Tom Hanks says ‘Cloud Atlas’ rewired him for ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ and ‘Captain Phillips’

11.20.13 3 years ago 4 Comments

Walt Disney Studios

Last year, when Tom Hanks was just gearing up to play Walt Disney for the new film “Saving Mr. Banks,” I sat down to talk to him about “Cloud Atlas,” which was just coming out. He did a ton of press for that film, no doubt because he knew just how hard it was going to be to sell to anyone, and he seemed enormously proud of the picture in every conversation about it.

That’s not to say he’s any less proud of “Saving Mr. Banks” or “Captain Phillips,” the two films he has in release this fall, and I have no doubt he will be nominated for one or the other for a whole shelf-full of new awards to go with all the other awards he’s already racked up over the years. His publicity schedule has been a lot less demanding this year, though, as part of a very specific strategy. Hanks didn’t do any online interviews for either of the movies on-camera, and at the very last moment, I got a call saying that he was willing to sit down with a group of five reporters for a half-hour to talk about “Banks” and I was one of the five that he had approved.

Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to meet Hanks and to watch him work. By far, the most unfettered access I had to him was during the production of “The Green Mile.” Frank Darabont was enormously generous during that film, allowing me to hang out and watch that incredible ensemble work together on many occasions. It was there that I got a chance to know Michael Clarke Duncan a bit, and it was there that I got to observe Tom Hanks at work every day for weeks.

One of the things that was impossible to miss was just how much Hanks would go out of his way to make sure that anyone who approached him as a fan walked away feeling like they’d been treated better than they could have expected. I saw someone introduce a young girl to him who only seemed to have “Bosom Buddies” questions for him, and Hanks didn’t flinch. He told her some very sweet and funny stories about Peter Scolari, he talked about the hassles of wearing drag, and he never once treated her or “Bosom Buddies” with anything less than the utmost respect. At that point, he was a multiple Academy Award winner and one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and there wasn’t even a hint of attitude in the way he treated anyone I saw interact with him.

Likewise, when we sat down to talk to him a little under two weeks ago, he breezed in, all smiles, shaking hands, settling into the chair that had been set up so that all of us could chat with him. When he noticed that Steve Weintraub from Collider offered a fist-bump instead of a hand shake, Hanks immediately got why and talked about how he thinks we should all just graduate to the Japanese bow anyway and stop passing diseases back and forth by hand. Instead of making Steve feel weird about the gesture, Hanks made him feel at ease, and then jumped right in, saying with a big smile on his face, “Let’s talk about movies.”

Asked what his first thoughts were when he was offered the part as Walt Disney, Hanks sighed. “I thought, ‘Oh, hell.’ The burden, you know. Honestly, the responsibility. I heard about it first from Tony To. Tony is now head of physical production at Disney, but he and I executive produced and worked on and created ‘From The Earth to the Moon,’ ‘Band of Brothers,’ and ‘The Pacific.’ We had done a lot of stuff.  We have lunch every now and again. He says, ‘You”ve got to play Walt Disney in this movie we have.’ And I said, ‘Jeez, who needs that pressure?'”

The great thing about Hanks is that he’s a natural born storyteller, so one question can be enough to get him loosened up, and as he starts telling a story, he’ll really relax into it. “Then [Disney CEO] Bob Iger called me, which… you know, he even said, ‘Look, this is not usually the way this works. I call you and say will you do it?’ And I said, ‘I haven”t read the screenplay.’ So right off the bat it”s like… I know I”ve turned playing real people into a bit of a cottage industry. It”s like, ‘Please can I just play a fake guy one of these days?’ So I know the work that goes into it. And so the question really was, ‘What Walt Disney are we gonna see here?’ I was vaguely aware that it was about the making of ‘Mary Poppins’. I had read a biography of Walt Disney years and years ago that was very vibrant, and I knew enough of the history of the man to say, ‘What”s gonna go down?’ Then reading the screenplay… honestly, you can tell if you want to do a movie 12 pages in just because the DNA of the whole story and the whole philosophy of the movie”s all right there. And because it was about this odd creative process and Walt was at the top of his game, when Walt was already the Disneyland guy and, you know, Walt was actually busy building Disney World at the same time, it was a different Walt Disney than I had ever seen.”

