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Saving Mr Banks - John Lee Hancock and Kelly Marcel interview

Saving Mr Banks

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KELLY Marcel talks about writing the script for Saving Mr Banks, while director John Lee Hancock talks about falling in love with the script and the story and wanting to get involved. They were speaking at a press conference as part of the London Film Festival.

Q. Kelly, was it always your intention to go for broke rather than trying to be cautious?
Kelly Marcel: Yeah, absolutely. I really felt like we couldn’t tell a story about the making of Mary Poppins without using the songs and using Walt Disney and really throwing it all at the script. I would be disappointed if I went to see that film and didn’t get to have a little sing-along. I think we knew that was what we were going to do from day one. And I think if Alison hadn’t said “just go for it”, I’m not sure I would have known how to write it. It was definitely my instinct to go mad with it.

Q. John, how did you get involved with this film and was it a no brainer?
John Lee Hancock: I was trying to set up another movie. I do adult dramas and it usually takes about 10 years to get them made. So, I was trying to do that and the script came across the desk for me to read and I was told that it was quite good and it was about a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Mary Poppins. But I thought I liked Mary Poppins but I’m not someone who watches it every year, so I’m probably not the right person for this. But my agent told me that I should definitely read it, if only for the pleasure of having done so. So, I picked it up and I was enthralled, again, with Kelly’s words. I felt that even though I’m a Texas guy from a refinery town it was a story I desperately wanted to tell. But then I had to get the job, so I had to go in and pitch my take on it, talk about the movie, and thankfully I got hired. I don’t know how, but thank God.

Q. Have you seen Mary Poppins since you made Saving Mr Banks and did it feel any different now that you know more about the back-story?
John Lee Hancock: Kelly [Marcel] and I went through it so many times and went through it scene by scene, just saying: “Is there some little nod that fans of the movie will recognise that won’t disrupt the plot or the tone – just real nuggets for the people who are big fans?”

Q. How much creative licence can you take with a story like this?
John Lee Hancock: Well, you want it to be entertaining and hopefully moving. You have all this information about these characters but you have to condense it, you have to find an order for it. I don’t think anyone would want to watch a movie of the 39 hours spent in the rehearsal room. I’m sure there were days it was absolutely boring in there! So, when you have someone like Kelly Marcel, who is able to piece everything together so beautifully and have it somehow congeal in a way where thematically and tonally it’s true, that’s job done.

Q. How do you want this film to be viewed?
John Lee Hancock: Well, everyone says you should make movies for everybody else but ultimately, it’s a year and a half to two years of your life, it’s a marriage not a date, you have to make it for yourself first and foremost, and then you hope that other people enjoy it and see what you saw in it. So, I’ll just be very happy for people to see the movie that we’ve all worked so hard on, and hopefully they’ll enjoy it for whatever reasons. And whatever people take away from it, good on them!

Q. Kelly, what was it like going back and talking to Richard Sherman?
Kelly Marcel: Dick was amazing. I was just explaining to someone earlier that after we met him we did an entirely new pass at the script because his mannerisms are enormous. He’s the biggest, jolliest fellow you could ever meet. He’s literally like a cartoon character. He’s just incredibly wonderful and meeting him was kind of a beautiful experience. We came in and he was crying because she had ruined his life. He really was very bitter and twisted about what went on in those rooms with PL Travers. And when we went to see him, he was saying to John, Alison and I that he didn’t know she’d had that childhood and now he could forgive her and now he felt OK. I think it’s been quite a cathartic experience for him. And he played all of the Mary Poppins songs for us and we all just cried for an hour.

Read our review of Saving Mr Banks

Read our interview with Emma Thompson