Following the success of the novel in the states and the Swedish film, producer Fredrik Wikström Nicastro set out to develop an American retelling of the film. When Rita Wilson and Hanks then saw the Swedish film, they reached out to Nicastro. The producers would join forces, with Hanks starring and SF Studios (who produced and financed the Swedish film) fully financing A Man Called Otto.
For Otto Anderson, there’s only one way of doing things: the right way. Whether it’s how to park on the street (by permit only), recycle (cans go in the cans bin, glass goes in the glass bin), lock up a bicycle (on the bike rack – that’s what it’s there for), drive a car (stick shift), or any number of other daily tasks and activities, there’s Otto’s way… and everyone who does anything else is an idiot.
“He’s been set in his ways since he was four hours old,” says Tom Hanks, who brings the character to life in A Man Called Otto. “His world is a binary one. The world operates one way and one way only, and that’s according to the rules – and anybody can read the rules, and anybody can follow them.”
The character first appeared in the international bestseller A Man Called Ove by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. Widely read around the world, the book stayed on the New York Times Bestsellers list for 42 weeks. It was then adapted into a feature film in Sweden, where it became a phenomenon; according to the Swedish Film Institute, it is the third-most-watched Swedish film of all time. It was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film.
Based on the # 1 New York Times bestseller A Man Called Ove, A Man Called Otto tells the story of Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), a grump who no longer sees purpose in his life following the loss of his wife. 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 – she challenges him to see life differently, leading to an unlikely friendship that turns his world around. A heartwarming and funny story about love, loss, and life, A Man Called Otto shows that family can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.
“There’s so much about this story that resonated with me,” Wilson says. “The theme of finding hope, finding community with the unlikeliest of people, and learning to accept others that may be different from us made an impact on me. Adding to that was that there are serious themes yet, as in life, even in the most difficult times, we can still laugh. These elements of light breaking through the dark give us hope. And, we can all use a little hope.”
“As a producer, you’re always looking for something that hits you just right – that makes you think, ‘I’ve got to make this movie,’” continues Wilson, who produces alongside Hanks and his Playtone partner Gary Goetzman, as well as Fredrik Wikström Nicastro, who also produced the Swedish film. “Like every other producer who has a great role for an actor, who wouldn’t want Tom Hanks as their star? I felt that Tom would be the perfect person to play that character.”
For Wilson, this character combined elements of comedy and drama that she wanted to see him bring to theaters. “Tom got his start in comedy, and I was asking him, why hasn’t he done more of that recently. His work has been incredible, but it’s been dramatic. He said, ‘It’s really hard to find projects that have the right comedic sensibility.’ This movie aligned with who he is as an actor, but also what he likes to put out there, and the right comedic take on that.”
“Tom Hanks is a brilliant actor. He’s an icon,” says Marc Forster, who directs the film. “He’s extraordinary. Every role he plays, you believe him in it, because he has this incredible heart so you can relate to him. He comes from comedy and is very good in physical comedy, it’s brilliant how he moves and his timing – but at the same time he’s extraordinary as a dramatic actor. In this role, he merges these two skill sets, and that makes Otto unique. You feel him, you laugh at him, you laugh with him, and you cry for what he is going through.”
That comedic sensibility combined with some of life’s big questions will bring real emotion. As Wilson points out, “The story is so universal. It deals with so much of what people are going through. What is our purpose? Why are we here? What do we want out of this life? How can we change our perceptions about the people around us?”
Executive producer Renée Wolfe, who is Marc Forster’s producing partner, says that it is that mix of comedy and big questions that appealed to the director, after previously helming such varied projects from Finding Neverland to the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. “Marc excels at working with actors to bring out the truth and the honesty of a scene,” says executive producer Renée Wolfe. “To watch him and Tom work together to continually evolve the character of Otto, both in a comedic and dramatic sense, was pure joy. Tom and Marc shared a common creative language on set that was absolutely beautiful to witness.”
“It’s not easy to make a story that is both personal and at the same time speaks to a universal audience,” Wolfe continues. “In a sense, the character of Otto is a little bit like every one of us. Somewhat Chaplin-like, Otto resonates with what much of the world is feeling today – a sense of wanting to connect to each other but not knowing where to start. That’s Marc’s special gift. He saw right away that even though A Man Called Otto is a character study at heart, it was also a story that would speak to audiences everywhere.”
“The comedic elements of the story resonate with all of us because they are so funny and so human,” says Forster. “We all get angry sometimes, and we can see that in Otto. How many people get road rage? That’s not so far from Otto himself.”
Translating the story to America was both a challenge and organic. “We wanted to make it a very, very American version of the film,” Nicastro continues. “There are a lot of themes that we felt are very relevant for our times – connection and community, letting go of the past and embracing life.”
It’s not a changing world that has Otto annoyed – it’s that he clearly sees a way the world can operate that would be better for everyone, and a vast populace who cut corners, making everything worse. “Unlike a lot of grumps, he’s not trying to protect his own or maintain a status quo,” Hanks explains. “Otto wants balance and equity for everyone who shares the street, and the best way to share that street is to care for it so that everyone can enjoy its benefits.”
“Every time someone has read the script or talked to me about the book, they say they know an Otto,” says David Magee, who reunites with Marc Forster after the two collaborated on Finding Neverland at the beginning of their careers. “They have someone in their life – a cousin, a grandfather – who can be cranky or opinionated or strong-willed, sometimes in a way that is frustrating, sometimes in a way that’s hilarious. But underneath that, they understand that it’s a person with a real heart that they care about. In my case, while my father was a very different person, I recognize in him that stoic crankiness when things go wrong.”