He continued, “And because it was really Emma”s movie, I just said, ‘Okay. All right. I understand what this is.’ So now I”ve gotta do the construction work in order to figure out all this other stuff that goes on. They kept saying, ‘Well, we want somebody recognizable like you to play somebody recognizable like Walt Disney.’ And I said, ‘Is that a good thing? I”m not so sure that”s a good thing.’ And then when I heard that Paul Giamatti was in it, I was like ‘Paul should play Walt. Why not him?’ But once I got to page 12, I just said yes and I didn”t even have to have a conversation with John Lee Hancock. I said, ‘Come on over. We”ll talk about how we”re gonna do it.’ So we just did.”

One of the most remarkable parts of “Saving Mr. Banks” is the idea of any movie producers chasing the same book for twenty years, and Hanks was asked if he could imagine staying that focused on that same goal for that long. “There are a lot of people out there that see no reason at all to have their hard work, you know, literature turned into movies. And she hated movies. She hated Walt Disney. She thought it was a low class art form. She had this very specific idea who Mary Poppins was. And the truth is she needed the money, you know? I get that. But how Walt Disney gave up script approval to somebody is astounding to me. As you can see, I think it plays out in the movie realistically. He said once you get script approval we”ll just turn on the charm and we”ll bring her out here and everybody will be fabulous. We”ll show her what a homey atmosphere we have and how we”re all just one big happy family. And, of course, you know it carried no weight.”

There’s a key sequence near the end of the film that Hanks felt brought the entire film together. “I would love to have been truly privy to whatever that last meeting was, which did happen. I mean, he flew to London instantaneously and what they said to each other is amazing. He might have just said, ‘Honey, you”re gonna make a shitload of money.” And that might have been enough to turn it around. But, yeah, it”s hard. It”s hard to get that kind of stuff, particularly if the person doesn”t think it”ll be the coolest thing. You know, I met Elmore Leonard, who writes very different movies than her, and I said, ‘Hey now, what do you think about these movies that are made of your books?’ And he said just what you said. ‘It”s just so hard to make any movie. God bless them just for trying.’ That”s a really good attitude to have.”

In my review, I talked about how there’s a lot of mythmaking going on in “Saving Mr. Banks,” and that’s actually appropriate considering the way Disney indulged in active mythmaking about his own life every day. Look at Main Street in the Disney parks, or look at his appearances every week on his various television shows. There was a public Mr. Disney and there was a private Walt, and they weren’t the same person at all. I asked him about the version he’s playing in the movie and how much of that “Disney playing Disney” he explored in the role.

“Oh, that whole first meeting is, ‘It”s gonna be so wonderful.’ The thing that was amazing about Walt Disney is that”s want he went for. That”s what he was aiming for. It wasn”t baloney. He wasn”t one of these guys who said, ‘Look, we”ll just turn on the razzle dazzle and we”ll be fine and we”ll fake everybody and we”ll have enough stuff and we”ll get the tickets.’ He did want… particularly all the stuff that really had his imprimatur on… he wanted it to be heartbreakingly special. For example, he was never satisfied with ‘Cinderella’ because he didn”t think the characters were drawn with the same panache as the earlier Disney characters. So he actually kind of discarded it. He downplayed it. That is just evident in everything from those moments in ‘The Wonderful World Of Color,’ you know? It”s Walt Disney performing.

I told him those are the memories I have of Disney from childhood, him on TV each Sunday night. “Yeah,” Hanks replied, “and I loved all those shows where he”d say, ‘Tonight we”re gonna show you our new attraction that we”re bringing in.’ It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ This was like you”d died and gone to heaven. But then you had the other side of him, which was an extremely pragmatic businessman.”

I agreed, adding, “You don”t build an empire unless you”re a certain kind of person.”

