Shooting one quaint room with only four inhabitants doesn’t exactly scream “cinematic,” at least not in the conventional sense of the word. For a considerable portion of Saving Mr. Banks, we’re watching creative sessions involving P.L. Travers (Emma Thomspon), screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and songwriters Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Bob Sherman (B.J. Novak) attempting to adapt Mary Poppins. Generally absent from those scenes is Tom Hanks, an actor with no shortage of charisma.
Not having Hanks’s Walt Disney participating is fine though as the others happily match his charm. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blindside) cast these roles based on the energy needs of that room. Discussing those scenes with Hancock, it’s apparent how much those moments standout for him as well:
“That room was a rehearsal room. We put a lot of care and design into it. We had, like, 20-something pages of the script in there. For the most part, those pages are without Tom Hanks, so it’s about the creative process. You have to make sure the movie does not slowdown during that. Of course you got music and things like that which help, but that was a part of the script that fascinated me as well. I cast to that room with those people. I already had Emma [Thompson, playing P.L. Travers], but thinking about the Shermans and Don DaGradi, you want different energies from the gentleman. You want something invigorating.”
Jason Schwartzman, being a musician himself, was immediately drawn to playing Richard Sherman. Playing the always smiling songwriter, Schwartzman was encouraged by Hancock to go along with any mistakes made in the room, lending those scenes a spontaneity. For Schwartzman, shooting in one room was more encouraging than daunting:
“I loved shooting in that room. I was excited about the idea where almost all our scenes are in one room, and to get to shoot them chronologically. I like that, because the story is changing and things are always happening. Shooting in one scene is a visual restriction in a lot of ways, you know? How do you approach today’s scene? To be honest with you, it wasn’t very hard, because the script was so good and so fun. Seeing Emma being so relentless everyday was enjoyable for me, Jason, but not for the character. It was great seeing how she would destroy us everyday.”
At a certain point, that room became claustrophobic, creating an atmosphere Schwartzman relates to the real life creative sessions. They all followed Thompson and the Sherman’s lead in finding that comedic energy Hancock mentioned to us:
“Emma Thomspon is so amazing that we were all going off her, so the rapport came together easily. Richard told us all what the room was like, where each of us were and what we were doing. We all naturally fell into those roles. Richard said if he walked into that room we would see Don drawing, Travers, Bob frustrated and sitting there with his cane, and him smiling, trying to find a way to incorporate her ideas. That’s why the character is almost always smiling.”
Speaking of smiling, that’s the general reaction to those scenes, even from people who aren’t fans of Saving Mr. Banks. Seeing P.L. Travers devour the trio’s ideas — and often providing fair criticisms — is a generally mean-spirited affair, but her reactions are also incredibly funny. That room is Travers’ battleground, and Schwartzman and Hancock enjoyed recreating and being being a part of her passionate take-downs.
Saving Mr. Banks opens nationwide on December 20th.