It’s long overdue that somebody bring Walt Disney to the screen. Tom Hanks playing him is a dream combination. They have the same eyes. And Emma Thompson gives the full range of emotions as P.L. Travers. For me, watching her childhood onscreen and knowing my character Jane Banks — she definitely related to Jane. There are so many parallels P.L. Travers has pulled from her own life.
I don’t know if I ever auditioned for Mary Poppins. I made a film for Disney called “The Three Lives of Thomasina,” which Uncle Walt loved, so I think I might have just gotten the role. This was his baby. He was very enthusiastic and generous. For example, he flew me, my two sisters and my mom over from England. He got us a home up in the canyons with an indoor heated swimming pool and gave me the use of the private plane on the weekends so we could fly to his Santa Barbara ranch.
The first time I remember having lunch with Uncle Walt was at the commissary. One time, I was sitting next to his desk, I said to him, “Uncle Walt, I have an idea — why don’t we move your desk closer to the door, because it’s really far.” He said to me, “Karen, dear, my desk is so far from the door because by the time those cigar-chewing executives have walked from the door to the desk, they change their mind about what they are going to ask for.” I thought it was so funny.
I remember being on the set, and it was hard getting my act together because Dick Van Dyke would do all these goofy dances. And Julie Andrews. Everybody smoked back then. I have memories of Mary Poppins smoking a cigarette. Julie was so good to me. I’d learned these songs in England with a voice coach back in Stratford Upon Avon, and this lady had taught me in an operatic way. I arrived on set and was singing; it was awful. Julie took me aside and she worked with me.
I gave up acting in my mid-20s. I wanted to get out of the business and have a normal life . Walt Disney taught me how to be that person .
(Karen Dotrice was 8 when she portrayed Jane Banks in “Mary Poppins.” She told her recollections to Ramin Setoodeh.)