‘You Are My Friend’: Tom Hanks-Starring Mr. Rogers Movie Is ‘Not a Biopic,’ But a ‘Story For Our Times’

Filmmaker Marielle Heller explains why her upcoming film isn't the biopic it's been touted as, but a close examination of a very special emotional bond between the TV gem and a journalist.
Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks

Marielle Heller is eager to set the record straight: her upcoming Mr. Rogers-centric film — though based on a true story — is not a biopic in the traditional sense. That’s fine by us, however, because that’s exactly Heller’s sweet spot, as shown by her exceptional work on the (yes, true; no, not biopic) breakout hit “Diary of a Teenage Girl” and early looks at her next film, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

As the filmmaker told Entertainment Weekly, the Rogers film, known as “You Are My Friend,” is “not a biopic…I disliked that when it got announced it was characterized as such. It’s really not. It’s a movie that’s largely focused on a reporter and [Mr. Rogers’] relationship to his life, and how [the reporter’s] whole world changes when coming in contact with Fred Rogers.”

Instead, the film, based on a screenplay written by Emmy-nominated “Transparent” producers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, “follows the life of Tom Junod, who forged an emotional bond with the ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ star while profiling him for Esquire magazine in 1998.” Junod’s piece, titled “Can You Say…Hero?” lovingly profiles the television star, with a special focus on his life spent doing good deeds.

“In the research for the movie, the writers found that more people than they could possibly count credited Mr. Rogers with changing their lives,” Heller explained to EW. “[It’s about] one man who’s in a critical point in his life — becoming a new father, having issues with his own father — and meeting Mr. Rogers to write a piece about him, thinking it’s going to be a bit of a puff piece, but it ends up changing his entire life.”

“It’s a story for our times, a story about kindness and family connection and trying to tap into our better self. God knows we need that right now!” Heller added.

The filmmaker also shared that the film likely won’t get going on production until this summer, though she and her team are already very enthused about the positive response to the casting of Hanks as the cherished TV star.

The film is not the only Rogers-centric film in the pipeline these days, as Focus Features will release its festival hit documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” on June 8.

Heller returns to the big screen later this year with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” a look at the true story of celebrity biographer turned forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), which the filmmaker also says is not another biopic. That film opens on October 19.

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