It’s hard to think of a better actor to bring Mr. Rogers to life than Tom Hanks, but it wasn’t as easy as slipping on a comfortable pair of sneakers. “In this movie, we drop you into the deep end and go, ‘Somebody else is going to be playing Mr. Rogers. You’ve gotta get used to it,'” explains director Marielle Heller in “Becoming Fred Rogers,” a behind-the-scenes look at her upcoming biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Watch the exclusive video above.
The TriStar Pictures release recounts the true-life friendship between Fred Rogers (Hanks), host of the iconic children’s television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and journalist Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys), who’s writing a profile on him. Oozing kindness and decency from his every pore, Rogers seems to share many qualities with Hanks, the admired everyman actor who won Oscars for “Philadelphia” (1993) and “Forrest Gump” (1994). Just swapping out one legendary figure with another wouldn’t suffice, though, especially when that figure was someone who entertained almost every child in America for decades.
In bringing Rogers’s life to the screen, Heller says, “The aim was always authenticity. It was a lot of looking at the two faces and going, ‘What do we need?'” Aside from those “very distinctive eyebrows” and “a very simple wig,” there actually wasn’t a lot of makeup used to aid in the transformation. For everything else, the goal was “to capture the truth behind his eyes, and everything that feels real and vulnerable.”
Hanks himself started by “looking at many, many hours” of the show, as well as Rogers’s “handwritten scripts of the shows. But rather than try to go with a microscopic, mole-for-mole imitation of Fred Rogers,” he hoped to recreate the “cadence,” “quietness” and “slowness” that defined his personality.
For his efforts, Hanks could return to the Oscar race in the Best Supporting Actor category, 19 years after his last Best Actor nomination for “Cast Away” in 2000 (he also contended for 1988’s “Big” and 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan”). He has also been chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to receive the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award for his lifetime achievements at the 2020 Golden Globes.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” opens in theaters on November 22.
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