Marielle Heller: 'His consistency was part of what made him so comforting and he kept going because he felt like he wasn't done'
- James Mottram
- 24 January 2020
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood director discusses the film's subject, Mr Rogers, and Tom Hanks' portrayal of the childhood favourite
Marielle Heller is curled up on a hotel sofa in London's Knightsbridge. It's a rare moment of stillness for the 40-year-old director from California. After the success of her 2015 debut, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, she returned with last year's delicious literary forgery tale, Can You Ever Forgive Me? – which gained three Oscar nominations including for its stars Richard E Grant and Melissa McCarthy.
Now she's pulled the same trick for her third film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, with Tom Hanks up for his first Oscar in almost two decades. He plays TV legend Fred Rogers, whose show Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood educated generations of kids in its 33-year run. 'I grew up watching Mr Rogers like every good child in the 70s and 80s in America,' smiles Heller.
Recently, Rogers was immortalised in the 2018 documentary Won't You Be My Neighbour? – a huge $22 million-grossing hit in the US, proof of his popularity there. Heller believes the two films complement each other. 'Our movie isn't really going to give a huge number of facts about Mr Rogers … it's not a traditional biopic in that way. And in so many ways, the documentary is a great precursor.'