NEWS & STORIES

David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Screen Rant spoke with Daniel Krell, who plays Mr. McFeely in the Mister Rogers-inspired film, as well as the original McFeely himself, David Newell.

David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

In 1998, Esquire magazine published a cover profile on Fred Rogers, entitled “Can You Say…Hero?” Written by Tom Junod, the story describes how the cynical writer’s outlook on life was transformed by his interactions with the beloved television host, a man who dedicated his life to the idea that all children are special; more importantly than growing up to become consumers like their parents, they deserve the opportunity to enjoy childhood and the joy that comes with knowing that every child is perfect just the way they are. Fred Rogers was more than just a children’s television host; he was someone who changed the world with his work, who made his viewers believe in the power of public access television to educate and entertain children, and who truly made an effort, every day, to seek and spread the undefinable grace he sought from life.

The Esquire article was adapted into a film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Matthew Rhys as a fictionalized version of Junod, and Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Susan Kelechi Watson, Christine Lahti, and Chris Cooper also star. The film also features Daniel Krell as David Newell, better known to generations of viewers as Mr. McFeely, the kindly postman of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, who always greeted Fred with his signature phrase, “Speedy Delivery.”

While celebrating the home video release of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Screen Rant was given the opportunity to speak to both Daniel Krell and David Newell. Krell discusses what it was like to step into the shoes (and glasses) of Mr. McFeely, while his real-life inspiration recounts his time on the show and the art he created with Fred Rogers, art which continues to resonate with each new generation of children who discover Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, either through streaming, home video, or good old fashioned PBS. Newell also shares his thoughts on the film and how he felt Tom Hanks managed to capture the essence of Fred Rogers with his warm and nuanced performance.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is out now on all home video formats.

David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I’m sure you’ve gotten this a lot over the years, but I’d like to start with this: is there a certain responsibility that comes with having been part of something that’s been so important to generations of people over the decades? I mean, every single child in the world, or at least in the United States, truly feels like they know you.

I’m sure you’ve gotten this a lot over the years, but I’d like to start with this: is there a certain responsibility that comes with having been part of something that’s been so important to generations of people over the decades? I mean, every single child in the world, or at least in the United States, truly feels like they know you.

David Newell: I guess that's true! And now it's getting beyond the country. It's been getting into DVD and streaming. One time, and this was years ago, I had a friend who was teaching English in Hong Kong, and she sent me back a postcard, saying "I just saw you on TV in Hong Kong." I don't know how that happened! It must be cable that takes it around. It's very interesting. And yes; every place I go, I do a lot of appearances around different public stations around the country, and interviews, and I'm always careful of how I represent Fred Rogers. It's his vision. It's his mission. I feel that I have a big responsibility to represent that well. So yes, I always think, "what would Fred say?" I always think about where I am and who I'm talking to. I want people who understand the care he had for what he was doing. It wasn't just a job to Fred. It was his life's work. It was his mission to use television for good, and hDavid Newell: I guess that's true! And now it's getting beyond the country. It's been getting into DVD and streaming. One time, and this was years ago, I had a friend who was teaching English in Hong Kong, and she sent me back a postcard, saying "I just saw you on TV in Hong Kong." I don't know how that happened! It must be cable that takes it around. It's very interesting. And yes; every place I go, I do a lot of appearances around different public stations around the country, and interviews, and I'm always careful of how I represent Fred Rogers. It's his vision. It's his mission. I feel that I have a big responsibility to represent that well. So yes, I always think, "what would Fred say?" I always think about where I am and who I'm talking to. I want people who understand the care he had for what he was doing. It wasn't just a job to Fred. It was his life's work. It was his mission to use television for good, and he did it. I always want to represent it that way. did it. I always want to represent it that way.

There’s so many movies that show the behind-the-scenes makeup of different TV programs, and with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it doesn’t deflate any of the magic; it just adds to it in a way that I really wasn’t expecting. It seemed like every day on that set was an adventure.

