A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood featured

Interview: Enrico Colantoni Talks ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’

November 21, 2019Ben MK

Best known for his roles in Veronica Mars and the gritty police drama Flashpoint, Canada's own Enrico Colantoni is no stranger to playing the tough guy. However, in acclaimed director Marielle Heller's latest biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Colantoni stars opposite a man who's earned himself the title of "the nicest guy in Hollywood" — Tom Hanks — who, in turn, plays one of the nicest men in children's entertainment, Fred Rogers — a man known to millions around the world as the one and only Mr. Rogers.

I sat down with Enrico Colantoni during this year's Toronto International Film Festival to chat about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, as well as to find out what he learned from working with Tom Hanks.

What's surprising about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is how the story isn't so much about Fred Rogers, but is really about Lloyd, the journalist whose life is changed after meeting him. Is that what attracted you to the project — the way Marielle Heller is able to surprise and delight the audience with the way the film unfolds?

Colantoni: Of course. We're all starved for the same thing, but we're so frightened of it at the same time. We don't know how to ask other people to see us, to love us. We crave love in so many different ways. And it's awkward and it's frustrating, so, of course, you grow up with a guy like Fred Rogers and there is a disbelief, there is a cynicism. And then when you realize that the man is pure and he's sincere, then maybe, maybe, maybe you can start to melt away the walls. But humanity's a crazy thing. We've never not needed a movie like this, but are we ready for it?

I didn't get it when I was watching Mr. Rogers' Neigborhood when I was a kid. I was just a little too old for it; I was already too cynical. But you look back as an adult and you go, "If only." And the "if only" is real. Because beauty exists, and he saw that. And he was vilified for it and he was criticized for it and he was challenged for it. But his message was universal and he stuck to it. And, of course, all these years later, we're going, "Please give us more."

How about Tom Hanks' performance as Mr. Rogers — You shared a few scenes with him, and he embodied the role so naturally. Did you ever forget you were acting opposite Tom Hanks?

Colantoni: [laughs] I'm telling you, the man is not a method actor. He's a child just playing. Mr. Hanks is so wonderful to watch, because he's Tom between scenes, and then he's Mr. Rogers when the camera's rolling. And there isn't a pretense of "I need to hold onto this." There's just a trust and a sense of play about Mr. Hanks that just is inspiring to me. Because that's how I wanna live through my career, and really not see it as this weight, but just the joy and the privilege that we have in doing that. He still maintains the integrity of a young performer. After everything he's accomplished, he still cares so much, and he isn't jaded by it. He's just still having fun.

Did you do any kind of research into the story or your character to prepare for your role as Bill Isler?

Colantoni: To tell you the truth, I hung out with the real Bill Isler for a long time. We became friends. And I've played real characters before, but I'd never got to hang out with them. So just to feel his energy, to have his history, to know what he's like, to know how he talks to people — that was really the best part of the film and the whole experience, was getting to meet the real Bill Isler and his wife, Mardi.

What do you, personally, hope audiences will take away from the film?

Colantoni: That beauty exists. That beauty is real. That it's present. We just have to look for it. We can't be afraid of it. We can't be afraid to ask for it. Because we all take responsibility. We can say the world is an awful place, but if you don't start with, "Hey neighbor, will you be my friend," then you can just quit your whining and embrace the world that we're creating together, collectively. But we can't miss Fred Rogers. We have to remember his legacy and the message.

Last but not least, what are you working on next?

Colantoni: Right now, Netflix is just coddling us with all their films. So I'm doing a Netflix film right now called Feel the Beat, which is a lot of fun. And then I'm gonna go to New York and do a play. I'm gonna do a new play off-Broadway. And then hopefully Veronica Mars will come back. It's an actor's life for me.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theatres November 22nd.

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