NEW YORK – Unlike in the 1964 movie, Mary Poppins in P.L. Travers’ books is less merry than she is frequently poppin’ off about some transgression or other.
Travers herself was no different, and as played by Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, the imperious author butted heads with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) for 20 years as the movie mogul tried to obtain the Mary Poppins film rights.
Thompson, 54, the only person to win an Academy Award for both acting (outstanding actress, 1992’s Howards End) and writing (outstanding adapted screenplay, 1995’s Sense and Sensibility; she was also nominated for best actress), was born in London and studied at Cambridge University.
As a member of its famed sketch-comedy troupe Footlights, she performed alongside future stars Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Following a career breakthrough with the 1985 West End musical revival Me and My Girl, she went on to a string of roles both prestigious and populist, including a guest shot as Frasier’s first ex-wife on Cheers.
She herself was married to actor-director Kenneth Branagh from 1989 until separating in 1995, and since 2003 she has been wed to British actor-producer Greg Wise.
The actress, who also earned Oscar nominations for her roles in The Remains of the Day and In the Name of the Father (both 1993), spoke about her new film.
Q. The British papers said your husband believes that you were made to play cantankerous, opinionated old bats. So how long will he have to sleep on the couch?
A. Nooooooooo, I don’t think he said that. I made a joke about that at the (Saving Mr. Banks) premiere in London. I was standing onstage and I had written a joke about, My husband said to me this morning that you play someone who wrote about a nanny, and you’ve played (the children’s-book character Nanny McPhee), and I wonder if behind every nanny there’s a cantankerous, opinionated old bat. I’m sure, given the opportunity, he would have said it – I told him I was going to say it, and he said, Yes, that’s quite funny.
Q. Still, the overall point seems to be that you fit the character of P.L. Travers, in that you’re very willing to say what you think.
A. No, not at all, actually! I wish I had a little bit more of her courage. I was brought up to be terribly polite and to treat everybody extremely well. Whilst I’ll certainly not stint on an opinion if that’s what’s wanted, I couldn’t possibly be as rude or unpleasant as she is. Not that I necessarily think it’s a terrible thing to be – she was a very honest woman. But while my friends might say otherwise, I can’t think of anyone I resemble less.
Q. You must be offered so many roles, how is it you can choose a prestige project like Saving Mr. Banks on the one hand and a not-so-prestigious supernatural teen romance like this year’s Beautiful Creatures on the other?
A. Well, of course, the quick answer is, I’m not offered so many roles, because there aren’t so many roles for middle-aged women.