Following in the footsteps of a massively successful novel, and then the Oscar-nominated 2015 Swedish blockbuster A Man Called Ove, Tom Hanks stars in the English-language remake, A Man Called Otto. It was reinvented to take place in Pittsburgh but still features a central character who is about cranky as they come — a lonely widower who basically wants to end it all but who, with the help of a group of memorable neighbors and one colorful cat named Schmagel, finds hope and heart and a reason for living.
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Hanks of course plays that title character, and it not only is a role perfectly suited to the two-time Oscar winner’s vast talents, it also gives him a chance to try some comedy again on the big screen, something he hasn’t done in quite a while. Hanks and director Marc Forster joined me at today’s Contenders LA3C panel for this Sony Pictures holiday release, which opens limited on December 30 and goes wide January 13. Hanks, who also is a producer on the film with wife Rita Wilson and others, knew this part would be a good fit in a movie that first and foremost wears its basic humanity on its sleeve.
“It’s got nothing to do with people from outer space. There are no helicopters, no cities were destroyed in the making of A Man Called Otto,” he said. “The only thing we had to do was make sure that it was written and directed properly. And so nothing was nothing was gonna happen until [screenwriter] Dave McGee and Marc Forster came along and said, ‘We think we know why we want to make this movie. Do you guys agree?’ And thank God they did.”
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There are a number of flashbacks to the younger Otto in the film, and in searching for an actor who could believably fit into those shoes, the filmmakers eventually settled on another man named Hanks, Truman Hanks. He’s the only son of Tom who was not already an actor (i.e. Chet and Colin), and he had no ambitions in that regard, but Dad thought he could pull it off. “Well, it’s the family business, Pete,” he said. “And [this guy] comes along with the same last name. But as Forster himself recognized, there is a doppelganger effect. If you hold up a picture of me at the age of 26 and our youngest son at the age of 26, we are dead ringers for each other. … You’re looking for that family resemblance anyway, and it was built into it. Everything else was a conversation between Marc and the actor who played young Otto. I said, ‘Look this is somebody else’s decision to make, not mine. But yeah, if you can hit the mark and tell the truth, let’s find out if you want to,’” he about the decision to cast Truman.
Forster talked a lot about the fact that major studios really aren’t in the business much of making these kinds of smaller, character-driven family movies anymore, even ones starring Tom Hanks. He talked about why it is important that this kind of film gets made, as well as the challenges inherent on taking on a movie that already had been made once before, albeit in a different language, and a best-selling book that millions of people had read around the globe. He also talks about working with that cat and said there were no doubles. Schmagel did it all.
Check back Wednesday for the panel video.