘I don’t want anything. I don’t want a biography. I don’t want anything like that. I don’t want anyone to do or know anything about me.’ Meanwhile, she kept everything she wrote for the archives at Brisbane University,” Thompson told Movie Fanatic.
Thompson thinks it comes down to a selfless view of herself, yet she keenly knew the place she held in literary history. “She was an important contributor to the culture and wanted to have it preserved.”
When asked what Thompson thinks Travers would have thought of this movie about her, she doesn’t hesitate with her answer. “What she would say about this is, ‘Absolutely ridiculous film! I have no relationship whatsoever to what was happening. But, you know, it’s about me and I thought that the clothes were really rather nice,’” Thompson said and laughed.
Travers was not eager to have Walt Disney make her beloved Mary Poppins into a film. She sure as heck did not want it to be a musical, and Travers was adamant that it not have any animation. Thompson’s characterization shows her as a woman who has a financial need, and after 20 years of saying no to Disney, felt compelled to say yes. So, as teased in the Saving Mr. Banks trailer, she takes a trip to Los Angeles to see what the entertainment icon has to say about her story.
We wondered why she thinks P.L. Travers, who can be so hurtful and so mean, is so much fun, and so kind of irresistibly adorable. “Americans, particularly, like to see someone being rude. It’s bliss, isn’t it?” Thompson said as to why it is such a joy to watch her as Travers. Many agree as the actress just scored one of the Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal.
Thompson feels that many in her field often play people who are emotionally or at least morally consistent in some way. “She wasn’t consistent in any way. You would not know what you would get from one moment to the next.”
In Saving Mr. Banks, Travers has a problem with the songs and some of their made-up words (such as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!), all while saying that Disney and his team simply didn’t get where Mary Poppins was coming from. Throughout the film, as told in flashbacks, we see Travers as she is growing up in Australia. The title of Saving Mr. Banks holds the key to how Disney got Travers to finally give him the rights and give us the classic that Mary Poppins became.
For portraying a woman who is so gifted with words, some of the most powerful moments in the film have Thompson not using any. She gets the most out of a glance, much as she did in Love Actually. Thompson adores that type of challenge and it was one of the reasons she cherished the Saving Mr. Banks experience.
“Scenes without words are bliss to do. I mean, not because one is frightened of words or learning words or using words, of course not, but just because you’re not so active somehow. It’s not even that you’re passive, but you’re just responding,” Thompson said.
There is a scene in particular where Thompson as Travers has a highly emotional reaction to what Disney and his team have come up with. “She’s having a huge reaction, I mean, huge. It’s like an elemental reaction she’s never had before in her life,” Thompson said. “That’s what did it.”