Hanks continued, “Well, not only that. I don”t think you continuously push the art form forward… whatever the art form is, even if it”s the idea of a theme park. You know, that came about because he was sitting on a park bench at the carousel in Griffith Park with his daughters. And he said, ‘How come this is the only carousel I get to bring my daughters to? There should be a place where a dad can bring his kids.’ And originally Disneyland was just gonna be this little amusement park that was over on the L.A. River on Buena Vista. I can show you the plans. So he was a guy that was always pouring money into his dream literally. I mean, it sounds hokey but he had… call them dreams, ideas, whatever you want to do. He poured all of his money into those. And I”ve heard extensive conversations he”s had about the history of Disney, and he glosses over all of the successes and talks instead about the failures, the difficulties, the payroll, the box office. How much Stokowski cost him for ‘Fantasia.'”

The more Hanks spoke, the clearer it was that he just plain finds Disney fascinating. “It was always kind of like he had two pens in each hand. One was to draw, you know, the cartoon and the other one to sign the payroll checks. I think you get that in the course of what it is. Because when it”s just him and his staff in some of the scenes, it”s like ‘What nightmare is coming across my desk now?’ Which is, you know, the way business works.”

Seeing how much Hanks knew about Disney, one of the other interviewers asked what it meant to him to get to play the man. “The responsibility of, you know, trying to get it right is the main thing, but anytime you”re playing anybody real, you have to go for as much authenticity as the piece allows. You can”t just go in and make stuff up in order to make the movie work a little bit better, you know? It”s like if they were saying, ‘I”d like to have Walt Disney smoke a big cigar.’ I”d have to say, ‘He doesn”t smoke a big cigar. He smoked three packs a day of cigarettes. Let”s do that.’ ‘No, I think it”d be great if he always has this big cigar.’ ‘Well, I”m not doing your movie because I”m not gonna turn him into a cigar smoking guy.’ We had a hard enough time trying to have him smoke, you know. The authenticity of the thing, that trumps all. You”ve just got to find that.”

I mentioned that the way they handled Disney’s legendary smoking habit in the film feels very carefully negotiated with studio lawyers. “Oh my God,” Hanks replied, “you guys know how this works. If we smoke cigarettes in this movie about making ‘Mary Poppins,’ it would be rated R. That”s just the way it works. It would be rated R. So we had negotiations of ‘you cannot light a cigarette, you cannot inhale a cigarette,’ so all I could do was put it down. Now, I always had a pack of the cigarettes, and sometimes I was playing around with them and a cigarette lighter here and there. But the man smoked three packs a day. He actually thought he had a polo injury, and he went in to the doctor and they did a surgery and the cancer from his lungs had got up to here.” Hanks pointed at a place high on his own back. “And he passed away very shortly thereafter.”

Weintraub said he heard that Hanks only took the role so he could get a Disneyland passport for life, obviously teasing, and Hanks grinned as he responded. “I”m gonna tell you something that”ll blow that right out of the water. I”ve already got one. A little thing called Woody, and a little thing called ‘Toy Story’ I, 2 and 3. Now, I can”t get 30 people in there, but I think I could go down there right now and just have lunch and spend the day.’

We asked if we could join him, and he said, “I might be able to get you all in. And you know what I”d do? There”s actually a little shady spot on Tom Sawyer”s Island. The kids can run around to their heart”s content, and you can almost take a nap down there. Just wave to the canoes every now and again.”

The thing that cracks me up is knowing that if he really did do that, no one would believe it was the actual Tom Hanks. They’d think he was animatronic and part of the attraction. He pointed out that he’s got a long history with Disney. “‘Turner and Hooch.’ ‘Splash.’ Let”s go back to the beginning.”

Asked what perks are involved when you make Disney that sort of metric ton of money, Hanks replied, “Oh, that”s interesting. That”s a good question. The truth is they were afraid of this movie. They sort of had to do it because… you know, legally I think you can make this movie almost anywhere you want to.”

