Director Marielle Heller steered the cast and crew of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood to completion, but actor Enrico Colantoni tells EW they were also guided by another presence: the spirit of late TV icon Fred Rogers.
“[Tom Hanks] becoming Fred Rogers was not unlike witnessing his spirit coming back in to the fold,” says Colantoni, who plays Bill Isler, CEO of Rogers’ non-profit production company Family Communications Inc. (renamed Fred Rogers Productions after its namesake’s death in 2003). The Canadian performer adds that, as Heller wanted the film to feel as authentic as possible, filming the project on the actual Pittsburgh soundstages that hosted Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood allowed the cast to become a part of the real-life Rogers’ inner circle.
“A lot of these people came to visit. I became very good friends with the character I played, Bill Isler, [and Rogers’ wife] Joanne Rogers was there as well,” he continues. “It’s hard to think Fred wasn’t present the whole time, just doing what he does best: loving everybody for what they’re bringing.”
Though Heller has stressed that the film isn’t a straight biopic, it still delves into Rogers personal life, particularly his loving relationship with Joanne. For the most part, however, the story — based on journalist Tom Junod’s lived experience —revolves around Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist whose outlook on his newfound fatherhood (as well as his fraying relationship with his own dad) drastically shifts after profiling Rogers for an Esquire article.
Colantoni says that while Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t a traditional biographical film, audiences will nevertheless feel a deep connection to Rogers’ philosophies.
“What he says at the end, ‘What is mentionable is manageable,’ [means] if we can talk about something, we can manage it. He introduced that to [children] who really didn’t understand it, [but] as adults we’re frightened of it,” Colantoni says. “The question I get more often than not is: ‘Do we need him now more than ever?’ Of course, we always needed him…. We don’t need him any more now than we did in the past, because he saw the beauty that’s still present, and I hope that what this film does is remind us all of the beauty that is present.”
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theaters Friday. Watch EW’s interview with Colantoni above.