Why the Oscar winner found the role "terrifying" and eventually agreed to play the beloved TV icon in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

By Kara Warner
November 25, 2019 11:53 AM

Despite his award-winning career and being one of the world’s most popular actors, Tom Hanks wasn’t sure he should take on the role of beloved TV icon Fred Rogers in the new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

“There’s no such thing as an easy role to do,” he recently told CBS Morning News. “The moment I said ‘yes,’ I began to have the night sweats.”

The Oscar winner, 63, also admitted that taking on the role was “terrifying,” and turned it down down “a couple of times” before director Marielle Heller was able to convince him to do it.

“He came in and immediately called me ‘boss,’” she tells PEOPLE in the latest issue. “He knows I’m setting the tone and he’s respectful of letting that be the case even though he’s Tom Hanks, which is just amazing.”

But although Rogers and Hanks share similar beloved-by-the-public statuses, they are not at all the same person. Hanks had to work hard to learn Rogers’ slower, deliberate mannerisms.

For much more on Tom Hanks’ life, career and everyman charm, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

Credit: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic;/Sony Pictures

“I’ve said in a soundbite kind of way that ‘America’s dad is playing America’s dad’ and Hanks and Rogers emanate the same feeling from people,” his costar Matthew Rhys tells PEOPLE. “But they are two very different people. Tom is incredibly fast, sharp-witted, humorous in that lightning-quick way and he moves and talks very differently from Fred Rogers.”

Neighborhood producer Peter Saraf agrees, adding that Hanks put an incredible amount of effort into getting his performance just right.

“Not just getting Fred’s slow pace, but his uncompromised listening, his intuition,” says Saraf.

The actor was also careful not to do an impersonation of Rogers, and didn’t want to overdo it with the hair and makeup. Hanks wore a wig, eyebrows and of course, the TV host’s trademark cardigan.

“It was an embodiment and an essence,” adds Rhys. “And when you see the transformation, you realize that wily old fox, Hanks, has gone and done it again.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is now playing in theaters.

–with reporting by Mary Green