She Grew Up Watching Mr. Rogers. Now She's Directed A Movie About Him

Nov 22, 2019
Originally published on November 22, 2019 11:20 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The family friendly Mr. Rogers is the subject of a new movie, "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood." As Tim Greiving reports, it was a family affair behind the camera as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HELLER'S "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR")

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: Like many kids over the past 50 years, the Heller siblings - Marielle, Nate and Emily - grew up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on PBS.

MARIELLE HELLER: I remember getting to a point as the oldest where I kind of became a little too cynical and jaded for "Mister Rogers" but I remember you guys still liking it.

NATE HELLER: Mmm hmm.

GREIVING: They were also busy putting on their own shows with Marielle, the eldest, calling the shots.

M HELLER: I think it's pretty fair to say that I was pretty bossy, and I used to make Nate and all the other kids in the neighborhood act out little plays and stuff. It's weird that I didn't realize I should be a director earlier in my life (laughter).

GREIVING: They grew up in the Bay Area in a house full of creativity. Mom's an art teacher; Dad's a chiropractor.

N HELLER: But he does have artistic aspirations.

GREIVING: This is Nate Heller, the middle child.

N HELLER: He was a clown, and that was how he wooed our mother, apparently, was she saw him juggling on the street and thought he was a little hot nugget.

M HELLER: (Laughter) Yep.

GREIVING: Marielle became an actor, then a director. She made the "Diary Of A Teenage Girl" in 2015; in 2018, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" And she brought Nate, a musician who's always played in bands, along for the ride.

M HELLER: It was a really selfish move on my own part because I was afraid that I didn't know how to describe what I needed from a composer. And music is really hard to find that common language about.

N HELLER: There's no hesitation to tell me if something I've done totally sucks...

M HELLER: (Laughter).

N HELLER: ...Because a lot of times what I do does totally suck the first time. Obviously, we're both precious about what we do, but I think that layer of sort of dancing around your true feelings is kind of stripped away with the way that we work together.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HELLER COMPOSITION)

GREIVING: Their younger sister, Emily, is a stand-up comedian who writes and produces on the HBO series "Barry." She was confused when her sister chose to make a movie about Mr. Rogers.

EMILY HELLER: Because she usually likes making movies about women.

GREIVING: But then she saw the movie, which cast Mr. Rogers as a supporting character in the complicated life of a cynical journalist played by Matthew Rhys.

E HELLER: It's a lot more interesting and less corny than you might expect it to be. I think my sister is really interested in what makes people complicated. I was really struck by how many questions that are on everyone's minds right now that it seems to answer in a way that doesn't flatten that out.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HELLER'S "LLOYD TYPING")

GREIVING: Nate Heller wrote a score that pays homage and expands on the jazz combo music from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." You can also spot him in the background of one scene playing in a wedding band. But big sister Marielle Heller says he's in the fabric of the movie in an even deeper way.

M HELLER: One of the things that I feel like was driving me with this movie that was really important was showing images of men on screen that are things we don't tend to see - showing a father and a son expressing their emotions and dealing with the hard pains of being alive, saying things like I'm sorry and I love you and maybe even crying.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HELLER COMPOSITION)

M HELLER: Part of why that resonated with me is because I grew up in a household of feeling men who weren't afraid to cry. Our dad is a very sensitive guy, and Nate is a very sensitive man. So working with my brother on this project meant a lot because it felt like we were also tapping into this sort of idea of masculinity that I feel like we don't get to see in movies as much.

GREIVING: Nate Heller said his dad blubbered during "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood." So, fellas, don't be afraid to do the same. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.