“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” director Marielle Heller stopped by the Variety Studio to discuss the various transformations Tom Hanks and the film set underwent in order to create the movie based on the beloved Mister Rogers, though she explicitly states it is not a biopic of the late host.
“There was an incredibly beautiful documentary that came out last year called ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ about Mister Rogers and this movie has actually been in the works long before that documentary even came out,” Heller said. “But Mister Rogers wouldn’t make a great protagonist of a movie. He’s as good as we think he is. He is a good, evolved human who just can’t go through that major life change. He’s already there; but, he makes a great antagonist.”
Hanks leads the film, and while he’s kept clad in a series of cardigans and a pair of Sperry’s men’s Captain CVO (Rogers’ favorite pair of shoes), his overall purpose is less meant to portray an exact replica of Mister Rogers. Rather, his role tells a larger story of the lesser-seen parts of Mister Rogers. “Part of what we really tried to do was erase the space between him and us as an audience member. We really wanted an episode of Mister Rogers for adults and part of that was about creating a character with Tom where there’s no distance between him and us. So, it was not about prosthetics or making him look like Mister Rogers or do an imitation. It’s why I actually think this is a movie that people will see in the theaters because it’s a special experience to see it in the theaters – to sit in the dark and have Tom Hanks tell you that he loves you just the way you are,” Heller said.
“I think it’s easy to think that Mister Rogers must have been light and only thinking about smiling or only thinking about the positive parts of life, but that’s just not true at all. He was someone who really dealt with the hardest subjects of life. He had a phrase that he said which was, ‘anything that’s mentionable is manageable,'” she said. “It’s important to understand that he was a human and part of what we show in this movie, too, in this relationship between these two men is the complexity of Mister Rogers. Not that he had a dark side, but that he was a human, that he was struggling, that he felt the pain of the world very deeply.”