Won’t You Be My Neighbor’s director Morgan Neville has explained why Tom Hanks is the perfect choice to play Mister Rogers in the upcoming biopic of the beloved children’s television host, insisting that the duo occupy “a similar cultural space.”
I spoke to Neville last month about his critically acclaimed documentary, which takes a poignant and all-encompassing look at Mister Rogers’ career. Towards the end of our conversation I asked the director for his thoughts on the recently announced biopic “You Are My Friend,” specifically the casting of Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.
“I think Tom Hanks is an interesting choice. Because he occupies a similar cultural space as Fred Rogers. Which is probably the most important thing. It is hard to think of a lot of actors that could do it.”
Neville doesn’t expect Hanks to undergo a huge transformation for the role, though, joking, “I don’t think he is going to go all ‘Cast Away’ and weigh 143 pounds,” which was a reference to the weight that Rogers maintained throughout his life.
Both sets of filmmakers have been in cahoots with each other over their respective Rogers films, with Neville admitting that he knows director Marielle Heller, its writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, and its producers Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf, who he insists “have been really supportive of our film.”
Neville was even willing to offer up some information on “You Are My Friend’s” plot, noting it “is not Fred’s whole life-story.”
“It is just his relationship with the journalist Tom Junod, who wrote that Esquire piece. I don’t know if you have read that Esquire piece, but it is one of the best pieces of magazine writing. It won a National Magazine Award, it is the most perfect magazine essay.”
“The previous cover story he had written for Esquire was about Kevin Spacey, and it had kind of half-outed him. There was a huge push back from everybody. Junod basically got slapped for doing this piece.”
“Fred, who always turned down profiles, knew that this journalist had just got into trouble and said, ‘I’ll do that interview.’ He did it not because he wanted to do the interview, but he thought that writer Tom Junod needed something that he could administer to him.”
“And it is this thing where Junod comes to ask questions, this is very typical, people would come to Fred and Fred would turn it around and the people he responded to were the people in need, people who were hurting or struggling in some way.”
We’ll finally get to see what they achieve with “You Are My Friend” when it is released at some point in 2019, while filming will begin in Pittsburgh in the fall,
Meanwhile, make sure to check out the sublime “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which is now in cinemas across the country.