‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ opens November 22 nationwide
From 1968 to 2001, Fred McFeely Rogers of Latrobe, Pa., imparted words of kindness and wisdom to millions of children on PBS’ long-running program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In a fast-evolving world where kids grappled with a growing array of tough issues and often may have felt misunderstood, Mister Rogers took the time to listen, understand, and connect with them, earning his status as a cherished source of comfort for millions of Americans.
Tom Hanks, Hollywood’s own beloved entertainer, dons the famous red cardigan and steps into the canvas tennis shoes to play Fred Rogers in TriStar Pictures’ “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,”directed by Marielle Heller and written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster.
Inspired by award-winning journalist Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire magazine profile on Fred Rogers “Can You Say…Hero?” and the real-life friendship that developed between the two men, the movie gently reminds viewers of this Presbyterian—ordained minister’s dedication to empathy, kindness, and decency, qualities that may be even more relevant today than they were five decades ago.
In an exclusive interview with SACONNECTS magazine, Mrs. Joanne Rogers, 91, reflects on the new movie about her husband, how it truly reveals his strong values and beliefs, and its potential impact on the inner child of adults who will see it.
The piano is an important metaphor in this movie. You are depicted while playing one.
I did play the piano. I majored in college as a classical pianist and was part of a two-piano team. We had a good time doing our thing for 35 years, and Fred was very supportive of that.
The opening scene of this PG movie has the potential to truly grip the audience in a most unexpected way. How do you want parents to talk to their kids about this movie?
This is the first time I’ve ever had that question asked and I think it’s an important one. That opening is exactly what the writers meant to accomplish. I think this is definitely meant to be interesting to adults who saw the program from an earlier time. There were people in the audience who teared up and cried through it.
Why is reconciliation a huge theme in the movie, particularly between the journalist and his dad?
When people ask me “What do you think Fred would say about the times now? I think he would just worry so much about trying to do reconciliation with people. I think that’s our biggest task right now. Not just with fathers and sons, but with good friends, relatives, and everybody who is affected by what’s been going on in our world.
Another strong theme in the movie is dealing with anger.
I thought so too. The writers were very adept at covering this and other tough topics. I think it was a work of love for them. Both of them are parents of young children. In the making of the film, they were very patient; all the people who made this movie were patient. It’s been in the works for about 10 years.
That’s longer than most films, right?
That’s right. The story was there, but it needed work and then it all had to come together. So, it took a lot of patience for the writers and the producers. They were among the people who were most involved with the project.
In a particular scene, we hear a voiceover of Mr. Rogers praying for the journalist’s entire family. How much was prayer an actual part of Fred’s work?
He was a very disciplined person who worked with a schedule. He wrote a song for kids called “I like To Be Told.” He was a person who liked things laid out neatly. So, he started the day with prayer. He spent maybe about an hour or an hour–and–a–half in prayer. He had a legal pad with a list of names on it that he wanted to remember. That in itself would take a while.
I hope God had patience with Fred, because he spent a good deal of time praying. Fred used to say, and I have to agree with him, that the best prayer is simply, “Thank you, God.” Fred said, “Just say that to yourself and pray it to God whenever you can.”
He was not someone who talked a lot about his faith, but he could tell by the people he was talking to whether they were going to be open to hearing about it; if it was going to be comfortable for them. I think you have to be comfortable yourself, but you also have to think about the other person that you are talking to. So, he was careful about that.
On the program, he certainly talked about faith all the time. But he didn’t mention Jesus. That would not have been very inclusive or helpful. Instead, I think he actually did what he wanted to say.
Was he under the radar in getting that message across to a wide variety of people?
Yes, everything you’re saying is right on. Through storytelling and puppetry and all of these things, he really connected with people in a phenomenal way.
by Warren L. Maye