PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – We saw them filming it right here in Pittsburgh last fall, and now the wait is almost over.
The Mister Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” opens officially Friday.
But KDKA’s David Highfield got to see the movie ahead of time at a special screening in New York City, and he also got to interview many of its stars.
He says anyone feeling protective about how Hollywood will portray Mister Rogers can rest easy. He says the film is creatively done and heartwarming.
A few minutes into the film, David says he forgot he was watching Tom Hanks, and not the actual Mister Rogers.
The movie is based on the real life story of how Fred Rogers affected the life of a cynical journalist who was assigned to write a piece about him.
The writer is played by Matthew Rhys, best known for the TV show “The Americans.”
Highfield: “Working with Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, did it feel like he was Fred Rogers in a way?”
Rhys: “Absolutely, and you know, I think Tom Hanks elicits a very similar reaction to Fred Rogers. There’s an incredible amount of warmth and affection.”
WATCH: “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” trailer
The movie’s director, Marielle Heller, says the goal wasn’t to have Hanks impersonate Rogers.
“It was more about the essence of Fred, getting the cadence right, the feeling behind the eyes, something really human,” said Heller.
Before the magazine writer in the film writes his piece, his wife played by Susan Kelechi Watson of “This Is Us” tells him: “Lloyd, please don’t ruin my childhood.”
Kelechi Watson tells David that she felt a sense of responsibility in real life that the movie do justice to someone who had an impact on her childhood.
“I almost feel like I owed it to my childhood self to tell the story cause I remember what a force that show had on my life,” she said.
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Rhys on the other hand, grew up in Wales without seeing Mister Rogers.
But he quickly learned how seriously people take Mister Rogers when he showed up in Pittsburgh to film: “In the very early days getting a taxi or an Uber, and they ask why are you in town?”
“You say, ‘it’s a movie about Fred Rogers,’ and they say (motioning as though they slam on the brakes) …and they’re like… let me tell you about Fred Rogers!”
They painstakingly recreated the set and filmed inside Mister Rogers’ original studio at WQED.
Astute Pittsburgh viewers will be able to spot a street in Shaler, an alley in the Cultural District and the Mandarin Gourmet restaurant Downtown.
In fact, pay close attention during the restaurant scene, and you’ll see some familiar real-life Pittsburghers.
When David asked the director about filming in Pittsburgh, Heller said: “I lived in Pittsburgh for five months. I love Pittsburgh. It’s one of my favorite cities now.”
And just as each episode of Mister Rogers started with a miniature model of the neighborhood, you’ll see an impressive miniature of our skyline in the movie.
There’s a scene that shows a group of kids on the subway bursting into the Mister Rogers theme song when they see Fred Rogers. It might seem like movie fiction, but it actually happened to Mister Rogers, according to the original Esquire article.
While some of the film is different than the real life story written by Tom Junod, the film definitely captures Mister Rogers’ warmth and kindness.
David had a conversation about that with veteran actor Chris Cooper, who plays the writer’s dad.
Highfield: “It seems like the timing of this movie, maybe it’s something we all need right now.”
Cooper: “You must know that this script has been around for years. I think it’s a perfect time for this film, and man, do we need it!”
It officially opens on Friday.