In director Marc Forster’s comedy-drama, A Man Called Otto, Academy Award-winning actor, Tom Hanks, stars as the titular grouchy widower. Based on the New York bestseller by author Frederik Backman, the movie centers around Otto Anderson, a man who seems to have lost his patience with society when he lost his wife. It’s only when a noisy, friendly family moves in next door that he begins to rediscover what it means to truly be alive.
If the premise of A Man Called Otto doesn’t immediately tug on your heartstrings, the casting of Hollywood’s warmest actor must. Hanks, who began his expansive filmography in the 1980s, has had a dynamic career, ranging from a ‘90s heartthrob in You’ve Got Mail, to the loveable Forrest Gump, and deeply emotional roles in films like Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile. Each and every one of his characters is performed with such heart and conviction, and the miserly, heartbroken Otto is another unforgettable performance.
Ahead of the film’s release, Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with Tom Hanks about the film while at CCXP in Brazil. During the fun interview, Hanks reveals how this adaptation of A Man Called Otto, which his wife Rita Wilson produces, was picked up, and why the story is so special to them. He also discusses his feline co-star, the most challenging shot of his career (hint: it isn’t from Apollo 13 or even Saving Private Ryan), and pitches Collider the movie, starring him and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For all of this and more, check out the video above, or you can read the full transcript below.
TOM HANKS: Collider. That sounds like a new movie that’s starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Collider.
COLLIDER: Listen, I’ll be happy if he makes that movie.
HANKS: Collider: Dwayne Johnson running away from a ball of fire, and then it explodes, and he throws himself forward and lands off camera. Dwayne Johnson in Collider, with Tom Hanks as A Man Called Otto.
That’s great. I’m being serious. That’s great. I love that.
HANKS: That’s a good movie. Actually, let’s book it. Let’s book it.
Yeah, exactly. As I’ve said to you every time I’ve been lucky enough to talk to you, I want to thank you for giving me your time. I’m a huge fan of your work, but today is a special day because I’m actually in Brazil right now.
At the biggest Comic-Con in Latin America and one of the biggest in the world. And I wanted to show it to you… I know you’re looking at a small screen.
HANKS: That’s huge.
So everyone at CCXP wanted me to invite you down here at some point. They want you here. So they wanted me to show you the backdrop.
HANKS: Hey, do me a favor, pick up some swag, bring me some, give me book bags and some promotional materials. That looks like everybody in Latin America is at this Comic-Con that you have there.
Well, what’s crazy is that all the studios are here as you can see, and right now you can see this is a live stage that they want you on at some point.
HANKS: Oh. Who’s up there right now?
Right now it’s Rodrigo Santoro. He’s a big Brazilian actor, and the cast of [Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves] is about to come out.
HANKS: Oh my Lord. Dungeons & Dragons is about to come. Now is that a better Comic-Con than is in, say, San Diego or Jakarta or…?
It’s a little something. This is a very impressive Comic-Con, but it’s different than San Diego. But the energy down here is crazy.
HANSK: I bet.
I just wanted to present it to you. You obviously get offered so many scripts and everyone wants to work with you. So what was it about this project that said, “I want to give it my time and six months of my life,” or whatever it was to make the movie?
HANKS: These things happen. A possibility comes along about eight years prior. My wife, Rita Wilson, is the true producer of this movie. We saw the original Swedish movie when it first came out in 2016. From the moment that we first saw it, we both felt that there was this American, ideal version of it that needed to be brought forward because the human condition requires belonging to a community. And in the United States, it is very easy to become so insular and so alone, and so singular that you might not be able to agree with enough people in order to belong to a community, particularly when somebody moves across the street that is very different from you. We thought that was a germ of an idea that could really be explored in the guise of this incredibly cranky guy.
Now, the novel by Fredrik Backman, as well as the original movie, are both masterpieces. So we figured out, “Well, why bother trying to try to come up with a different version of it?” And the answer was because I think it is universal, the human condition is, and whatnot. And what Otto Anderson goes through is that fascinating mix between what he wants to avoid and what he absolutely has to have. He does not want a bunch of Mexicans moving across the street from him, but when they do, it’s the best thing that could ever happen to him because it draws him into a much greater life than he would’ve had.
That’s a big theme to deal with, man. It’s as big as anything that the Greeks could ever come up to. And if I was going to say, you know, there are any number of superheroes, literally from the Comic-Con thing, that experience that same exact guy, how many lone, lone people are so fixed in their ways, and yet it’s not ’til they go out into the greater, bigger world that their life becomes larger than it should be? So, it’s not like you read a script and say, “Oh, I want to make this in six months.” We actually saw this movie six years ago, and we said, “We’d like to be able to turn this into a movie if we could find like-minded allies.” And we did.
I love cats. And I want to know, as someone who loves cats, do you think one of the morals of this movie is a cat can help save your life?
HANKS: Absolutely. As long as your wife is not allergic to them. I think a cat makes your life a better thing because you have to win them over. But when you do, they add a great quality to your life that never, ever goes away as long as they stay with you. Cats crack me up, and I wish we could have some. And that individual cat, by the way, there’s only one way to work with a cat in a movie, and that is to make that cat smell you, like you, sit with you, look at you, be involved with you. Not an easy thing to do, but we had a good cat.
I could tell when I was watching, or you just did it a thousand times until you got it.
HANKS: Well, actually there’s one thing at the end where the cat and I just stayed in each other’s arms for the better part of the afternoon. I think we were both very happy.
You have done so many impressive roles throughout your career, and I’m curious about the behind-the-scenes of making movies. So would you mind sharing with me the shot or sequence from your career that ended up, you think, being the hardest or one of the hardest shots to pull off?
HANKS: If you saw a movie called Turner & Hooch…
HANKS: All right. The scene where I first get that dog in a collar, in a car, or attached to a car, it was … Well, just go back and look at it. It was the most physical, exhausting, time-consuming thing. And because it could only happen in the real world, this is not a moment of CGI to it, there’s not a moment of a stuntman being involved in it. It was just me and Beasley, who was the dog who was playing Hooch at the time, and it was steady cams, multiple, multiple versions of it.
And the thing that was exhausting about it was, it was just me and that dog every step of the way. It happened in real-time, and it happened over a number of hours, and my body was beaten to a pulp by the time we got to the end, and it was also full energy the entire time. I had to be petrified of this dog at the same time I was commanding that dog. I don’t know why. What year did we make that movie? I’ll tell you, it was 33 years ago, and yet I still have tactile memories of how hard that shot was to get.
A Man Called Otto is now playing in theaters. For more on the film, check out Collider’s interview with director Marc Forster below: