Rita Wilson On ‘A Man Called Otto’ Song, New Company Artistic Films & More – Deadline

It’s been a productive and exciting time for Rita Wilson — the esteemed actress, producer and singer-songwriter who has returned this awards season with her third Oscar-qualifying original song. 

The tune, Til You’re Home,” was written for Sony’s upcoming drama A Man Called Otto, based on Fredrik Backman’s bestselling 2012 novel A Man Called Ove, which had previously been adapted into an Academy Award-nominated Swedish feature. Wilson wrote the new song with David Hodges and performed it with Sebastián Yatra, the Colombian artist best known for his work on Disney’s Encanto — also producing the pic as the first project under her newly announced film production banner, Artistic Films. (View the music video for “’Til You’re Home” by clicking above.)

Emblematic of the “inspirational stories of hope” that Wilson wants to continue bringing to the world, the film starring her husband Tom Hanks tells the story of Otto Anderson (Hanks), a grump who no longer sees purpose in his life following the loss of his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller). Otto is ready to end it all, but his plans are interrupted when a lively young family moves in next door, and he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol (Mariana Treviño), who challenges him to see life differently, leading to an unlikely friendship that turns his world around. 

Written by David Magee and directed by Marc Forster, A Man Called Otto will hit select Los Angeles and New York theaters on December 30, expanding the scope of its limited release on January 6 before going nationwide on January 13. Wilson caught up with Deadline ahead of the end of Oscar shortlist voting to break down her experience honing the drama and its song, also touching on her upcoming project Dream Doll about Barbie inventor and Mattel co-founded Ruth Handler, why Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City represented “one of the best experiences” that she and Hanks have ever had making a movie, and more. 

DEADLINE: How you and Tom come to produce A Man Called Otto? What drew you to the story?

RITA WILSON: It was a fluke. Remember when the Academy used to send out DVD screeners? [Laughs] About six years ago when they sent out the DVD screeners for foreign film, there was this film called A Man Called Ove. I read the little description of it and I thought, “Sounds fun,” so we put it on…and very quickly, it was apparent that this was a very special movie. I sort of had this pit in my stomach like, “Oh boy, I really think I want to make this movie,” and I was also thinking, “Tom would be really good in this.” And so the good news was, he didn’t say no. But it was really from the DVD, and then the book came afterwards. I didn’t know it was based on a book when I saw the movie, [though] of course the book has been extremely successful. 

DEADLINE: We just recently broke the news that you’ve launched a new production company, Artistic Films. How was it that Otto came to be the first film made under your banner?

WILSON: Well, when we saw the movie, the next day, we put in the work. Like, “Okay, we’ve got to find out who’s got the rights to this and figure out if we can get them and make it happen together.” The rightholders [to the movie and the book] were this very, very old studio in Sweden, so we called, and it just so happened that their representative happened to be in Los Angeles that day. So, we scheduled a meeting, and how it came about was that it was just something that I felt really could be a beautiful movie. Something that would translate well into American audiences. And I felt that it was aligned with the things that I really like to see in the movies. It was funny, a grounded comedy. It was about something more, and there was also this relationship that the main character had to immigrants. I think because of my being a first-generation American and my parents coming from Bulgaria and Greece, I understood that sometimes, you can’t really judge a book by its cover. We all know people, we place these judgments on them. But the truth is, it really comes down to what their character is. 

DEADLINE: You’ve been working as a producer for years, having first entered this creative arena with the 2002 smash My Big Fat Greek Wedding. How do you think your process or experience will differ, now that you’re producing through Artistic Films?

WILSON: Well, I think that’s going to be what’s going to be curious and fun and interesting because it’s all new and it’s all beginning. I think that remains to be seen, but it’ll be interesting to see what material is going to come in — there’s already things that are coming in — but also what the market is going to do. I mean, look. I wouldn’t know how to make a superhero movie, so we can eliminate that, at least today. [Laughs] I like movies about people and our shared humanity, so that’s really what the mission would be. 

DEADLINE: A Man Called Otto is the kind of adult drama that we just don’t see enough of anymore, particularly in the theatrical space. Do you have a sense of optimism, though, that producers like yourself will be able to preserve that kind of filmgoing experience for people?