I agreed, but pointed out that you wouldn’t be able to show any clips from “Mary Poppins” or use any of the music, something that “Wired” had to contend with regarding John Belushi and his various films and TV appearances. “Yeah, you wouldn”t be able to. I think between Alan Horn and Bob Iger, they had some sort of meeting [to say], ‘I think we have to make this movie. We can”t let somebody else do it.’ The way I understand it, there was no parsing this out in order to make it palatable. I mean, Kelly”s screenplay was the movie that you”re seeing. But, you know, [Disney has] a different type of movie that they make now. All studios do. So a relatively inexpensive movie that”s period, that”s about playing songs on a piano in a rehearsal hall and having me dressed up in, you know, one of two different suits? They were going, ‘Is anybody gonna care? How do we do this?'”

I told him that compared to most of what gets greenlit these days, “Saving Mr. Banks” seems practically experimental. “Almost, yeah,” he nodded. “And yet I always just said, ‘You guys are nuts. This thing is fantastic and I believe you”re in the business of trying to make fantastic movies. So I think you”re gonna be just fine and dandy.’”

The thing about doing a group interview like this is that you’re constantly balancing the need to be courteous and professional with the other people in the room and the need to get some sort of conversational back and forth going with the person you’re interviewing, and I’ve always found that when things are rolling, you need to press the moment and just keep talking. In this case, I wanted to talk to him about telling stories about storytelling and how hard that can be. One of my pet peeves about making movies about moviemaking is that it always looks so easy and so fake. Both Hanks and Thompson are writers, though, and watching them in this film, it feels honest. They’re able to show the real pains of writing without having to either exaggerate it or come up with some silly camera plan to cover up that they’re basically just showing people sitting in rooms talking. There’s a great one with Disney and the Shermans that I think perfectly captures a creative breakthrough, and I mentioned how right that felt to me.

He replied, “What happens in all these things, you just come up on these roadblocks. Part of these roadblocks are people”s temperaments. They just say, ‘No, I”m not gonna do it that way.’ I make jokes about producing. Most of producing is getting on the phone and begging somebody to do something they don”t want to do. ‘Please, we need this and otherwise we can”t get this shot. You”re the only person.’ The other phone call you make is telling somebody that they don”t get to do the thing. ‘Listen, you”re really great in this, but it ain”t gonna happen and we”re not gonna use it.’ So in one way or the other, it”s totally confounding. That”s why the DNA of the screenplay that was evident right from the get go is one of… I don”t know that I”ve seen this version of the creative process. Maybe in that film ‘Topsy Turvy’ that Mike Leigh made about Gilbert and Sullivan. I think that”s the only movie that I”ve really seen that has taken into account the personalities of the insane people involved who were trying to bring something to life. The truth is I”ve had meetings like that on almost every movie where somebody just says, ‘Why the hell are we doing this?’ It”s like, ‘Let”s either throw it away or win this person over to our side.'”

One of my favorite things Hanks has ever done is a moment in “That Thing You Do” where the band hears their song on the radio for the first time, and it’s such a great celebration of the simple pleasure of creation. In some ways, Travers seems like the opposite, someone who had angst about sending things out into the world. “She hated it,” Hanks agreed. “She hated it. She hated the movies. She hated Walt Disney. She hated stupid cartoons. She hated, hated, hated it. And yet she needed the money. So how do you rectify that?”

So much of the movie deals with the particular traumas that drove Travers, and they even touch on some of the roughest moments of Disney’s early life as well. Hanks said, “You know there”s a great line in [the film] where he says, ‘Look, I loved my dad.  He was a wonderful man,’ right after he describes this, you know, this thing. But, his dad came from a world [where] if you didn”t have a nickel, you might not eat that well for the rest of the week. It”s fascinating and I think it”s accurate that Walt Disney kept recreating his world over and over and over again, right down to, you know, there”s this Main Street, USA, and his dad”s name is up on one of the windows. His dad never had an office. His mom and dad and his wife were included in every aspect of the Walt Disney art, you know. As soon as they moved out to L.A., Mom and Dad came out as well. He took care of them. They were a very close knit family all the way through. There is something to that, saying, ‘Look, despite all the hardships, isn”t life wonderful?’ And I think you could probably say that Pamela Travers didn”t necessarily think that. Because of all the hardships, [it was more like] isn”t life hideous, you know? She was not a pleasant woman, and Walt was the most pleasant human being you”d come across. So there”s enough of that authenticity that you have to get to when you”re talking about this movie. Richard Sherman talked about those two weeks and he said [Walt] used swear words to describe Pamela Travers.”

