Parade spoke with Tom about what he learned from Fred Rogers while portraying him for his new film.
One of our favorite actors takes on one of our favorite TV icons in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. We asked Tom Hanks to tell us what it was like. Plus, he shares five things he learned from Mister Rogers.
What was the hardest thing about playing Mister Rogers?
Slowing down, finding the cadence and the tempo, because so much of making movies is usually a pressure-filled thing. You’re always sure to be staying 10 minutes late; you’re always trying to get a shot before you lose the location; you’re always trying to just get through it. That’s totally contrary to what Mister Rogers was about. So I would say for me, the hardest thing about playing Mister Rogers was being able to find the quiet spaces inside spaces that had to be filled.
How did you prepare for the part?
When I started preparing for the role in earnest, I started looking at many, many, many, many hours of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It took me a while to realize that the show was not for adults or for anyone who understands nature or physics or even how flashlights work. The show was meant specifically for the mind of a child, who is just forming the logic of how elevators work, or why sometimes our parents are in a bad mood or why I’m jealous because there’s a new baby in my family. The show was specifically planned to enlighten the unenlightened. Also, we shot the film at WQED in Pittsburgh, the same studio Mister Rogers shot in, and many of the same people were still working there. So I heard lots of stories. I read Fred’s handwritten scripts of the shows on legal tablets.
What’s a favorite bit of wisdom from the movie?
There’s a question that Fred asks in the film, and he’s asked it in a number of public forums: “Is there somebody who loved you into existence, who loved you so much that you became who you are right now?” Who taught us how to love, who accepted us exactly as we are? Who told us that we were special and gave us that foundation of confidence and benevolence that we would not have had if they had not been in our lives?
If you could have had dinner with Fred Rogers, what three things would you have talked about?
I would want to have talked to him about the early days of television and how he was able to create this singular, completely individual enterprise that would likely never see the light of day today—and would certainly not be as sophisticated as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was. “You’re going to start your show with a dead fish? What are the kids going to learn from that?” I would want to talk to him about when he was young, growing up as a fat, sickly kid who got made fun of. You could go through a lot of people in history who were very sick when they were young and became artists because they spent so much time alone. And then I would want to talk about what it was like growing up in a place like Latrobe, Pennsylvania—which was in some ways Anytown, USA, but at the same time was pretty rarified air. He was wealthy, and to be wealthy in a place like Latrobe would’ve had a kind of noblesse oblige aspect. You lived a kind of different life, but you were still in Latrobe; was that advantageous, or was that difficult? If I had dinner with Fred Rogers, I’d say nothing about me; I’d just ask Fred questions about his life.
5 Things Tom Hanks Learned from Fred Rogers in His Own Words
Hot cranberry juice is a perfect morning beverage. Not coffee or tea, but cranberry juice, heated up in, I guess, a microwave. The man got up at 5:30 every morning, so he knew what worked.
Getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day means you can answer an awful lot of mail.
A daily 20-minute swim does a world of good for you.
Weighing 143 pounds was his full-body message of “I (1) love (4) you (3).” “It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One-hundred and forty-three,” Rogers said on his show.
“That which is essential is invisible to the naked eye”—his framed quote, in French, from Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. This was Fred’s take on life, on being human. And it’s correct.