Only a relative handful of people can confirm the drama of “Saving Mr. Banks” is true, and Dame Julie Andrews is one of them.
She would be, having won an Oscar in the title role of the 1964 Disney classic “Mary Poppins.” Also the star of the big-screen “The Sound of Music” — which gets its annual ABC holiday showing Sunday, Dec. 22 — Andrews is familiar with the strained relations between entertainment titan Walt Disney and “Poppins” author P.L. Travers, played by fellow Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in the new “Banks” film opening in limited release Friday (Dec. 13) and then nationally on Dec. 20.
“I know it took Disney forever to woo P.L. Travers,” Andrews tells Zap2it. “She and I did meet, and we corresponded to a certain degree during the making of ‘Mary Poppins.’ She’s wonderfully portrayed by Emma Thompson, who gives a very brave performance, and a lot of it really rings true for me.
“[Travers] was a very interesting, complicated lady. And Tom Hanks plays Disney brilliantly, and Colin Farrell playing Pamela Travers’ father really is a departure for him. I think it’s quite a good movie.”
Soon to return to Austria as fifth-time host of PBS’ “Great Performances” telecast of the New Year’s Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, Andrews admits she didn’t witness firsthand much of what “Saving Mr. Banks” depicts. Still, she’s been aware of it for some time.
“A lot of it got passed down to me over the years,” she says. “I know [Travers] tested Disney dreadfully; she was rather a grand lady in that sense. In my memoir, I write about her calling me the day after I gave birth to my daughter Emma. This voice came on the phone and said, ‘Hello? This is Pamela Travers.’
‘”There I was, recuperating in the hospital, and I said, ‘Oh, hello, Miss Travers! What a thrill to talk to you.’ And she said, ‘Yes. Well, I understand you’re going to be doing Mary in “Mary Poppins.” Talk to me.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m slightly groggy right now. I just gave birth to a baby yesterday.'”
That didn’t sway Travers from having the discussion then and there, Andrews recalls: “She said, ‘Of course, you’re far too pretty [for Poppins] … but you have the nose for it.’
“Then we corresponded and became sort of friends, but certainly, Disney had to be rather firm with her as filming got close. I think she never liked the movie, but she probably smiled all the way to the bank.”