Tom Hanks Reveals The Acting Note He Got From His Man Called Otto Director That No Other Filmmaker Has Ever Told Him

 Tom Hanks holds a fluffy grey cat in A Man Called Otto.
Tom Hanks holds a fluffy grey cat in A Man Called Otto.

The Academy announced its picks for the 95th annual Oscars, and while Tom Hanks’ Elvis received a number of nominations (including Best Picture), the actor’s portrayal of the title character in his emotional drama A Man Called Otto was overlooked. You can’t win them all, even though more often than not, Hanks deserves the Academy attention, and specifically for the quiet, subtle work he’s doing in the Marc Forster film (it earned a solid review from our ReelBlend podcast). One of the reasons why Hanks might be so effective in A Man Called Otto is because he received advice and direction from Forster that the actor tells us he’s never received up until that point. That seems amazing.

In A Man Called Otto, Tom Hanks plays a widower who has drawn himself into his home (for the most part), emerging only to interfere with his neighbors because they are doing things that annoy the older man. As we get to know Otto, we learn why he’s so sad, and even come to realize that he’s suicidal. That’s not an easy topic to approach, and as Tom Hanks was appearing on the ReelBlend podcast, he dug into the difficult conversations he had with Marc Forster to get into headspace for the character. And one of Forster’s notes shocked Hanks, as he told us:

I won't tell you what scene it is in the movie, but it's Otto by himself at his house. And we were… we’d set it up and we knew what it was, and we knew how it went. And in the back of my head, I was thinking, ‘I don't think we've earned this moment in our movie yet. I think this is too presentational. It's too on the nose. There's no subtext to it. It's only text.’ And I'm thinking, ‘This scene is fake.’ And Mark Forster comes in, and he sits down next to me at the table. He says, ‘You know, I have this problem. … I have a problem with this scene because I don't know, it just seems so fake to me.’ And I said, ‘You are saying what is in my head!’ He says,’So, can we take all the fake stuff out of this and do it less fake?’ I said, ‘Mark Forster, you are the first director I have ever worked with who has sat down on a set with me and said, “Please make this less fake.’” They usually want the absolute opposite. ‘Can you turn the fakeness up a little bit on this? You know, Tom, I know it's very realistic, but this is a movie, and it needs to be a little bit more fake.’

I mean, it is acting. So there has to be a level of pretend. And Tom Hanks is really good at it, creating some of the best movies we’ve been lucky enough to see. There’s even the one movie from his catalogue that he thinks is criminally overlooked. But when Hanks says that he’s never received that piece of direction, and you think of the number of incredible filmmakers who Hanks has worked with over the years, it’s kinda mind-boggling. Steven Spielberg. Robert Zemeckis. Penny Marshall. Nora Ephron. The Coen Brothers. True masters. And yet, he says Marc Forster is the first person to ask for this. And Hanks provided.

A Man Called Otto has been performing well at the box office, which is terrific. The multiplexes need serious adult drama, and not just franchise IP, to entertain the masses. So when we see a story like this connecting with a larger audience, it gives us hope for what’s to come in 2023.