×

How Makeup, Hair and Costume Designers Turned Tom Hanks Into Fred Rogers

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” director Marielle Heller didn’t want Tom Hanks to wear any prosthetics when playing Fred Rogers in the biopic, which was inspired by the Esquire article “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod (played by Matthew Rhys as a character named Lloyd Vogel). Heller felt such measures would throw up a barrier between the audience and the performance. Hanks, for one, was happy to hear that.

“To channel Mister Rogers, I had several questions for Mari,” says Hanks. “Questions including how do you want your movie to look like and feel like in the body of Mister Rogers? Are we going to do CGI? Are we going to have a lot of graphics in order to turn me into him — which is possible because I’m not as skinny as Mister Rogers, you know. Are we going to do dental plates? She said we’re going to do a wig, and we’re going to do some eyebrows, and that’s going to be that. I said fabulous.” 

Getting the actor to look enough like the iconic children’s TV host, in a believable but not overt way, was a balancing act for which the director recruited makeup artist Ma Kalaadevi Ananda, costume designer Arjun Bhasin (both of whom collaborated with Heller on “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and hair designer Tony Ward (“The Beguiled”).

Popular on Variety

Ananda, who trained as a painter before moving into film and television, focused on the TV host’s key attributes. “The authenticity and simplicity of Fred Rogers as a person had to be carried through in the transformation of Tom into Fred,” she says. Her process was to draw defining aspects of Rogers’ face from a photo onto a canvas painting of Hanks. “Using only color, I could thin Tom’s face and his nose. I made his skin tone lighter and added a cleft in his chin. I also accentuated a furrowed brow and added color to his lips.” 

Rogers’ eyebrows had unique characteristics that Ananda strove to capture: They had a right angle on each end, like the beginnings of a U-turn, and the hairs went in every direction. Says Ananda: “They had to be wrangled for close-ups with a bit of spirit gum on a fine brush and a subtle directional sweep.”

For Mister Rogers’ signature look — his brightly colored cardigans, blue canvas shoes, bow tie and penny loafers — Bhasin and Heller were fixated by the details that made him so specific. They looked at what he liked to wear on vacation, the color of his pajama suits, the fit of his swim trunks; it was all there in photographs and on film. Since the world of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is so familiar to so many people, it was crucial to do it absolute justice, “to re-create these iconic and whimsical characters to look and feel the way they’re imprinted in people’s memories,” Bhasin says.

“Fred Rogers’ first sweaters were made by his mother,” he continues, “and subsequently, over the almost 900 episodes of the show, he wore several different-colored cardigans, both hand- and machine-made. It was really important to me to have them hand-knitted and look used, slightly shapeless and well-worn. We dyed the yarns for exact color matches and had all his sweaters handmade in New York by a very talented knitter called Yasemin. There was so much nostalgia and excitement about the arrival of the first red sweater — we were really holding something iconic in our hands.”

The costume elements aided Hanks in his portrayal. 

“Mari wanted Mister Rogers to come through on the lens,” he says. “It was not a spot-on imitation, nor was it a spot-on physicality. You put on those clothes with the blue shoes, and you start walking like Mister Rogers. Then there is the body language. For me,
it all came together when I reined in my natural self and slowed down. That was the hardest part of Mister Rogers — slowing down. It’s finding that tempo and cadence.” 

More Artisans

  • George MacKay as Schofield in "1917,"

    '1917,' 'Jojo Rabbit' and 'Parasite' Lead Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “1917” continued its award-winning streak on Sunday night when it took home the feature motion picture – dialogue award at the MPSE Golden Reel Awards, recognizing outstanding achievement in sound editing. Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” won for feature motion picture – music underscore. The Golden Reel Awards presented prizes in 23 categories encompassing feature films, [...]

  • Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: ENDGAME..Tony Stark/Iron Man

    How 'Avengers: Endgame' Publicity Team Made Headlines By Saying Nothing At All

    Secrecy and strategy were fundamental when it comes to marketing the MCU films. After 14 years and 22 films, those two factors were crucial when it came to planning the rollout for the final installment,  “Avengers: Endgame.” Earlier this week, the publicity team behind the film’s campaign was nominated for the ICG Publicist Awards. Union [...]

  • The Farewell Movie BTS

    Academy Falls Short on Diversity, but Foreign Films Crash ACE Eddies Party

    The American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards, which will be handed out Jan. 17, will for the first time give voters a choice of selecting a foreign-language film in each of the three categories. The trio in contention are: “The Farewell” (comedy), “Parasite” (dramatic) and “I Lost My Body” (animated). “This is the first time in our [...]

  • Best Documentary Scenes from 2019

    Directors Describe Their Key Scenes in the Past Year’s Top Documentary Films

    The directors of this awards season’s documentary hopefuls explain the ticking hearts at the center of their shortlisted films. Apollo 11, Director: Todd Douglas Miller  Setting the Scene: The pre-launch sequence for the first mission in which humans landed on the moon, featuring NASA workers and regular citizens alike. Popular on Variety “It encapsulates everything and [...]

  • Paris Recreated for Movie Productions on

    TSF Recreates Paris on Former Air Base for Movie and TV Shoots

    As French outfits move to expand their studio offerings, industry eyes have turned to a 20-hectare stretch of land 20 miles south of Paris. There, in the commune Plessis-Pâté, sits the TSF Backlot 217, a converted air base that has become one the Gallic industry’s banner initiatives. One of France’s leading production suppliers, TSF scoped [...]

  • DSC07163.ARW

    Streamers Urge French Production Sector to Go Green

    For the French industry, the drive to open up additional studio spaces has gone hand-in-hand with the push for green production, because for the most part, they share the same root cause: The international streamers that are causing a surge in audiovisual production tend to have strict criteria when it comes to sustainable development. “Companies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content