A Man Called Otto Director Marc Forster on Working With Sméagol the Cat

Jan 4, 2023

In Columbia Pictures’ feature, A Man Called Otto, Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks portrays the titular curmudgeon and tells of an unlikely friendship between grumpy Otto and the affectionate family that just moved in next door. The heartwarming story is based on author Fredrik Backman’s New York Times bestselling novel.

Reuniting the duo behind Finding Neverland, director Marc Forster teamed up with screenwriter David Magee to adapt the story of a hurting old man, his lovable neighbors, and a cat nearly as cranky as Otto. Hanks’ performance is backed by an ensemble cast of characters with Mariana Treviño as the pregnant and persistent Marisol, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Rachel Keller, Mike Birbiglia, and more.
Ahead of A Man Called Otto’s wide release on January 13, Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with the director, Marc Forster, about the making of the film. During the interview, Forster discusses working with Tom Hanks versus working with Sméagol the cat, and how he handled the heavier themes of the film during the editing process. Forster also explains which shot, throughout his career, was the most difficult to pull off, and why. For this and more, you can check out the interview in the video above, or read the full transcript below.

COLLIDER: I just want to say congrats on the movie, and I don’t appreciate you making me cry, so eff you. I’m joking, obviously.

MARC FORSTER: Thanks for watching it. It’s a life-affirming film at the end, and I hope it made you laugh as well.

Image via Sony

100%. Yes. But I definitely want to talk to the fact that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors of all time. What is it like collaborating with someone like that who could make reading a phone book phenomenal?

FORSTER: It’s just incredible, because everything you hear about him is true. He’s not just the nicest person in Hollywood. It’s all true. There couldn’t be, in my dreams, a better collaborator. He has no ego, he’s so kind, and he listens. We’ve just been working. Working together with someone that good, as you said, one of the greatest actors of all time, it’s extraordinary. It’s someone playing his instrument on the highest level, and you’re just trying to hear if there was one wrong note, and after two, three takes, you move on because it’s just all there.

One of the things they say is to not work with animals, babies, or children. And you chose to work with a cat, a baby, and two children. At what point of the shoot were you like, “What did I get myself into?”

FORSTER: When I was looking at the weather in Pittsburgh. But I think the cat, Sméagol, was probably the toughest one. Sometimes Sméagol just left set and walked off. And then, I had to beg the producer for a green screen day because I don’t like CG animals and CG cats. So, then we kept shooting Sméagol on a green screen, and then to comp him into the picture. Ultimately, 90% [of] it is all Sméagol’s performance, so I was very happy with that. But that was much harder than the kids, or anything else.

You know something, I have cats, and they sometimes don’t want to do anything that you want them to do. I love cats, and I want to know if you agree that one of the morals of this movie is that a cat can help save your life?

FORSTER: Absolutely. The cat can become your best friend, and it’s unconditional love.

Until they get very mad at you.

FORSTER: Yes. Yeah, I have not had a cat, yet, [not] scratch at me.

Image via Sony

I think you know this about me, but I love talking about the editing process because that’s where it all comes together. One of the things about this movie is you need to find the right tone to make what Otto is going through believable to the audience because he’s contemplating suicide, which is a very serious thing. Can you talk about finding the right tone, and the right takes in the editing room, to make sure the audience felt what they needed to feel?

FORSTER: Obviously, I was very blessed because there was the novel there, and Fredrik Backman did a great job in the novel balancing it, and there was the Swedish version of the film, which also did a very good job with that. There was source material. But then, once we got into the editing, I did a lot of the ins and outs of the flashbacks, which often happens during the suicide attempts. There were often these moments where I had Tom play them, and then Truman played them, as well, Truman Hanks who plays the younger Otto.

And then, I don’t know if you realize that we used a lot of the soundtrack, as well, to sort of gap the bridges. For instance, the Kate Bush song in the moment, later in the movie, between present day and the past. You have this continuous and emotional bandage between the two worlds [so] it doesn’t take you out.

But it was really the silver lining trying to find the humor in the darkness, the yin and the yang to really… It took a while, but eventually, I think we got there. I’m really pleased. Because it’s about a community coming together, I hope that [the] community experiences the movie in a theater, because they can laugh and cry together.

Listen, I’ve said this again and again, movies need to be seen on the biggest screen possible. There’s nothing like seeing a movie in a movie theater.

FORSTER: Thanks, Steve. Yeah, I agree, especially movies like this.

What did you learn from any friends and family screenings, or test screenings, that impacted the finished film? Did you make any big changes from what people said?

FORSTER: No, I must say, we were very blessed. Our first test screening was in New Jersey, and the movie tested really high, and people really embraced the movie, and they laughed and they cried and they had all reactions. But we just kept on working on it and then had another test screen after that, and kept editing it and finessing it, and you know how it is. You’re massaging, you’re massaging. And we still, probably, if the movie wouldn’t come out, we still would be editing.

Image via Sony

I’ve been looking forward to seeing White Bird: A Wonder Story, but when am I going to see it?

FORSTER: It’s coming out next year. Lionsgate had a change in their marketing team, as you know, so there’s a new team in now, and they’re all very excited. I love the movie, personally. I can’t wait for you to see it. It’s a departure. But anytime when you’re back from Brazil, I’m happy to set up a screening. I’m happy to set up a screening for you anytime, Steve.

You’ve done so many different projects and so many different genres. You’ve made a lot of movies, a lot of projects. Of your career, what shot do you think ended up being the hardest to pull off, and why?

FORSTER: I think it was early in my career. It was in Finding Neverland. There was a crane shot through the theater, and just ending up right on Freddie Highmore and on his face. Ultimately, when he’s watching the creation of himself, of Peter Pan. And that shot, because I wasn’t, at that point, used to working with such big equipment, because Monster’s Ball was all very low budget. And then, suddenly I had a crane, and I had this techno crane which had a motion control and all these things on it. I was scared that the camera [would] hit the kid because it came so close.

But they all said, “No, it’s all safe, don’t worry about it.” And I just wasn’t so used to it that I was, instead of watching the shot, I was worried that he [would] be safe. Because, the camera was flying into him and then stopped at a certain point, which they [said], “It’s safe,” and everything else, and they tested it 10,000 times. But still, that kind of shot, just emotionally like, yes, I wanted the shot, I storyboarded it, I had in my mind. But I said, “How are we going to execute it?” “Oh, it’s not a problem. We can do this very easily.” So, we ended up pulling it off.

A Man Called Otto is now playing in select theaters.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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