ATLANTA — Tom Hanks has played two real men in films this year, but the experiences were worlds apart. In “Captain Phillips,” he played Richard Phillips, a man who might have continued to work and live admirably but privately if his shipping vessel, the MV Maersk Alabama, had not been attacked by Somali pirates in 2009.
In “Saving Mr. Banks,” Hanks plays Walt Disney, one of the most famous and recognizable figures of the 20th century, a man whose influence as an artist and businessman continues to shape huge swaths of popular culture nearly 50 years after his death.
Hanks spent time with Phillips, which provided the Oscar-winning actor with first-person insight into the man and his mannerisms.
But Hanks said playing Disney was not necessarily more difficult. It just required a varied approach.
“No, it was just different,” Hanks said during an interview at Atlanta's St. Regis Hotel in October. “Never a bigger challenge, because it's a vacuum that you slowly fill up. There was a ton of material that I could seek out. It's not more of a challenge. It's a different challenge.”
“Saving Mr. Banks” is the story of how Disney persuaded P.L. Travers, author of the “Mary Poppins” novels, to let his company adapt her character for the screen. Played by Emma Thompson in the film, Travers spent two decades thwarting Disney's efforts to make “Mary Poppins,” which eventually made it to the screen in 1964 and garnered five Oscars, including a Best Actress award for Julie Andrews.
Disney's persistence is seen on two levels in “Saving Mr. Banks”: the charm offensive that Disney mounted to get Travers to change her mind, and the determination of a man who usually got the answer he wanted. Hanks had to portray both sides of the man, but he also had to show how they intersected.