How Tom Hanks Captured Walt Disney’s Mannerisms for ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

American Icons, Celebrities, Celebrity Q&A, Featured Article, Movies
on December 20, 2013

Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors. What was it like for him to play Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks?”
—Jay Milazzo, Mahwah, New Jersey

Tom Hanks, 57, had a lot of help in getting Disney’s characteristics down pat — even to how much mustache he would wear — because there was a lot of filmed footage of the creator of Mickey Mouse for him to watch.  Plus, Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, who has since passed away at age 79, gave Hanks unlimited access to the archives at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

“The only handicap was a lot of it is Walt Disney playing Walt Disney,” says the Concord, California-born, two-time Academy Award winner. “But even in some of that, there’s an ocean of the cadence to the man, and that true sense that he believed everything that he said about his projects. So, I had a great road map to search it out.”

But when it came to understanding more about who Walt Disney was, Hanks turned to Diane, Academy Award-winning composer Richard Sherman, 85, and former Disney employees for useful anecdotes.

An example, according to Hanks was: “Walt smoked three packs a day, and Richard Sherman said, ‘You always knew when Walt was coming to visit your office, because you could hear him coughing from down by the elevator.’ So I was able to put that kind of stuff into it, and it just ends up being one of the delightful cards in the deck.”

So did he learn anything unexpected?

“The surprise — coming from Diane — was how much of just a regular dad this guy was,” Hanks says. “Disneyland itself came about because he used to spend every Saturday with his two daughters. And after a while, here in L.A., he ran out of places that he could take them… He was sitting eating peanuts on a park bench in Griffith Park and the girls were on the merry-go-round, and he said, ‘There really should be a place that dads can take their daughters.’ And from that, Disneyland was born.”