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How Marc Forster Made ‘A Man Called Otto’ A Hanks Family Affair

The director also the challenges of working with a real cat and why it was the ”trickier“ actor

Marc Forster, who directed “A Man Called Otto,” built his American version of the Swedish story with different creative elements from three Hanks family members, including Tom Hanks starring as the central character and his son Truman portraying the younger version of Otto.

“Ultimately when you’re dealing with flashbacks, the ins and outs [need to] feel very seamless and feel like you’re still in present-day with Otto, with Tom Hanks. When you go into the flashback with Truman and Sonya (Rachel Keller), it [needs to feel] like you’re not being taken out of the movie,” he said. “So I always wanted to connect Tom into those scenes and feel like you’re almost still in present day, but you’re with him on this journey [where]he’s going into his memories, but then you emotionally don’t detach.”

“A Man Called Otto” the adaptation of the best-selling book “A Man Called Ove” by Frederik Backman, tells the story of Otto, a grumpy older man who doesn’t see a reason to live following the loss of his wife Sonya. He tries to take his own life multiple times in the film, but his efforts get interrupted, and his new neighbors warm their way into his legitimately oversized heart.

“Frederik Backman wrote the book and it was a great foundation. Hannes Holm the Swedish director, who did the Swedish movie (“En Man Som Heter Ove”) also laid a great foundation,” Forster said of his predecessors. “We are very close to the book and also even to the Swedish movie. Certain things are slightly different, but overall I think we’re all telling the same story with same character in the same spirit.”

Forster asked Rita Wilson, Hanks’ longtime partner and fellow producer on the film, to write a song for the story, resulting in “Til You’re Home.”

“I mentioned to Rita, ‘I would love for you to write a song’ because I was listening to her songs. And then she said, ‘You really mean It? Seriously? and I said, ‘Yes, please.’ And I was thinking, ‘Oh maybe I just made a mistake. I hope that song is gonna be good,'” he recalled. “Then she wrote a song and one morning I woke up and she texted me the song. I was listening to it, and it was so beautiful and touching that it was like, ‘Yes, this encapsulates really what the movie is about.'”

“We use the song multiple times in the movie, where her co-writer is singing it and then at the end, she sings it in a duet. It’s really was sort of spirited where our emotional journey was going at the end.”

The cat that Otto desperately tries to shake from following him before it sneaks into his heart and home also played an important role on set. 

“I’ve always been taken out of movies when the animals or the cats are too CGI. So I said we really have to get the cat — the cat’s name is Sméagol — that Sméagol really performs, and sometimes Sméagol’s on set and performs perfectly well and then sometimes Sméagol just walks off and is gone to the trailer or wherever.” 

“We did ask the producers for a green screen day with the cat, so I would say what you see on screen is 90% the real cat and probably 10% a CG cat but most of the time we actually shot the cat either on green screen or location and then and then comp the cat into the movie, depending on Sméagol’s mood —trickier than any movie star.”