Daniel Krell: I often get asked if it's intimidating playing a character that's so well-known and from people's childhoods. The short answer is yes, it's absolutely intimidating, but it's also such a great opportunity to be able to have the honor to portray that, to bring something from childhood, not just other people's, but my own. Strong, strong memories from my childhood, and to be able to dig back into those memories and bring them into the present time is such a responsibility, but also a fantastic and fun opportunity.

David Newell: And also, as you said, you were playing someone that's well-known, but you're playing with Tom Hanks! It must have been very difficult for you to play against Tom Hanks! (Laughs) You don't get to be much bigger of a star than Tom Hanks!

Daniel Krell: And such a nice person, that's the important thing. If anything, you think that to be the case beforehand, but then you walk into the room and it's like, "Okay, I see. We're in this together."

David Newell: And it was the same thing with Fred. He wasn't one thing on screen and another thing off. With him, what you saw was what you got, or whatever the expression is. Fred was Fred. He was not an actor. Tom Hanks is an actor. Fred was more of a communicator. When you did scenes with him, he didn't have the actor's approach. He was Fred! You were talking to Fred. He didn't have an alter ego. But the same as Daniel was saying earlier, how friendly Tom Hanks was, he was really listening to what you were saying in between takes when you were having conversations, and he listened. That's good to hear. Fred would have done the same thing. The selection of Tom Hanks to play Fred Rogers was perfect casting, I think.
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I honestly can’t think of anyone else who could have done it.

David Newell: There may be some unknown actor somewhere who could do it, but they needed Tom Hanks.

Yeah, in the realm of known actors, he’s the only one.

David Newell: What I liked about Tom Hanks is how he listened. He got Fred's pace down, too. Tom Hanks is an actor who has a lot of energy. And Fred had energy, but not outward energy. It's internal energy. Fred's pace is so different from Tom Hanks'. I've seen interviews with Tom Hanks where he said it was his most difficult challenge: to be able to pull back and go at Fred's pace. He got it! He got the essence of Fred Rogers. I was delighted with the movie. And Tom Hanks was really a supporting actor, in a way. It's really the author's story, who came to interview Fred.

Yup, that surprised me, but I think it really worked for the story, as opposed to a straight biopic.

David Newell: I remember the day the real life author called. My other hat on Neighborhood for all those years was doing Public Relations. I picked up the phone, and he asked me the exact same thing he says in the movie: he's calling from Esquire Magazine and wants to do a cover story on Fred Rogers. That's how it all began. I remember it so vividly, that conversation. So you get to see the results of all of that now! (Laughs)
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Daniel, did you get to spend any time with David prior to shooting? Did you get to shadow him at all?

Daniel Krell: We called each other at one point, and we were trying to get together and go over some things, but it never happened. Schedules kept bumping into each other and we kept trying to move it around, so it never happened, but one thing that I've always said, and David, you'll have to excuse me for this: I've played character from history before, and I've played characters who are living, who are still alive now, so that's kind of a tricky thing. You're playing someone who's actually going to go see the movie! I always say that, once a person is put into a story, be it a film or a play or whatever, they become a character. And all characters are open to interpretation. They have to be interpreted, by definition, because they're characters in a story. There is leeway, but studying the films of the episodes of the Mister Rogers show, it was interesting because I'm playing a guy who's playing a character!

David Newell: (Laughs)

Daniel Krell: As an actor playing another guy playing a character. It's got a twice-removed dynamic, which was fun, of course.

David Newell: And a challenge, too, but you pulled it off! I was saying earlier, that I thought it was me! And by the way, Zak, they recreated the costume for the movie, the one Daniel wore, from the exact same material they made mine from over the years. But they couldn't find the glasses or the delivery bag, so Daniel wore my McFeely glasses and he carried the delivery bag I used all those years. Wait, that's right, right? You wore my glasses?

Daniel Krell: Yup, indeed!
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell: At another point in the movie, Zak, you've seen the movie, right?

Absolutely, yes!

David Newell: There's a dream sequence the author is having where he dreams about McFeely, and there's a quick cut of Chris Cooper in a McFeely costume, saying "Speedy delivery."

It’s so cool, that’s a real trip.

