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Saving Mr Banks - Tom Hanks interview

Saving Mr Banks

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TOM Hanks talks about playing the legendary Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks and why he felt it was important to respect and stay true to the original script.

He also discusses his own career and how it mirrors Disney’s in the sense that he never had dreams or a plan for his career, while reflecting on his earliest experience of Mary Poppins. He was speaking at a press conference held to mark the end of the London Film Festival.

Q. Was there any sense of trepidation in playing someone like Walt Disney?
Tom Hanks: Trepidation is an interesting word! There was a responsibility, which is different to trepidation… without a doubt, it’s a substantial gauntlet to throw down. I grew up… Walt Disney was as ubiquitous in our lives as Uncle Sam and Smokey The Bear and the President of the United States or Mickey Mouse himself, so I felt as though there was going to be quite a distance to go and I had not a clue as to where to begin outside my own memories. But that led to substantial [research]. There’s a lot of media out there, there’s a lot of audio you can listen to. Unfortunately, it’s mostly Walt Disney performing as Walt Disney, so when you can find those moments when he’s just talking naturally about something other than ‘the new exciting world of Tomorrowland’, that was worth its weight in gold. And I had access to that thanks to Diane Miller Disney, his daughter, and a fabulous museum that she has established in San Francisco.

Q. Do you really like the writer to get involved in the script-writing or do you prefer them just to hand it over?
Tom Hanks: In this case, I was a hired gun. I didn’t say anything that didn’t appear in the script. We had meetings in which we went over things. I did have questions. There were some American-isms that I think needed to be put in, and some things that I discovered that Walt had a tendency to say and imagery that he used. But they were all agreed. We treated this like the Guttenburg Bible. We were not about to mess around with the work of the apostle! It was the gospel according to… there are types of films that define themselves. And that was always going to be the requirement for making this movie. It was an extremely well constructed, beautifully knit sweater and I wasn’t about to start pulling a thread loose and have it all fall apart.

Q. Mr Disney was a man that made his own dream. You’ve had a dream profession. When you were starting to, what kind of dreams did you have?
Tom Hanks: I had no dreams at all. I was just trying to get some other job other than the one I had. It’s not unlike what Walt Disney did. When he started drawing, he was drawing in a disconnected garage from his house in Kansas City and he had art supplies. He was just banging out ideas that came into his head and he was just hoping that he might be able to sell them for $5 a piece. I relate to that. There’s no clue as to where any of this stuff will take you. I was hoping to make a little bit more than nothing because I thought this was just a job that you volunteer for and if you’re good enough at it, they’ll ask you to play something else and maybe they’ll pay you 50 bucks. But this concept of having dreams when you’re young, and always having your eye on the dream, I could never understand that. I didn’t have a single dream in my head. I kind of operated like a Communist… hey, if I build a decent tractor, maybe I can build another tractor. I didn’t even have a five-year plan. I was just stumbling around. Tom Hanks/Communist, thank you very much!

Q. What was your first experience of Mary Poppins?
Tom Hanks: I didn’t see it in its first go around. I think it was probably a re-release and I was taken to it like that. But Mary Poppins’ Step In Time and the chimney sweeps’ dance, I remember I thought that was… I thought I’d taken speed or something. I didn’t know anything about dance, but that was a magical sequence.

Read our review of Saving Mr Banks

Read our interview with Emma Thompson