Tom Hanks has been no stranger to playing real people throughout his acting career. A partial list includes Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13,” Richard Phillips in “Captain Phillips,” Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks,” Chesley Sullenberger in “Sully,” and Ben Bradlee in “The Post.” Hanks lands parts like these because he has proven that he can get into the skin of those folks, that he has the chops to not only put on a great performance, but to also become them, to make audiences believe that he is them.

But there’s something more to him taking on the part of Fred Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the new film about the friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, directed by Mariel Heller. When Hanks dons a red cardigan sweater and slips into a pair of blue Sperry shoes, he’s entering icon territory. Even if you didn’t watch “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” - and Hanks admits that he was not a regular viewer - you know Fred Rogers when you see him. Hanks spoke about playing him at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Q: Was playing Fred Rogers one of those projects that had been on your plate for a while?

A: No. This really came about because Mari (Heller) and I had been searching for something that we could possibly do together. This was a screenplay that had existed in Hollywood, around the industry, for a very long time. I read it for the first time about eight years ago. They said to me, “You can control this if you want to.” But I honestly did not know what it was. I didn’t know about Lloyd Vogel (the fictitious name given to the Junod character in the film). When Mari called and said we have this thing, I said that I had read it a long time ago, but that I’d take another look at it now.

Q: Were you at all concerned that so many people believed they knew who Fred Rogers really was?

A: The thing about Fred is that he’s instantaneously one of two things to almost every adult in America: a saint or a fraud. But you can’t be both. You have to be one or the other because that’s the way movie life works. It is very analog.

Q: So, how did you go about making him real?

A: We never make fun of Fred in the film. We slow down, in order to listen to him. Even some of the physical aspects of it was always going to be deconstructing the myth of it - in order to show that he’s a regular guy who went out for Chinese food. But at the same time, in scene after scene, there is this mystery of ... “What’s his motivation here? Is it because of commerce?” Well, no. He was the least commercial performer/creator on television. He never sold his toys, he never had commercials.

Q: Do you think he was the same Fred Rogers, both on camera and off camera?

A: There are two things (about the film): A behavior had to be found, and there was the prism through which Mari and her crew shot the film. It had to be a video camera process of this cheap little set out of Pittsburgh, that looks exactly as we remember it. But at the same time, she has this guy who is not dressed in his blue shoes, but is walking around New York City and riding the subway, and he’s a regular guy, and yet ... he’s Mister Rogers!

Q: What do you remember of the TV show?

A: I was too old to watch it. (He was 11 when it first aired.) But I remember, when I was growing up, “Mister Rogers” as being this odd black and white show on the TV channel we never tuned in. And the mouths on the puppets didn’t move, so I didn’t necessarily know who was talking. Because when you’re 11-years-old, you’re already piped in to what the logic is of being entertained - that it has to hit beats and it has to do something very specific, and it’s got to move fast. So, I just thought it was this weird black and white community college kind of production. I never understood what was going on. Now, in the course of watching hours and hours of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and let’s not forget there is a fabulous documentary called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” that was a font of information - my relationship to him is that I wish when my kids were younger, say when my son was 3, that he and I sat down and watched a half hour of “Mister Rogers” a week. Because I would have better understood the role of a parent in saying to their children, “It’s all right if you’re sad.” Because so many parents say, “Don’t be sad, you’ll forget it, let’s divert your attention so you’ll be alright.” The idea was that Mister Rogers was explaining to confused beings how the world works because they actually had no impression of how it works.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” opens on Nov. 22.

Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.