A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood makes will make it’s worldwide premiere on November 22nd and this is a film that you do not want to miss. The anticipation is very high for the film ever since it has been announced last year. I recently got the chance to speak with Wendy Makkena about the film in this exclusive interview as we got to talk about her role as Dorothy, her reaction to seeing Tom Hanks play as Mr. Rogers, her best memories on the set of Sister Act, a great fan expierence, and much more.
So tell me how you got the role as Dorothy on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Did you know at the time that it would be for this film?
WM: “I auditioned like everybody else. It just a regular audition. And I got a call back and then I heard a guy. I was so thrilled about the role. And they often don’t give you a script anymore. You just get (What they are called now) sides. So all I had was my character’s scenes of the film. So no, I didn’t. I knew it was about Mr. Rogers after I auditioned, but not before it.”
I watched the film last week at the screening. I loved it and brought back a lot of childhood memories for me. When you first heard of the project did it bring back those memories for you as well?
WM: “It brought back memories of watching it with my daughter. I guess it was in reruns at the time and my daughter is now 20. I really wanted her to not watch your typical fast-cutting type of kid show. She was like relegated to Teletubbies and Mr. Rogers and she really loved Mr. Rogers and I started watching it with her. And I said ‘this is really interesting what he’s doing’. When I was younger I was just sort of like ‘yeah, I am too cool for this’ But I started to love it even more when I watched it with my daughter when she was younger.”
The scene where Dorothy watched Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) and his dad Jerry (Chris Cooper) argue and fight the few times that they did in the film, What went through your head as a person when you’ve seen that and what went through your head as the character when you see those two arguing?
WM: “As an actress, the acting was so authentic and so grounded that I became Wendy the actress that was watching Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper as if it was really happening. And part of me was also thinking ‘I know they’re actors, but look at what they’re doing’. And so I suddenly would forget what I was supposed to do. I would forget that I had a cross here and give the baby to Susan Kelechi Watson because I’d be like ‘Oh look at them, they’re so real.’ I felt like I was really witnessing a father and a son having a fight. So I was very involved in it. As the character, I thought ‘well, this is got to be what Dorothy is feeling too.’ She’s not thinking about them acting, but she’s certainly thinking ‘wow this is pretty heavy’. You think that Dorothy saw something in Jerry that nobody else saw. Jerry And Mr. Rogers saw something in everybody including Lloyd that he didn’t see in himself. So I think a lot of that went on in the film was other people saw the humanity in someone else they didn’t see in themselves just like Mr. Rogers.”
When you and everyone first seen Tom Hanks in the costume and makeup, Did it feel like Mr. Rogers was in the same room as everyone else?
WM: “Yes it did! The crazy thing was, I would get so involved in what was going on in front of me because Dorothy doesn’t have a lot to say because she’s an observer and I felt a lot like Dorothy felt when I walked onto that set. Once I was on the set and I went to speak with Tom while he was in costume, I was just star struck and so I decided I would use that a little bit and go ‘Well this is got be how Dorothy feels.’ She doesn’t know anybody and she’s new to the family. She has not been introduced to anybody, so just lean into that. So I lean into my discomfort. I really felt like I was with that family. When I with Tom Hanks, I felt like he was Mr. Rogers. And I felt like Matthew was Lloyd. If a new series would happen, it would be Tom Hanks starring as Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks would keep his spirit alive!”
One great thing that I love about the film’s production is that they went out of their way to make it feel like you are watching the show again in certain scenes such as the asthetics, the toys, the puppets, and even the costumes. Did you see the production of those scenes before or after the movie premiered?
WM: “I did not see it firsthand, But I heard Marielle Heller had a lot to do with that. She’s the genius behind all of this. She has a sense of whimsy and she’s so smart and she was an actress first and also a writer before she became a director. I heard from my conversation with her that they were shooting on the same set that the show was set. They tried to re-create it keep it as authentic as possible. I know that the puppets weren’t exactly the same puppets, but they’re probably in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburg. I know that they had taken great pains to be as authentic as possible.”
Being that you are in a lot of movies and television shows going back for over 25 years,What can you say is be the biggest accomplishment you’ve made in your career?
WM: “You know, what I think my greatest accomplishment is staying grounded. I would say we have modest celebrity right. And so I don’t know how stars do it when they’re being followed, and when they’re being talked about all the time in pictures. I have no idea how they do it. But For me, the industry period can get you a lift you off the ground a little bit like a Kite. And I think it’s just staying grounded. You know, I started a company when I realized I’m getting older and the roles as a woman, they start falling off your in your 40s and then they really start falling off. There’s just not many roles and I thought ‘well, I’ve got to figure out something else, what I’m going to do?’ I’m not going to sit around and complain, that’s just not going to happen. I started this food company that I didn’t know was going to be well known and now we’re at 4000 doors nationwide. And so I think that’s my biggest accomplishment was knowing that wasn’t all there is. And it’s easy done. It’s easy to remember that when you’re not getting a ton of roles and it’s easy to remember because you have more time in between. But my accomplishment was I’m not going away and to go strike down right now!”
Do you have any great memories when you were on the set of Sister Act?
WM: (Laughs) “We could sit here for weeks. It was so fun. The cast were delightful, they were talented, they were mischievous. We got ourselves into a lot of trouble all the time. We had a lot of downtime where they were lighting the church like ‘oh we need more smoke’. So guys go outside and hang for a little bit. And the nuns and me, Kathy Najimy, and Mary Wickes would go outside and sometimes, there’d be hours and we’d just get bored so we got the car to take us into San Francisco. We would go to stores and shop as nuns and we thought that was hysterical. We were in character the whole time we went there and we would be like ‘we would take our characters out for a walk’. Like let’s take our characters out for a walk and see what is Sister Mary Robert like would be like if she was there. The beautiful thing was nobody knew who I was. So they really thought I was this nun is just the perfect storm. So we had a really great time and Whoppi Goldberg, there are really are no words to describe how great of a person she is. She’s a generosity of a spirit that is unmatched.
What has been your best fan interraction that you remember?
WM: ” My greatest fan interaction, I was at Lincoln Center with my daughter who was at the time about 8 or 9 years old and we were just hanging out walking etc. I was showing her where I used to dance because I used to be a ballerina. We were right in front of the Metropolitan Opera House on a beautiful spring day and a bus pulled up and let out a bunch of kids from my home in Wisconsin. And it looked like this was a high school maybe middle school kids. And this class got out and they were doing a tour and one of the kids recognized me. They went ‘Oh my God are you Sister Mary Robert’. And my little girl, of course is like ‘mom you’re being reckless. And I said ‘Yes I am’. And the whole class lined up and they were quiet. They were there because they were a choir. They lined up and they started singing Hail Holy Queen for me and my daughter at Lincoln Center in front of the fountain. And then they all started blowing kisses and said Thank you. I was in tears. That’s the best fan interaction I have ever had.”