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Director Marc Forster and Actress Mariana Treviño Talk “A Man Called Otto” Ahead of the Home Release

2 min read

Sony Pictures

Based on the New York Times best-selling book , , directed by and starring and tells the heart-warming and funny story about a grump named Otto Anderson who no longer sees purpose in his life after losing his wife. Otto's plan to end it all is interrupted when a lively young family move in across the street from him causing his whole view of the world to change.

A Man Called Otto is available to buy on Digital now and to Rent on Digital 3rd April, so to mark the occasion, FILMHOUNDS sat down with Marc Forster and star Mariana Treviño.

It can be a challenging thing to approach making a film that's based on an existing book that's loved by many, especially when there's already a Swedish film adaptation. For the director, he'd read the book and loved it and he thought the Swedish film was terrific, but Forster was quick to mention how he viewed the characters as very Shakespearian. “It's like Hamlet. It can be set in any kind of culture across the board, and I felt like the story needs to be seen by more people. I felt like the American version A Man Called Otto will give it access to a wider audience which I think is so important because the movie is funny, it's sad, it's emotional and it's light, it's dark and ultimately, it's life affirming and a lovely family movie”.

Forster wanted to be able to put his own stamp on it and believes there's plenty of room to do so with this story. He emphasises how he doesn't think this is going to be the last A Man Called Otto. “You can set one in Asia, you can set one in Latin America, because we all know an Otto in our lives” he says before mentioning how his own mother reminds him of Otto.

Sony Pictures

For Treviño, when making a film based on a book, she views it as “an obligation to go back to the source because that's where the author put his whole story and where the original characters are living, and you can see all the nuance and description and everything that sometimes doesn't get translated into the script”. There are just so many details in the book that can help an actor approach the role and help with the layering of the character.

A key part of doing an adaptation is making sure your version stands out and Treviño says how for her character, originally, the character is Iranian, whereas for her, it's a Latin character. But she talks of how she had to find the similarities in tone between the two. “I'm from a part of Mexico in the north and people are very upfront, and people say what they think. They're fearless, they approach things without a lot of protocol and they're motherly at the same time”. Whereas for Forster, the key to the film was making sure that it felt organic. “At the end of the day, it's not about setting things apart, it's about what feels truthful, what really lands.” The audience has to truly believe what's happening in order to invest emotionally as they can be very quick to tell when something feels fake.

This is one of the reasons why Treviño's character Marisol speaks Spanish as her and Forster thought it would be fun to have these elements to make it more lively and more incomprehensible for Otto. And then it becomes all the more endearing when he starts picking up on some word by the end of the film.

Sony Pictures

Crucial to the film's success is the casting of Tom Hanks as Otto. After watching the Swedish film, Hanks was keen to get involved in an American adaptation and having done a lot of comedy roles in his early days in the 80s, followed be more dramatic roles, A Man Called Otto was a chance to bring together both the comedy and the drama together on screen.

For Treviño, having an icon like Tom Hanks on set was a great reference point for her performance. “It was wonderful to watch him in person to see how he delivers the subtleties in his delivery, the emotion and how he delivers emotion, and how he plays naturality and at the same time is very conscious of the camera. All these little things that you observe while you're watching his performance and you can confirm as an actor, and it was wonderful”.

But as well as being able to learn lots from Hollywood legend Tom Hanks, Treviño emphasised that there's a certain level of pressure that comes with working with Hanks. Making sure that her performance is good enough was a challenge for Mariana but eventually it just fell into a natural interaction between actors trying to find the same common ground to connect and that can happen at any level, however experienced an actor you are so the two gradually built a truthful connection. The driving lesson scene between Hanks and Treviño in particular allowed the pair to chat and keep furthering their connection too as they were in the car for quite a few hours but it's a pivotal scene for the film where the seats interchange between the two and Otto realises that he has a lot to give, but also a lot to protect.

Sony Pictures

Hanks is known for being one of the nicest people in Hollywood- which both Forster and Treviño confirm is true- so getting to see him transform into a grump on set was a sight to behold. Forster mentioned how he doesn't stay in character on set and how he would call action and he could see Hanks' eyes suddenly change as he goes into character and he does a few takes before Forster would call cut and he just goes and sits down and he's suddenly himself again. “It's really extraordinary to watch. It's like if you see Roger Federer play tennis it all looks very easy but once you take that tennis racquet and try to play tennis yourself, it all of a sudden becomes very difficult”.

Treviño told us how it was lovely to get to play as a family too and the girls that play her daughters were such great actresses, always knowing exactly what to do. “They were so sweet and it was like having a little sweet energy all day around and it's lovely to work with children. I've had it before, and it just brightens your day, and we were all brightened by them”. And getting to work with Manuel Garcia-Rulfo was like a little piece of home for her as the two had been friends for a long time and worked together frequently.

The film blends tones between comedy and drama, something that the director had to keep an eye on but for Treviño, she said she just needed to make sure she understood the character fully so she can be in the moment and react in the moment to what she has to but Marc Forster was amazing to work with and it was truly down to how he responded to this that explains why the two tones are so beautifully balanced in the film. For Forster, he said it was crucial to juxtapose the drama and comedy next to each other. “I think the juxtaposition makes you emotional, but then makes you laugh and makes you cry. So to juxtapose them very close to one another is very effective”.

 

As well as juxtaposing the comedy and the drama, Forster also had the difficult job of juxtaposing and merging Otto's past, as well as his present. Whether the two were bridged visually, or by sound and music, Forster was keen to make sure you didn't get too side-tracked and that you stay with young Otto for just the right amount of time and don't give away too much information but making sure it's just right so that the audience can catch up and know what's going on before returning to present day Otto.

Whilst being a light, breezy and fun film at times, A Man Called Otto tackles some important issues from suicide and mental health to trans identities. Forster spoke of how they made sure to speak to multiple different mental health organisations as well as people in the transgender community to make sure they were portraying these things in a very real way. “It's like constantly you want to make sure that the experts really hear what you have to say and then make certain adjustments so that it feels real. And ultimately, the great thing about this film is that it's so life-affirming that it feels uplifting and that it all comes together in a very positive way which I think it builds a warmth and the uplifting message, a lot of people will truly enjoy”.

Everyone has a little bit of Otto, a little bit of a grump inside them, including on the street the film was shot on. There was one garage on where they were shooting that Forster described as being owned by “a real-life Otto” and they couldn't shoot or use his garage as he was very protective about it. The location proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the film but mainly down to the weather. “In the morning you'd feel like you're in Alaska and then in the afternoon suddenly you were in Ibiza, and I think that juxtaposition was very hard to deal with” said Forster.

But despite the challenges, both Marc Forster and Mariana Treviño are incredibly proud of the film they created. Forster said how he truly felt that “everybody brought their best talents to the table. From editorial to cinematography to costume to on and on and on and the same for the actors. Everybody brought their A-game to it and really cared and opened their heart and made sure this could be the best movie that it can be and I'm very deeply thankful to everybody that worked on the film.” And for Treviño, it was “a great memory just to be in a movie along with this marvelous actor that I have admired forever. And doing a character that connects with him. Because I could've been the villain and just clashing with him which would've been great but it was a gift to be able to connect in a beautiful way with him, as an actress and as a person because something very luminous is preserved there and I liked that and am grateful for that”

A Man Called Otto is available to buy on Digital now and to Rent on Digital 3rd April. Read our review HERE.