I mentioned how the brief excerpt of the real Travers that you hear at the end of the fllm made me break out into a cold sweat. She’s terrifying. Hanks laughed. “Oh, they hated her. They hated, hated, hated her. And the truth is she hated them.  Isn”t that kind of amazing?”

Someone asked Hanks if he’s ever spent that long trying to get something made. “‘Castaway’ took six years from the beginnings of the idea until the end.” Another reporter brought up “Forrest Gump,” but Hanks said it didn’t take long once the actual team got involved. “I think Eric Roth had written that a long, long, long, long time ago, but from when Bob Zemeckis got involved and we did it, it was a requisite amount of time. Here”s what happens. You can have this idea in your head and you”re always trying to get it in and it always might be kind of close, but nothing happens until you make that key alliance with someone. If the alliance is with a filmmaker or the alliance is with a producer or the alliance is with a studio, well, then it begins. But that alliance doesn”t necessarily speed things up. That alliance just makes it exist outside of your own imagination and progress happens. And when it takes a long time, man, there”s nothing you can do except acknowledge that we don”t have it yet. It”s not ready to go yet. And, you know, that”s a bitch. The worst thing that can happen [is when movies become dependent on] casting. Like they say, ‘We”ll make this movie if you can get so-and-so to be in it.’  That”s desperate, and I”ve been on both sides of that. That”s just desperation time. If somebody comes to me and wants me to do something I don”t really want to do, or me going to somebody to say, “Wouldn”t it be great if we made this together?”

One of the other reporters seemed shocked that anyone would turn Tom Hanks down. “Oh yeah, yeah. Sure. Sometimes they turn it down because they don”t get it or they have something else they want to do or they”re not available. It”s just the way it works. Sometimes I”ve had to say things to people like, ‘Don”t even send this to me because if it”s great, it”s gonna break my heart that I can”t do it because I”m not available. And if I hate it, I”m gonna break your heart because you love it. So don”t. Don”t. Let”s pretend it didn”t exist. We never met.’”

This time of year, and especially in regards to the types of films that Hanks makes, the conversation often turns to awards, and someone asked Hanks how he feels about having two films that people are already talking about in terms of nominations. “Well, it”s out of my control. It wouldn”t be bad. It”s better than a poke in the eye with a stick, you know. I can tell you that.”

He was asked if his process as an actor has gone through any significant changes over the years, and if there’s any particular film that required more work from him than any other. Hanks took a moment to consider the question before answering. “I have had a difficulty from the get-go of shaking some sense of self-consciousness that I think in some ways has had a half-life. Early on in one”s career, you really only care about what your lines are and how you look and whether you look cool. And you”re always outside yourself looking at your performance somehow. With every hash mark on the resume, it became less and less and less which is good, but quite frankly when I took on ‘Cloud Atlas,’ that reshaped everything as far as going into a movie that I”d ever made. There was only one way to do that and that was completely give yourself over to all the decisions that all these other people made and only care about what happened on the inside of the costume and inside of the makeup.”

