The Fred Rogers biographical documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is the Oscar front-runner for Best Documentary Feature, the Rogers commemorative special “It’s You I Like” was nominated for two Emmys this summer, the Showtime series “Kidding” starring Jim Carrey as a Rogers-like figure is now nominated for two Golden Globes and in fall 2019 will see the theatrical release of “You Are My Friend,” a biopic starring Tom Hanks as Rogers.
What is the reason for Hollywood’s sudden itch to tell stories about a man who died 15 years ago and whose PBS show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” went off the air two years before that? “There’s a big one in the White House,” “You Are My Friend” co-writer Micah Fitzerman-Blue answers. Fitzerman-Blue and his co-writer and fellow executive producer Noah Harpster spoke to Gold Derby earlier this month on the red carpet at the Whistler Film Festival (watch the exclusive interview above), where the duo was honored among Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch for 2018. Fitzerman-Blue continues, “There’s a desire for goodness, for a certain model of how it means to be a man today and there’s a lot of people looking for an actual role model — someone who really embodies goodness and that’s been lost.”
“If there can be four Marvel movies a year, there can be two in two years about Mister Rogers,” quips Harpster, who explains about developing theirs, “It’s been an eight-year process.” Harpster recalls that “Cool, that’ll never come out before ours does” was his response when Morgan Neville told them that he was making “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The parallel productions remained amicable, with Harpster admitting about the other, “We saw a version of it at Morgan’s studios before it came out and I cried my face off.”
After “You Are My Friend” appeared on the prestigious 2013 Black List of the best un-produced screenplays, opposite the eventual Oscar-nominated and -winning scripts for “American Sniper” and “Spotlight” respectively, Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster wrote and produced the first four seasons of “Transparent,” with Harpster even acting in the first two. Fitzerman-Blue reveals about the upcoming final season, “We’re no longer on ‘Transparent.’ We hear there’s a fifth season and we wish them all the best. We loved working on that show.”
“Fred was a pretty amazing guy, didn’t really have a dark side or an underbelly, so we needed to find a character that could be that and it was a long process,” Harpster explains about their passion project. Fitzerman-Blue adds, “Fred Rogers isn’t the kind of person who fits neatly into a cradle-to-grave biopic, but he touched so many lives, so […] we thought [that there would be no] better way to tell Fred’s story than through someone else whose life he affected,” alluding to the Esquire profiler played by Matthew Rhys. Fitzerman-Blue clarifies about their portrayal of Rogers, “What’s been most important to people closest to Fred is that we not portray him as a saint, but that we actually try to capture part of him as a human being.”
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