Swiss-born filmmaker Marc Forster has been making movies in Hollywood ever since his second film, death row drama Monster’s Ball, broke through, garnering Halle Berry an Oscar in 2002. Since then, he’s worked with everyone from Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland), Brad Pitt (World War Z) to Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction); as well as becoming the youngest ever filmmaker to direct a James Bond movie, with 2008’s Quantum of Solace.
Forster now returns with A Man Called Otto, an American remake [and adaptation of the Fredrik Backman novel) of the life-affirming 2015 Swedish film A Man Called Ove directed by Hannes Holm, which was nominated for two Oscars. In it, Tom Hanks plays Otto, a curmudgeonly widower who seemingly has nothing left to live for. Until, that is, new neighbours and a stray cat come into his life…
How did you feel about doing a remake? It’s the first of your career.
“I loved the book [by Fredrik Backman]. I also really enjoyed the Swedish movie. I felt like Otto is so universal, and I got so excited about the story, that I felt it needs to be told to even a wider audience. Because it’s archetypal. Like a Shakespearean character, like Hamlet, has been told in many different languages, you could tell this film in many different countries, many different languages, because Otto is so universal. We all know an Otto, or an Ove, in our lives. And I think, from that point of view, I thought that it definitely would be a great adventure to go on.”
Why do you think he is so universal? What is it about him that makes him this archetypal figure?
“I think when we get older, a lot of people get lonelier, and also, they get grumpier and they also think everybody else is an idiot! And they need to do it on their own. My mother reminds me of Otto. Sometimes, film directors in general have certain aspects of Otto in them. I think it’s a very common thing. But ultimately, the story is life-affirming, and it brings a community together, which I really love. And it’s a film, I feel, where you cry and you laugh, and that’s what I did with the book. I think that’s the beauty about it. I feel it should also be experienced in the theatre, because it’s a communal experience, the laughter and crying. Experiencing the film in a theatrical setting is really great if you get a chance.”
So, you’re Otto-like when you’re on a film set?
“You always are! Sometimes, you’re very precise. And there are certain things you would like to get done, and you’re persistent about them. And if they don’t get done that way, then you do it yourself. So, it’s a little bit like that sometimes!”
This is a dark comedy, not a style you’ve ventured towards that often. Was that interesting for you?
“Yes. I enjoyed the experience of my time with Stranger Than Fiction. And I wanted to do more comedy again. And then with [2018’s] Christopher Robin, I just had such a joyful time with Winnie the Pooh, that I felt like this would be the right project to develop, to do more comedy. But also, it has the dark and the light. It has both.”
It can get pretty bleak. How did you strike the balance with the film’s more uplifting moments?
“You have to take the topic very seriously in regard to suicide, and obviously we consulted risk prevention organisations and so on. And you want to take the topic seriously, but at the same time, you have the yin and the yang, the light and the dark, and you have to counterbalance [the bleakness] with also the hopefulness. The cat brings unconditional love into his life, and really brings in that joy, but I think also Mariana Treviño, the new Mexican neighbour, brings incredible humour and light and her persistence really opens Otto up and ultimately bring purpose to his life.”
Did you take a sort of perverse pleasure from casting the nicest man in Hollywood as the grumpiest man in America?
“If I didn’t have Tom, the audience probably would have an actor that they really would dislike when he plays such a grump. But Tom even makes playing a grump charming, because he’s such a brilliant actor, and he’s truly the best actor I’ve ever worked with. He just can fine-tune these moments. When we worked together, it was also lovely, because our sensitivities really overlapped; how I saw the film and how he saw the character. So that was a true pleasure.”
You cast his son Truman as Otto’s younger self.
“That is correct. He’s not an actor. He actually wants to be a DP and is working on that. But I convinced him to be in this movie. And he did a really lovely job. Because he reminded me, visually of how Tom looked in the 1980s, when he did like Splash and Big and so on.”
Otto has a very distinct growl. How did you and Tom work on that?
“I recorded a lot of them in ADR in post as well. We had it in there and I said, ‘I need more of the growling.’ And at one point, my editor said, ‘Marc, I think we have too many growls in there!’ And we’re mixing the film and we were fine-tuning the growls because they made me laugh. A very distinct Otto sound. And Tom made those noises himself. I just took that and ran with it!”
Do you enjoy switching between big and small movies?
“Yeah, the little character pieces I enjoy, but these big movies are a challenge, and they take a lot out of you. It’s a different skillset you have to bring out for these bigger movies. But these little movies, they bring me a lot of joy. I like to do both. It’s a dance… I like to switch it up!”
The biggest movie of your career was probably the Bond Quantum of Solace. What did you think of how they ended Daniel Craig’s arc, in such a fatal manner, in No Time to Die?
“I felt ultimately, emotionally, they earned it. It made me obviously sad like many other Bond fans to see him die, but I think emotionally on that trajectory he was on and what he went through, I think it was earned. Even though I was surprised, I thought it was earned. Many people were upset. I wasn’t upset because I felt that the emotional arc was deserved.”
Would you ever consider going back down the line to another Bond film?
“Yeah, I love Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, and I think they’re great producers, and were great partners, so I would do anything with them.”
There’s been talk of a World War Z sequel, originally with David Fincher at the helm. That didn’t happen. Could you see yourself stepping in?
“I don’t know. I always liked that property. I don’t think they’re making it anytime soon. I think there were a lot of budgetary issues and other issues. That property was super interesting. I think it’s an incredible book.”
Is horror a genre that interests you? Your 2005 film Stay (starring Ryan Gosling) was so unusual.
“My thing is right now… as long as it explores the humanity of it, the human experience. I think that’s really key for me, because the time we’re living through on the planet… I feel like the more stories we can tell, that have hope, [the better].
Is that why you went for making A Man Called Otto?
“Yes, absolutely. Because the life-affirming aspect of it is very important to me and bringing a community together. Because that community brings him out of his loneliness and gives him a reason to love.”
A Man Called Otto is released in cinemas on January 1, 2023