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Exclusive: Kelly Marcel talks writing 'Mr. Banks' & '50 Shades' screenplays

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On Friday, Dec. 13, Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks," hit theaters in limited release in New York and LA. had the opportunity to interview the screenplay writer Kelly Marcel. We also spoke about her other big project "50 Shades of Grey."

How did you come to work on "Saving Mr. Banks"?

Marcel: Alison Owen, who's our producer, came to me with a script that had been written in 2003 by a lady called Sue Smith and she asked me if I could re-imagine it because it was quite a big, full script and needed some re-working to turn it into what it is now and I said, 'Yeah, absolutely!' And so we started work and three months later that was it.

Tell me about the collaborative process.

Marcel: I loved the collaborative process particularly on this film. Everyone here is wonderful. The director, John Lee Hancock, loves having the writer on set, so I was with him everyday. All of these actors really loved talking about the script and collaborating with the writer, too, so that was a beautiful process. And I was very lucky to have that on this. It's not usual.

Can you tell me a little bit about your research into the world, into the period? Because it's based on a true story.

Marcel: It is based on a true story. There's an enormous amount of research to be done about Walt Disney and all of that kind of stuff on the internet and there's books everywhere. P.L.'s a little harder. There's not much out there about her, but there is a great book by Valerie Lawson called "Mary Poppins, She Wrote," which I used as my main research and once we sold the script to Disney, they opened up their archives to us and then I got to see all of her letters, hear all the tapes that we play in the film.

Can you talk about being at the L.A. premiere and meeting Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke?

Marcel: It was amazing! It was absolutely incredible. And I don't know if you saw it online, but we all gathered outside the old animation building and sang and it was just a really moving, beautiful experience. I wrote it in a shed in the bottom of my garden in England and I never ever thought that I would be standing on the steps of the animation building with Mary Poppins and Bert. And Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Singing. It was amazing.

Can you tell me about how you got your start in screenplay writing?

Marcel: I started in musical theater, I did an adaptation of "Debbie Does Dallas" the musical, for England, there had already been a production of it here and that's kind of how I started. Then went into television and then moved from television into film, but it was a long process, you know? There were many, many years of writing and being rejected prior to that. So it was long and hard and I had to kind of stick in there and hope that one day it would happen, which it did.

It looks like it's happening now. You have a major, major project that the whole world is buzzing about. Can you tell me how you got on board to write the screenplay for "50 Shades of Grey"?

Marcel: The producers and E.L. James read "Saving Mr. Banks" and they loved it. "50" is a very character driven piece as is "Saving Mr. Banks" and they wanted someone that could realize those characters and so that's how they came to me for it.

Is the script done for "50 Shades of Grey"?

Marcel: Yeah it's finished. They're shooting.

Was it a fun process to adapt "50 Shades of Grey" into a screenplay?

Marcel: Yeah it was a great, fun process. Everybody on that film is lovely and Erika, the author, is wonderful and so she was a great resource. It's amazing to have the author there and be able to pick up the phone or send her an e-mail and ask her any questions that I had, so yeah it was a great process, a very quick process. It's not similar to "Banks" in that, it's very much a job, I wrote it, it's done, they've gone off to do their thing and I'm here with my baby.

What's next for you after these two films?

Marcel: There's kind of a huge film in the works that I can't talk about right now that will probably be announced quite soon. And then I'm just finishing adapting a book called "Mr. Chartwell" about Winston Churchill's depression and then I'm also doing a TV series called "Westbridge" next year.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is now playing.


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