Left, by Samir Hussein/WireImage; Right, from Everett Collection.
Tom Hanks will not be outdone by Jennifer Hudson. Mere hours after Hudson revealed a perfect bit of casting news by sharing that she’s set to play Aretha Franklin in an upcoming biopic, TriStar Pictures announced that Hanks is set to play Fred Rogers—more commonly known as Mr. Rogers—in the upcoming biopic You Are My Friend. America’s movie dad, meet America’s TV neighbor.
The film will be directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), based on a script written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, both of whom have written for Amazon’s Transparent. The story is about Rogers’s friendship with journalist Tom Junod. Nearly 20 years, ago, the “cynical” reporter was assigned to write a profile of the TV icon and host of the children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; though Junod went in with few expectations, the assignment ended up shifting his perspective on everything. The end result was this classic 1998 Esquire profile.
“The script knocked me out with its message of kindness and its exploration of the human spirit,” Heller said in a statement, per Variety. “As a mother, I am so inspired by the teachings of Fred Rogers, and as a human I am in awe of his life’s work.”
Junod tweeted about the news, noting that the film was finally happening “in the best of ways.” He also noted that the film is “very loosely” based on his Esquire story.
Rogers’s Emmy-nominated series was one of the longest-running children’s shows of all time. Over the years, he became an empathetic icon of children’s education and entertainment, in addition to serving as a champion of public television funding. There’s no shortage of stories about Rogers’s vast and admirable empathy, which gave him a profound influence on generations of children. And You Are My Friend isn’t the only upcoming project about the TV icon, who died in 2003. The documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which recently debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, follows Rogers’s three-decade career, featuring plenty of interviews and rare archival footage; it was directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom). So perhaps a Rogers renaissance is upon us? We probably don’t deserve it, but we certainly need it.
Hanks, meanwhile, seems tailor-made for the role: he has effortlessly embraced his role as America’s precious movie dad, someone who has proven particularly adept at playing legendary figures from Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks) to Ben Bradlee (The Post). It’s only right that for his next trick, he’ll slip into that famous cardigan and play America’s most beloved neighbor.
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