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Marielle Heller at Tribeca

by Murtada Elfadl

Marielle Heller has built quite a reputation as a director based on two films; Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) and Can You Ever Forgive Me (2018). We attended a talk at the Tribeca Film Festival in which she was interviewed by the writer Jo Piazza. They talked about how she started as an actor and her transition to writing and directing. Of course she mentioned her next project, scheduled to come out later this year, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers in the film, but Heller was adamant that it’s not a biopic. She said it's a story about fathers and sons and based on journalist Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys) profile of Mr. Rogers. 

“Mr. Rogers is not the lead character. You can’t create a narrative around Mr. Rogers because he’s too good...”

Heller talked about how she first adapted the graphic novel Diary of a Teenage Girl into a play. She played the lead part of Minnie (Bel Powley in the film) on stage.  

Eventually I realized I wasn't done with that story. I wrote it as a screenplay and I wasn't planning on directing that at first. I thought I was going to write it and somebody else would direct it. And the more I went, the more I was like, I can't let anyone else touch this. This is my baby. I spent all told about 10 years on that project between adapting it for the theater, adapting it for the film, and then getting all of the work it took to get the movie made and finishing it.

It sure paid off as that film launched her career as a director and led to Can You Ever Forgive Me, a departure from the very sexual story of Diary. Yet she was fascinated by the writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) and her story and wanted to make a film set in New York, her adopted home. Heller grew up in the Bay Area where Diary is set.

I think nobody knew what to expect about what I would want to do next. But the fact that I wanted to make a movie about a 51 year old lesbian cat lady with no sex in it. There was something about Lee, I just knew her and found her to be so relatable. She's so smart and so funny and just somebody who you would pass on the street and you wouldn't give much of a look to. I lived in New York for 14 years, so I felt like I also longed for this time in New York where artists could actually afford to live in Manhattan.

Are you looking forward to Heller's next film? And do you think Hanks will be campaigned as lead or supporting actor based on what Heller said about the character of Mr. Rogers?

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Reader Comments (10)

Well, there's someone who can't make a Superman movie.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I had never heard of Mr. Rogers until last awards season so no, I'm not particulary interested in this movie. However I think about Can You Ever Forgive Me? at least once a day so I'm willing to give Mariette a chance.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I've been thinking about Can You Ever Forgive Me a lot, watched it for a second time on a flight last month and it was even better than I'd remembered. Plus it made me want to stop in at Julian's when I'm in NYC later this month!

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Can You Ever Forgive Me? may be my favorite movie of 2018—it really grows on you—so am excited about Heller as a filmmaker. That said, there's something very safe and down the middle about the Mr. Rogers project (fathers and sons, really?) that has left me unexcited for it. Hopefully I've underestimated it!

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Hanks campaigned supporting for Saving Mr Banks, and was still snubbed on Oscar morning.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

After Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Marielle Heller is on my watchlist: which means that like Kelly Reichardt, I will watch anything she directs, even those where she makes cameos.

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

The perennial shine is off Hanks, but the dam of snubs this decade is past due to burst.

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

After Diary and CYEFM, I'm very interested in anything she does but yeah, this Mr. Rogers project doesn't sound all that engrossing.

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

So sorry to learn that Mr Hanks doesn't have a significant role in this movie. The expectations and thrills were precisely about Mr Hanks being Mr Rogers.

I think I will reconsider to go seing this film.

Sorry for my poor English

Jo-Anne: Just because he's not "leading" (at largest, it's just not "if there were only one lead character" leading), doesn't mean his role isn't large. Basically, to compare to Green Book last year, would not be surprised if Rhys has the Viggo Mortensen sized part and Hanks the Mahershala Ali sized part.

May 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

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