David Newell: And they filmed the movie in the same studio where we did Mister Rogers for all those years. That was quite something, to not only see the set almost identical, and then to have the character that I played all those many years, be identical. It was really surreal. It was a time-warp for me. I thought I had gone back 35 years or so! (Laughs) It was quite something. It's a very funny feeling to see it being flashed before your eyes and you're standing out looking at a dream, of sorts. I loved my job for all those many years. And I loved the movie. There weren't any surprises for me, since I knew the storyline, but I loved the concept.

Daniel Krell: A description that I've heard about the film is that it's sort of like a Mister Rogers episode, but for adults. So, the actual program back in the day was Mister Rogers for kids, but this film is sort of like Mister Rogers for adults.

David Newell: They even, when they were going to New York, they didn't use real shots of airplanes; they had this model and they showed Pittsburgh and New York City as models, which related to the model of the Neighborhood that you could see in the beginning of each program. I liked that touch.

Me too, it really adds to the magic of the film, the authenticity of the message.

David Newell: I've seen the film several times now, with an audience that is an industry audience, at the premiere in New York. And then, seeing it in local mall theaters, the reactions are different, but still positive. I'm going to go again; there's one theater in the Pittsburgh area that's still showing it, and I want to go before it leaves the theater. But I'm looking forward to the DVD.

Yes, me too! So, you love the movie, I love the movie, it’s a great movie, a tremendous and authentic representation of Fred Rogers and the impact he and his show have had on generations of viewers. It’s a love letter to his legacy, and to your legacy. But when you first got the news that the film was being made, were you defensive? Were you protective? Were you nervous? What did it take, at what moment did you know they were doing right by this story, by this man, by the work to which he dedicated his entire life?

David Newell: They told us at our company, first. We met with the director and the producers, and at that point, they knew that Tom Hanks had signed up already. I thought, okay, that's great. I can see that working. I was wondering, before that meeting. I wasn't sure if it was going to Hanks or not. That sold me. I was happy with that. I knew he'd do a good job because he's a superb actor, and he'll be able to adapt to the nuances of Fred, which he did! And I think he really got the essence of Fred Rogers. But what he really got, I thought, was Fred's listening. How intense Fred listens to people. And his pace. I saw Tom Hanks doing an interview with Renée Zellweger, just the two of them, talking about portraying two different icons. And Tom Hanks said, he worked so hard on getting Fred's pace; slowing down to his deliberate way of speaking. That was Fred, but it's not Tom Hanks, who is energetic, talks a lot, speaks faster. But he got it. And I think that's what made the film really work, that pace that he captured with Fred. The makeup helped; he wore a wig, I'm told, and eyebrows, and a sweater, and that helped him, but it was that internal actor that made Fred work in the movie... Was that a lot of gobbledygook?
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
David Newell and Daniel Krell Interview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

No! That’s beautiful! Thank you so much. I just want to say thank you for everything that you’ve done over the years. I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say I don’t know what kind of person I would be without your show.

David Newell: That's good to hear. Fred would be delighted, because that's exactly what he was trying to do. He had a mission: he wanted to show what was best, and what opportunities are out there for children. He was really... It wasn't an act. He was totally sincere. That's what I think the essence that Hanks got to. I felt that. That came through. That was Tom Hanks studying. Apparently, he watched over 100 episodes of the show! He asked questions, he talked to Fred's wife, he did his homework. And he internalized Fred Rogers. It worked. I knew Fred since 1967. We started taping the program in '67. And he passed away in 2003, and knew him all those years. The one thing people always ask is, is there anything we don't know about Fred Rogers? You know about his work on child development. You know he was a minister. But a lot of people don't know that he had a great sense of humor. He was a very funny man. He had a quick wit and enjoyed other people's sense of humor. That's my fond memory of Fred, his appreciation of people's talents and sense of humor. That's what I really miss. We had so many good times together and inside jokes, and that was all due to his sense of humor.

That’s amazing. He was really something special. Thanks so much for talking to me about the movie and your work.

David Newell: Zak, thank you for your time, and thank you for spreading the word. "Speedy delivery!"

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