WILSON: Absolutely. Obviously, we had this pandemic. It meant that we couldn’t go out to movies the way we had been going out to movies, and yet I don’t think that it’s over. A lot of the numbers or a lot of the things that we hear about people not going back to the theaters, I think that’s partially because some of the content that is out there is not appealing to everyone. And I think if you make content that other people want to see and that [appeals to] a wider or broader demographic, that maybe people will show up. And obviously, Sony believes in [Otto], because they didn’t want it to be streamed. They wanted it to be just a theatrical distribution film because that’s how they feel about the movies. 

DEADLINE: Tell us a bit about your Oscar-qualifying A Man Called Otto song, “Til You’re Home.” I understand that it was director Marc Forster’s idea that you write and record one for the film…

WILSON: Yeah. So, we’re in a meeting one day, just a general production meeting. This is pre-production, before we started, and he said, “I think you should write a song for the movie.” He was familiar with the music I’d done and the albums I’d made, and I like to think that the songwriter in me was just doing cartwheels of excitement, and the producer in me was saying, “Hold on a second. What if he doesn’t like it? What if you make this song and then he just rejects it outright?” So, I took a breath and said, “Wow, I’m super honored that you would ask me to do this. But I think I also have to say that if for any reason, as the producer of the film, you don’t like it, you have to be honest. And you have to promise me there will be no hard feelings.” I really felt like that because, look. He’s the director. He’s got to make the movie he wants to make, and my job as the producer is to support that.

David Hodges and I wrote the song before the movie started because Marc wanted to have it and use it in playback, when Tom did the scen. And also as they started cutting, he wanted to see how it was going cut together. We had to have something in these very specific areas that Mark was looking for…and my co-writer David Hodges sings it in the body of the film. 

Then, in the duet [in the end credits]…When we wrote the song, we were like, “Could this be sung from a man’s point of view or a woman’s point of view?” We wanted to keep it vague like that, that either male or female could sing it, and at the end of the movie, this was one of the discussions that we had with Marc, that it would be great to have the female voice in it, as if Sonia was now able to sing that song to Otto.

It was inspired by a conversation that I had with Mike Nichols, who was a family friend, when my dad died. He said, “The conversation continues,” and at that moment when you’re grieving you don’t really know what that means. But as I got further away from my dad’s passing, and then my mom passing, [and] I had friends that died, I realized that that was actually very true. You do have those conversations with people that you love that are no longer here, and sometimes it can be that they’re just not in the same room or you haven’t seen them all day, and sometimes it could be that they’ve passed away. So, it was that sense of that conversation continuing. 

DEADLINE: How did you come to link up with David Hodges and your co-vocalist, Sebastián Yatra. Expand a bit on the early stages of your work on the song, in working out its melody and lyrics.

WILSON: David and I had written before for another little indie movie called Boy Genius. We wrote a song called “Sometimes Love.” I had met him in Los Angeles and knew him because he wrote “A Thousand Years” with Christina Perri, which was part of Twilight. When he lived in L.A., he used to have these song nights at his house where people would just come over and be like, “Play what you’re working on these days.” People would just get up and sing and play music, and it was really cool. So, then he moved to Nashville, and I missed him. But still, when I’d go down to Nashville, we’d write, we’d hang out.

So really, the conversations that David and I started having were about “Okay, this is a very specific thing, written for a movie going in this very specific place.” It had to be evocative but not right on the nose, and it had to sound like a song that was could have been played in era, in that year. Marc didn’t want something that was just a song that existed. He…didn’t want to…have other people have associations with a particular song. Then, when we were going back and forth about melody and lyrics at the end of the first day…I think we had a few sessions on the song, but at the end of the first day, David said, “Let’s put something down with a guitar and vocals, just so we can listen to it for a minute and see what we think.” And he sent it back and I thought, “Oh my gosh. Am I crazy? I feel like this is working.” I didn’t hate it. You know, sometimes you can play something back and think, “God, it’s close, but it’s not it.” So, we sat with it, and then the second session was just really refining it, getting into other ideas and trying to use a couple of aspects from the script. Like, the line when Otto says, “My world was black and white before I met Sonya. She was the color.” We wanted to incorporate that into the song, and then he put that guitar vocal down and I said to Marc, “Okay, I’m sending you something.” I was anxious. [Laughs] Like, “Okay, this is D-Day now.” And he just responded positively, so that was great. He wanted to use it, and I think that’s pretty much the version that you hear. It’s just acoustic in the body of the film.

