Hanks has played several real-life figures before, such as Charlie Wilson in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13″ and, most recently, The Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in “The Post.”
While Hanks’s career has run the gamut from slapstick fellas to tortured souls, perhaps his most defining attribute is his “America’s Dad” persona. That is an asset to an actor who has signed up to depict Mister Rogers, a larger-than-life figure beloved by generations of children who also changed countless lives by his example of generosity and unconditional love.
“The really cool thing about Tom Hanks playing Fred is that Fred and Tom Hanks are similar in a really essential way in that they are gentle people, they are soft-spoken people, but they are powerful people,” Junod told Esquire. “I think that Tom Hanks can really bring that aspect of Fred out.” (Junod also added he is not as cynical as noted in the plot description.)
Junod’s 1998 profile, “Can You Say . . . Hero?” went on to become required reading for fans of feature writing.
TriStar acquired worldwide distribution rights to “You Are My Friend.” Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) will direct with a script written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. The writing pair had a Rogers-centric script on the 2013 Black List, which chronicles the most-liked unproduced scripts each year, according to studio executives.
Rogers has been the subject of several documentaries, including “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” which premiered at Sundance this year. It is not clear yet when “You Are My Friend” will be released, but production is set to begin in September.
“The script knocked me out with its message of kindness and its exploration of the human spirit,” Heller said in a statement to Variety. “As a mother, I am so inspired by the teachings of Fred Rogers and as a human I am in awe of his life’s work. I can’t wait to bring his story to the public and be a part of such a thoughtful, smart group of people who are all coming together to make this film, which truly feels to me like an antidote to our very fractured culture.”