Rita Wilson interview: ‘A Man Called Otto’ producer

During the 1990s, when Tom Hanks became one of the biggest movie stars of all-time – a two-time Best Actor winner with a string of blockbuster hits – he was known as an actor as adept at comedy as he was at drama. But despite a track record of acclaimed performances over the last decade, Hanks hasn’t really had the opportunity to go for laughs on the big screen – something his wife, Rita Wilson, says they often discussed.

“I’m like, ‘You know, you haven’t done a comedy. Why haven’t you done a comedy since the golden days of Nora Ephron and romantic comedies?’” Wilson recalls asking Hanks during an exclusive interview with Gold Derby. Wilson says Hanks would reply by saying the industry had moved on from romantic comedies – and besides, he had aged out of the genre. He also wasn’t a fan of buddy comedies.

“It had to be the right kind of material – something deeper than just a broad comedy,” Wilson adds. So when the beloved Hollywood couple sat down to watch the 2015 Swedish import “A Man Called Ove” it was like witnessing a lightning strike in real-time.

“After 20 minutes, I had that panic moment of like, ‘This is the one. This is the one!’” she says. “The next day, we made the call to come and have a meeting or figure out a way to get the rights to it, because I just thought this is the perfect world for him.”

Co-produced by Wilson, the American version of “A Man Called Ove” – now called “A Man Called Otto” – stars Hanks as the title character, a comically rigid curmudgeon living out his twilight years in an emotional agony following a tragic loss who is given a renewed purpose by his neighbors and the broader community. Directed by Marc Forster and written by David Magee (the duo behind the Oscar-nominated “Finding Neverland”), the film provides Hanks with a chance to land laughs with his comic timing and physical prowess.

“This is a story about someone who is apparently a person who you would never want to hang out with, and never want to be with. But what I loved about the story was it was more about how similar we are than about how different we are,” says Wilson, who has produced a number of films, including most famously “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” She recalls how when “A Man Called Ove” author Fredrik Backman came to the set, he passed along stories of fans who would come up to him and say they loved how much Otto changed in his book.

“Fredrik said, ‘Otto never changes. He is the person who is the same, but everyone’s perception of him changes,’” Wilson says. “And to me, that was really an important element – because we do judge people, whether we like it or not. This was a way to sort of show that there are people out there who are very different than what they present outwardly. And to me, it’s more about acceptance of everyone – let’s do the things that unite us and not separate us.”

The original adaption of “A Man Called Ove” was a big success in Sweden and landed two Oscar nominations at the 2016 ceremony, one for Best Foreign Langauge Film (a category later renamed Best International Feature) and one for hair and makeup.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Why shouldn’t you stop while you’re ahead? The Swedish version was really good. Why risk making another version?’” co-producer Fredrik Wikstrom says to Gold Derby. Wikstrom was a producer on the original adaptation and the Americanized take.

“For me, it’s been very much the driving force – like it’s been for Rita and Tom and everyone – that we want to convey the message of the film [to a broader audience],” he adds. “This is a chance to make the themes about unity about hope [more universal]. Otto is a character who goes through a lot of hardship, and life isn’t easy for him…. I’ve just been so passionate about trying to give [the message] to a global audience. Making this film on this scale with Tom Hanks, we have a chance to communicate to a global audience in a way we could never have done with a Swedish film.”

In addition to being a producer on the project, Wilson was a key creative contributor to the soundtrack. Forster asked Wilson to write a song for the film to help amplify a key dramatic moment for Otto as he grapples with the loss of his wife. The track, “Til You’re Home,” appears twice in the finished feature – with a version sung by Wilson and Sebastian Yatra playing over the end credits.

“It was a complete shock and a complete surprise,” Wilson, who released her first album 10 years ago, says. “Writing for a film – you don’t want it to be super spot on,” she adds of the songwriting process. “It has to be sort of vague in my opinion, but it also has to communicate what is going on in the movie and have it be evocative in a way.”

Wilson says she was also inspired by the loss of her father, who died in 2009. “When my dad died, somebody said to me, ‘The conversation continues,’” she recalls. “So that approach of sort of being able to have a conversation with someone, even if they’re not in the room – even if they’ve gone to another life – [worked for the film]. I could imagine that Otto would be having that conversation [with his wife]… it was really being able to find that place the song could sit emotionally in the movie, and that could feel real.”

“A Man Called Otto” is out in limited release from Columbia and Sony on Christmas Day before a nationwide rollout in January.

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UPLOADED Dec 12, 2022 4:03 pm