And things have gone wrong for Otto. “He’s led this ritualistic life, and then suddenly, everything changes for him,” says Hanks. “His wife has passed away. He is forced into retirement. New neighbors move in. He’s feeling like the only thing he has left is his daily routine, and now he thinks he’s fighting his final battle, against the relentlessness of fate.”
“The thing that Otto is dealing with really is time – relentless time that passes – and time ends up being both the villain and the hero of the piece,” Hanks continues. “Otto hates the passing of that time. He rebels against the fact that it’s time for him to retire. He doesn’t appreciate the fact that his wife got older and she developed the great malady of maladies, and her time was up.
“And now, he’s trying to rush time along, to end it all for himself and join her,” says Forster. “But you can’t do that.”
That’s why he’s so grumpy, says Hanks. With the passing of his wife, Sonya – a courtship that the film lovingly plays out in flashbacks – Otto has lost the sweetness that makes life worth living. “He knew that he was made different by Sonya,” says Hanks. “He knew that his life was inarguably more full. He knew that he had access to a whole different way of thinking, talking, and eating, that he never would have had the curiosity in order to pursue if he hadn’t met this extraordinary love of his life. He did not have an openness until he married somebody who was open. He did not have empathy until he met somebody who taught him how easy it can be to empathize with somebody. And when she was gone, he thought he was never going to have that back again. And in the early part of the film, he’s actually trying to speed up time. But time takes care of itself. You can’t fight it. He lives another day and he goes from a bad day to a better day.
Time takes care of itself with the appearance of new neighbors – who bring Otto into that better day despite himself. “It’s the last thing he’s anticipating as being the great catalyst for the rest of his days,” says Hanks.
The idea of forging community where you find it with the people who are literally closest to you – your neighbors – seems to be an idea that resonates with Hanks; the last time he filmed in Pittsburgh, it was to bring to life America’s foremost neighbor, Fred Rogers, with his performance in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
“The thing that fills the void in our lives is each other – ourselves – our neighbors,” says Hanks. “Even if you don’t like each other, even if you have great cultural differences, religion or heritage or politics, sooner or later, they’re going to need your help and you’re going to need theirs. If you don’t know how to bleed your radiators, who are you going to turn to? When tornadoes always hit, what’s the first thing that happens? Neighbors come out with chainsaws and U-Hauls. A Man Called Otto puts that idea forward – it is a movie about community and a movie about family.”
“All over the world, people are becoming very divided and polarized. We’re just not connecting with our neighbors, our communities. So I think this story about human connection has never been more relevant,” says Nicastro.
With a versatile range of credits to his name, Marc Forster (Director / Executive Producer) has evaded categorization, having helmed a slate of films of varying scale and genres for studios and independents alike, starring many of the industry’s premier talent.
Born in Germany and raised in Switzerland, Forster came to the United States in 1990 to attend NYU Film School.
Forster most recently completed White Bird: A Wonder Story, the sequel to the beloved coming-of-age story Wonder, based on the book by R. J. Palacio. Forster produced and directed the film.
He also directed Christopher Robin, the live-action Walt Disney Studios box office hit, which he directed from a screenplay penned by Academy Award winner Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Academy Award nominee Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), and Alex Ross Perry (Queen of the Earth).
Forster’s past projects include the Paramount tentpole hit World War Z, the 22nd James Bond franchise installment Quantum of Solace, and the visually driven obsessive love story All I See Is You, directed from his original screenplay.
Forster is also co-founder and co-CEO of 2Dux2, an artist-driven transmedia content company created to develop and produce all forms of storytelling across multiple platforms. Forster’s long-time collaborator and partner in this endeavor is co-founder and co-CEO Renée Wolfe. The company’s credits include World War Z, Hand of God, All I See Is You, and Christopher Robin.
Forster’s versatile filmmaking style is reflected throughout his body of work, including Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland, the stirring drama The Kite Runner, and the imaginative comedy Stranger Than Fiction.
David Magee (Screenplay by / Executive Producer) is a veteran screenwriter, his work spanning over 20 years in the entertainment industry including film, theater, and television. In 2004, his first film, Finding Neverland, directed by Marc Forster and nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay. The screenplay also received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations and numerous critics’ awards and accolades.
In 2012, he adapted Yann Martel’s acclaimed novel Life of Pi for award-winning director Ang Lee. The film went on to be nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay, garnering Magee his second Oscar nomination as well as nominations from BAFTA , WGA, and USC’s prestigious Scripter Awards. That same year, Magee was also honored with UCLA’s Screenwriter of the Year Award.
Director Rob Marshall tapped Magee to pen the musical Mary Poppins Returns in 2018. The film received four Academy Award nominations. Magee received the distinguished Humanitas Award for the Best Family film for his screenplay. Following that successful collaboration, he teamed up with Marshall again to work on the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, which stars Halle Bailey and is currently set for release in 2023.
Magee’s talent for tapping into the psyche of young audiences and those young at heart led him to write the adaptation of The School of Good and Evil, based on the YA book series by Soman Chainani. The film premiered in October 2022, distributed by Netflix.
Also this fall, Magee adapted the classic D.H. Lawrence novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.
Upcoming, Magee continues his partnership with Forster with the recent announcement they will team up again with the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s classic children’s novel The Graveyard Book.
Based in New Jersey, Magee and his wife and business partner, Pam, operate Brass Mantle Entertainment, their writer-focused production company.
Fredrik Backman (based on the novel A Man Called Ove by) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, The Winners, and Anxious People, as well as two novellas and one work of nonfiction. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter @BackmanLand and on Instagram @Backmansk.