I found it fascinating to see how vulnerable Hanks seemed talking about the process of handing himself over to someone else completely. Again… this is one of the most famous actors on the planet, and even so, we’re talking about an experience last year that changed the entire way he works. “That was new because there was just this volume of work. It was so interlocking. It was the most complicated jigsaw puzzle of a film ever, and the only way I think any of us could do that was just to go in and quietly close our eyes and work and have the characters and go to it. That means a shedding of all that self-consciousness, whatever was still left of it. It was liberating. It was completely freeing because it was a union with the script and a union with the characters and that”s all that mattered. You make other movies and other things matter. Does that make sense, you know? All of the maintenance that can go on with doing a movie just had to go by the wayside. I woke up in the morning and I went to work and it”s really like that Kurt Vonnegut short story, “Who Am I This Time?”, you know? It”s like that”s what it was. That broke an awful lot of rods as far as whatever superstructure of how I do it. I was able then to go off and do… well, I did a play on Broadway. [And there was] working with Paul [Greengrass] and this one as well. Part of it is getting older. You just don”t give a shit anymore, you know? This is what I look like, you know? I can”t change what I look like. I can only utilize other people”s artistic impression. So there is less maintenance that goes into the other parts of it. And, look, God bless the guys who still ask me to show up and do movies right about the time I finally figure out how to do it. So it worked out nice. Good timing.”

When he brought up Greengrass, I wanted to pursue that a little further. I’ve talked to many people who have worked with Greengrass over the years, and the process of making his films sounds intense. It’s something that seems different than any other filmmaker’s process right now. It sounds like he’s very demanding, but Hanks corrected me when I phrased it that way. “The work is demanding. He”s not. He”s a great guy, you know. But, yeah, I know exactly what you”re talking about because when you work with Paul, everything is behavior. Everything is procedure. There are not shots. There”s no such thing as a moment where… you know, there”s a famous story of making ‘Casablanca,’ and it”s actually a moment that almost every actor has to experience at one point or another in which there was nothing to shoot. There weren”t pages and they had the star and it was [time to] work and he was in makeup. And so Michael Curtiz – was that who directed it? — said, ‘All right, Bogey, just come in and hit the mark and look off camera and give a nod.’ And I”ve done that in movies, you know? You’re just kind of like, ‘Well, we”ve got to put something in. We don”t know what it is yet.’ All right, fine. And it could have been to a passing dog or to, you know a waiter. It could have been to anything. And in the movie, it turns out to be when he nods to Laszlo at the piano and says, ‘Play the Marseillaise.’ And the shot was from weeks before of Bogey coming in and nodding, and it”s become one of the most important [shots in the film]. But Paul Greengrass does not do things like that. We shot every almost every scene in its complete entirety from beginning to end no matter how long it lasted, and he rotated the cameras in and got the other shots and got all the pieces, so much so that you”re not even aware of where they are anymore, the cameras. The reasons that it”s complicated and it”s hard work is because you start work on the scene and it just becomes more and more and more dense and complicated as it goes along.”

He continued, “We had scenes where we laid out the eleven pages of dialogue literally on the bridge and we were writing in the stuff. We were moving things around and we”d take a huge chunk and we”d come back with brand new dialogue. The captain of the real ship was right there, and he says, ‘Well, what you”d really say is this and what you”d really say is that.’ And you”ve got to keep that all in. We did that at some points. There was one day specifically where we worked for five-and-a-half hours in the morning, and no one said, ‘Hey, we”ve got to shoot. We”ve got to shoot, guys, we”ve got to shoot.’ It was nothing like that. Then we got one stagger-through. Well, let”s get one and pause at this and then we”ll take a look at it at lunch and see what we need. That”s what we did. This movie was not shot like that. This movie was broken up into the traditional almost Disneyesque way of making things. As I said, man, you can”t be self-conscious when you”re doing that. That”s a guy who reinvented how to make nonfiction films anyway, between ‘Bloody Sunday’ and ‘United 93.’ It”s fantastic.  It”s… what”s the word I”m looking for? It”s devastating. It”s hard. Let me put it that way. It”s really hard but what do you do? You just gear up and you go there, you know? A lot of times I think that”s the hardest thing. Our lives are complicated and sometimes making a movie is, ‘The kid was up too late last night. Oh, guess where we”re going today. Today we”re getting off at Overland and we”re going down to Motor and then we”ll go into the gate and we”ll go to stage 26 and we”ll go to home base.’ Sometimes that”s what making movies is, and the last thing you want to do is show up and then, you know, an hour-and-a-half later have to be either vivacious or dealing with a crisis. But, you know, that”s the gig so you just gotta be ready to go there. I think I”m ready to go there now more than I was in the past.”

