A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD—Becoming Mr. Rogers

Director Marielle Heller (wearing a red jacket) sits on a set of steps while speaking with the reclining Tom Hanks (who plays Fred Rogers; wearing a red sweater) on the set of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

After watching the trailer for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (2019), you can practically feel your heart melting as one of history’s most beloved personalities is (finally) memorialized on the big screen. In this wonderfully earnest movie, we receive quite possibly the best casting choice to take on the role of Fred Rogers in none other than Tom Hanks. 

The movie based on the true story of the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers (or Mister Rogers) and a jaded magazine journalist played by Matthew Rhys. The cynical writer begins his encounter with Rogers as a bit of a skeptic towards his lighthearted worldview and ends up learning a lot about empathy and human kindness. In this semi-biographical movie on Fred Rogers, we find that Hanks couldn’t have been a more perfect selection to pay homage to the hero of our childhoods.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood-Tom Hanks-1
Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Self-admittedly, Hanks wasn’t much of a Mister Rogers fan growing up as he was “too busy watching Rocky and Bullwinkle and stuff like that,” but after receiving an email (prior to his acceptance of the role) containing a video clip of Rogers from one of his episodes featuring a young boy in a wheelchair, the Oscar®-winning actor was quickly converted. “It made me bawl my eyes out,” said Hanks in a Vanity Fair interview. “It was just so amazing. It’s one of the reasons why I’m in the movie.” As he dove deeper into studying the life and personality of Rogers, he shared that “[he] is just so wonderfully gentle and present with someone who normally would make most people feel uncomfortable.” 

When casting for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, director Marielle Heller shared some of her concerns with giving Hanks the role, mainly the contrast in Rogers’ and Hanks’ natural energies. Heller shared:

“[Tom has] a loud voice; he walks into a room, and you know that he’s there! He shakes everyone’s hand. He’s really funny. There’s never an awkward moment when you’re around Tom Hanks; Fred allowed for awkward moments. Fred sat in silence and stillness in a way I don’t think Tom naturally does. Tom Hanks naturally makes everyone comfortable, puts everyone at ease, and makes everyone feel great. Fred disarmed people by asking a question and then sitting and staring at you until you answered. My challenge as a director was to get Tom Hanks to become less Tom Hanks to let discomfort and painful things sit; to not make everything feel okay. This will feel very different from how you’ve seen him before.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood-Tom Hanks-2
Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Just from the trailer, we can clearly see that Hanks was able to curb his big energy and pull off the soft and gentle demeanor of Fred Rogers flawlessly. And it goes well beyond the vocal cadence and patient delivery because it’s each and every quirk and mannerism that breathes life into Hanks’ performance.

Fred Rogers wanted his lifestyle of limitless kindness and empathy to be attainable to everyone. And so, a movie capturing the life and lessons of Fred Rogers has finally made his legacy attainable and accessible. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be coming to Regal on November 22.