Earlier today, in the most genius casting decision ever, it was announced that America’s Dad, Tom Hanks, is set to play the world’s most iconic neighbor in an upcoming biopic and we’re still in shock with excitement about. That’s right, Tom Hanks is going to play Mr. Rogers in an upcoming movie, and this is nothing short of a dream come true.
But before we start casting King Friday, Queen Sara Saturday, and the rest of the residents in the Neighborhood of Make Believe, it appears the upcoming film, You Are My Friend, will be based on the life-changing experience journalist Tom Junod had with the children’s television programming legend, while working on an Esquire profile.
Throughout the profile, which was published in November 1998, Mr. Rogers’ commitment to making the world a better and more positive place really shines through. From reminiscing about meeting Koko the Gorilla to taking Junod to his hometown, the article is an incredibly uplifting look at the television personality in real life.
Here are just seven of the most incredible moments from Junod’s profile of Mr. Fred Rogers:
1Mr. Rogers embodied his on-screen persona off-screen, as well.
While many of our on-screen heroes are nothing like their iconic characters IRL, everything about Mr. Rogers on-screen seems to be based on his real personality. Throughout the Esquire piece, Junod watches in awe as Mr. Rogers disappears into a crowd of now-adult fans or takes the time to chat with just about anyone who approaches him on the street or reaches out to him. Even his daily routine — you know the one — was something he took very seriously…
2 Mr. Rogers maintained the same weight for the majority of his life.
Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood knows that Mr. Rogers was the king of routine — and naturally, this was a big deal to the real Mr. Rogers, as well. Mr. Rogers reportedly got up at 5:30 every morning, went for a swim and never drank alcohol or ate meat. He accredited this to maintaining a 143 pound weight for the majority of his life. But maintaining the 143 pound weight wasn’t just a health decision, it also carried a positive mantra. He told Junod, “The number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”
3Mr. Rogers once got serenaded on the subway.
In a short vignette, Junod shares a story of Mr. Rogers getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, seeking shelter inside the New York City subway. As it was after school, he found himself on the subway with a lot of school children, who instead of swarming him for an autograph, begin singing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
4He got Junod to open up about his life.
As far as interview subjects go, it seems Mr. Rogers wasn’t the easiest — but not because he wasn’t interested in the profile. Rather, he was more interested in his interviewer. While Junod may have been getting an inside look at the life of the iconic Mr. Rogers, it seems the children’s show host was just as intent on getting to know his profiler, going so far to ask Junod about his own childhood, which sparked the memory of the journalist’s childhood stuffed animal that went on to frame the profile.
5He definitely kept people on their toes…
One of the most charming moments of the profile takes place in Mr. Rogers’ NYC apartment, as his wife Joanne phones, interrupting their interview. Not only does the children’s show host answer the call, he hands it over so Junod can speak to Joanne for a few minutes. To top it all off, a little while later, as Junod is opening up about his childhood stuffed animal, Mr. Rogers whipped out a camera, and asked, “Can I take your picture, Tom? I’d like to take your picture. I like to take pictures of all my new friends, so that I can show them to Joanne….”
6Mr. Rogers seemed to always understand his audience.
Whether it be the kid who doesn’t know what to say to him to the passersby who call him “Mister fucking Rogers,” the television personality was seemingly gifted at interacting with pretty much anybody he encountered. Throughout the profile, Junod watched in awe as Mr. Rogers knows what to say to a shy little boy in front of his mortified mom, a group of New Yorkers in Penn Station, and Junod himself.
7Mr. Rogers always took kids’ perceptions very seriously.
As one of the most important role models for generations, understanding what children would think of a certain word or event was very important to Mr. Rogers. For instance, as Junod accompanied him to his studio in New York City, their car stopped near an advertisement for an airline company containing the word “hate,” which Mr. Rogers found to be problematic. He explained, “Hate is such a strong word to use so lightly. If they can hate something like that, you wonder how easy it would be for them to hate something more important.”
Mr. Rogers and his PBS television show was so crucial to generations of children and we’re *so* excited to see Tom Hanks take on this iconic role.