Then, Sebastián Yatra, I had become aware of him as a singer because I loved his voice in Encanto when he sang on “Dos Oruguitas.” I thought, “Oh my gosh. This guy has all of this soul and all of this love and emotion that comes through his voice,” and that was really important to capture. So, [we] reached out to him and he had one day off in his schedule. He was traveling all over the world, and that one day off happened to be in L.A. and he said, “I can do it. I can record this song.” He loved it, and we got together at 10 at night and put the vocal down. It was pretty amazing. It was very very serendipitous, very lucky.

DEADLINE: What do you hope people will take away from A Man Called Otto and your song for the film?

WILSON: In terms of the film, it’s, it’s such a human story and it’s really a hopeful story. I think it’s about choosing life and choosing people, and understanding that we don’t all live alone in these little silos where we’re operating by ourselves, and we do need other people. Sometimes in our loneliness, we shut other people out, and so I hope that people take from this to reach out to people and to understand that people might be going through something, having a hard time, and that if they’re cranky, if they’re grumpy, if they’re mean, if they’re snippy, that maybe there’s something else going on. So, maybe a little kindness.

For the song…my co-producer Matt Rawlings is an amazing, Grammy-winning producer, and he’s great. We did my album together. What I [hope] is that you feel something from it, that you’ll say, “I understand that’s real strings there and when people were singing this, they meant it.” I hope there’s just some kind of truth that comes from it and that people feel it. That’s really all I can say. You know, everything is so personal and so subjective, but if you can feel something, then you don’t even have to speak the language and you can still feel something. So, I hope that that’s what people get from it. 

DEADLINE: You and your husband recently got your first chance to collaborate with Wes Anderson, on his upcoming film Asteroid City. How was that experience?

WILSON: It was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had making the movie. Wes creates a community and an atmosphere. For example, we were shooting in Chinchón, Spain, outside of Madrid, and because it was during the pandemic and we were following strict protocols, he had production take over this entire hotel. So, everybody had dinner together every night. A big long table under arbors. It was in September so the weather was gorgeous, and every night at eight o’clock, Wes would show up at the head of the table, we would all sit down, new cast members would come in. “Oh, Matt Dillon showed up today.” And “Oh, Tilda Swinton just arrived.” And, “Liev [Schreiber] is sitting down the way.”

What we did was, on the weekends…For example, you’re working, right? So, your dressing room was actually in the hotel. They would have dressing rooms for the actors because the location was only a three-minute golf cart ride away, so there was no need for trailers, no need for drivers. It was very civilized, and Wes is very specific about what he wants. He doesn’t do a storyboard. He does this thing called an animatic, which is basically the entire movie in storyboard format, so you really know what he’s looking for and what he wants. And it is exhilarating to work with him because he just know. He absolutely can be so clear about what it is he wants, and for me it was just an absolute honor to work with him, and also [costume designer] Milena Canonero, [cinematographer] Robert Yeoman, who shot Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. It was kind of great.

DEADLINE: What are your creative ambitions going forward? Are there other people you’d like to work with, stories you’d like to tell or things you’d like to try that you haven’t yet been able to?

WILSON: I have a couple of projects. One has been announced, the other one hasn’t. But one is called Dream Doll, and it is the story of Ruth Handler, who created Mattel and invented Barbie. It’s such an amazing story and I’m working on that, developing that. Melisa Wallack, who wrote Dallas Buyers Club, wrote the script, so we’re looking for a director for that. Musically, I have an album that’s finished and in the can, and moving forward, [I want to make] projects that have some element of hope, that make us feel that we’re not alone, that we’re more similar than we are different.


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