Entertainment

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Tom Hanks on Mr. Rogers as an antidote for the cynicism of our age

“This movie was a living hell.”

Tom Hanks is kidding — he’s a kidder! — about the process of making A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the Mr. Rogers movie that just had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (It opens across Canada on Nov. 27.)

The film includes a loving recreation of the set of the famed children’s television show, and opens with Hanks, as Fred Rogers, singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” as he changes into deck shoes and a cardigan, just as Rogers did at the start of each episode. He says it took him 22 takes to get it right, what with snagging the cardigan zipper or not getting everything done before the song ended or — “Can I make a confession that I’ve never told you?”

That’s Marielle Heller, the director of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and of last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? “When we finished those 22 takes I realized I’d made it harder for you than it ever was for Fred. He had the first knot of the shoes done, and we had you do that too. I didn’t realize it until after.”

I wish you could have known Fred. I think you and he would have had great conversations. And I think he would be really proud of this film

Hanks takes it in stride — he’s a pro! — but Heller isn’t finished with confessions. She also relates that at 1:30 in the morning, a few hours after the gala premiere, her inbox pinged with an email from Joanne, the widow of Rogers, who died in 2003.

Joanne had been supportive of the movie from the start, but this note was more personal. “I wish you could have known Fred,” she wrote. “I think you and he would have had great conversations. And I think he would be really proud of this film.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on an Esquire profile by Tom Junod, fictionalized in the film as Lloyd Vogel and played by Matthew Rhys. Hanks is tickled with the way Rogers discombobulated the cynical journalist in real life. “One way to throw a journalist off their game is to pull out a camera and take snapshots of them,” he says.


Actor Tom Hanks arrives for the premiere of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019, in Toronto, Ontario.

GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Of another odd detail in Rogers’ meetings with Junod, he notes: “My first interview with anybody is going to be me in a bathrobe. I’m just going to mess with that person’s mind. And then there’s that jujitsu move that he makes all the time, in which somebody says, ‘Don’t you have bad days?’ And he says (slipping into Rogers’ sing-song cadence) ‘Of course I have bad days. Journalists have bad days every now and again too, particularly with the fact that you have to do this story on a deadline. Is there ever a time when you haven’t made a deadline, and you felt bad because of it?’”

Hanks returns to his natural voice. “So I’ve got the jujitsu, the bathrobe and the camera. That’s what you’re going to get from me next time.”

On a more serious note — he can be serious, too! — Hanks has some thoughts on the cynicism of our age, to which Rogers represented a kind of antidote.

“I think cynicism has become the default position for so much of daily intercourse,” he says. “Why? Because it’s easy, and there’s good money to be made at it. It’s a great product to sell.” It starts with ads that tell you to buy things as a way to define your worth.

“I think when Fred Rogers first saw children’s programming he saw it was cynical. And why in the world would you put a pipeline of cynicism into the mind of a two- or three-year-old kid? There’s a place for cynicism certainly, but why begin with it?”

Mr. Rogers would be proud of him, too.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close