I like Hanks as a director, so I was glad one of the other guys asked him if he’s been working to figure out what he might direct next. “You know, I”m not an instinctively talented or able director. I can approach it in a way of doing it. If I look at everything that I ever directed, I”d probably only be able to say here”s five or six moments that actually came out the way I wanted them to. When I”m a director, I often look at the actors and say, ‘Look at them. Look at those bastards over there having all that fun. Sitting around in their costumes and faking all their scenes while I gotta go.’ Instinctively I”m an actor and I keep it all in my head and I just kind of do it without having to explain to anybody. Then you meet someone like Paul Greengrass or even John Lee Hancock, who used to be a lawyer, you know, but didn”t want to be a lawyer. Or Ron Howard who is like, you know, he”s the director”s dream. He thinks it”s just the greatest job in the world. That”s all he”s ever wanted to do, and it requires a different sort of instinct. I know the craft and I think I can figure out the physics of directing a movie but, you know, it takes about two years out of your life and I don”t know if I have two years. I”m on the back nine here, folks. You know, I don”t know if I want to give up a par six. Not that I play golf. You know what I”m saying?”

When pressed on it, he explained, “Every time I directed in the past, it came along and from the moment the idea came into my head I thought I”m going to write and direct this. That has not happened. I don”t go out and say I”m looking for something to direct. No, I don”t do that.”

Since much of “Saving Mr. Banks” depends on the chemistry between Hanks and Emma Thompson, he was asked about the experience of working so closely with her on the film. “I knew her really well from a completely social point of view of having dinners with her through Mike Nichols mostly. And I”ve got to say working with her was the exact same as a convivial three hour dinner with maybe a little too much wine going down one of us.” It’s impossible to convey in print the way Hanks clearly communicated both that he meant Emma and that he was kidding, but it was one of those vintage Hanks gestures that have always made him so funny.

He continued, “I think we don”t have the same exact background but we do come from a theater background in which, you know, the whole thing is about familiarity with the text and there being no substitution for that. It”s bad to call anybody a competent professional because that doesn”t really do them justice. She is an incredibly experienced professional actress and so we got more work into our days than at other times because we didn”t have to find anything. I mean, we had to block it out and stuff like that, but we just attacked the material that we knew very well going into it. I think we actually gave John Lee Hancock probably 40 percent more usable stuff than we would have if you just have to take time in order to find it and get there. She was armed, man. She”s ready to go. She”s not unlike Julia Roberts that way. Julia comes and knows everything and can handle anything that comes down the pike.”

Asked if he’s ever worked with anyone as difficult as Travers is in the film, he demurred, laughing. “No, I”m such a pussy I wouldn”t have even taken the job to begin with. No, not a road block like that. Not with anybody who just says no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I”ve never, never, never done that. Well, you know, maybe in the very early writing periods of more long form stuff like the miniseries, you sometimes work with writers that would deliver what was going to be, you know, a key chapter of whatever we”re doing and we just had to say, ‘This ain”t it.’ And they say, ‘Why?’  Then you have that kind of fight. But, no, I”ve never worked with anybody who took the contract, snapped it into her purse, and then flew back home saying, ‘You ain”t doing it.’ If it does [get that bad], I just make Gary Goetzman deal with it. Gary”s my producer, so I make him deal with it. He”s [the one who says] ‘Hey, come on, we can work this out.’ I”m the guy who says, ‘Look, if you want to do it, let”s do it. If not, let”s not. I”m going upstairs.’ That’s what I do.”

With that, we had to wrap it up, and Hanks moved on to the big press conference and what I’m sure was a crazy day of talk show appearances and travel. He’s one of those guys I could sit down and talk to any time about any of his films, and the conversations would always be interesting and loose and worth my time. It’s always a pleasure, and that’s not true of everyone in this business.

You’ll have an opportunity to see “Saving Mr. Banks” starting in theaters everywhere on November 29th.

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