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Tom Hanks on What We Can All Learn From ‘Mr. Rogers’

by CYDNEY WEINER

For decades, Tom Hanks has brought some of cinema’s most iconic and compelling characters to life on the big screen. Now, Hanks is at it again, slipping into the cardigan of beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers in his new film, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in theaters this Friday.

We recently spoke with Hanks about playing Mr. Rogers, what he learned from him, and why his message continues to resonate so deeply today. 

1. Your physical transformation into Fred Rogers for this film was uncanny. What was it like stepping into the shoes of such a beloved American figure?

The clothes do so much for you, like a suit of armor. Your posture changes in those sweaters, those baggy slacks, and yes, you walk differently in those blue deck shoes.

2. You’ve said the biggest lesson you learned from playing Mr. Rogers was how to be a better listener. What made Mr. Rogers such a good listener and what effect did it have on his family, his friends, and his fans?

He seemed to meditate on the answers he was hearing, like he had no other thoughts in his mind but what you were saying. He was not biding his time talking to you, but investigating you as an individual that he, Mr. Rogers, would learn from. He gave you a dignity and import that was squarely yours and yours alone.

3. Those who knew Mr. Rogers say he had the ability to make anyone and everyone feel special and important — even, sometimes, his cynics. In today’s increasingly lonely world, what can Mr. Rogers teach us about the importance of fostering meaningful connections in our lives? And how can we do it better?

I think we can learn to stop marking others as either/or, that a conversation is not a contest or a vote. We are not binary creatures divided by territory–marked “us” and “them.” We all share the same desires for safety, comfort, the love of our family and the caring for those we love, which means we have much more in common than we are told.

4. Mr. Rogers was the epitome of acceptance and empathy for millions of American children. And yet, today, it’s American adults that are seemingly hungry for his message of inclusivity and resilience. Why do you think that is? What is it about Mr. Rogers that's resonating so deeply today?

Mr. Rogers told us all, “You have value. You are the only person in the world exactly like you. You have strength you don’t realize, and just the way you are is okay by me.”

Now imagine if you thought that of whoever it is that shares your street or building or town. We would all be members of something much, much larger, better, and more welcoming than being alone: a neighborhood.

This Q&A was featured in the November 17th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.

 

CYDNEY WEINER