‘America’s Dad’ Tom Hanks talks about playing against type as aging grump in ‘A Man Called Otto’

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Tom Hanks in 'A Man Called Otto' (Sony)

Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

The poster tagline for A Man Called Otto, the comedic drama starring Tom Hanks, reads: “Fall in love with the grumpiest man in America.”

Suffice to say Hanks is playing against type in the new Americanized adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 bestseller A Man Called Ove, which was also made into the Oscar-nominated 2015 Swedish film of the same name. Because if the beloved 66-year-old actor has his own tagline in real life, it’s become “America’s Dad.”

“In fact, they’re both the same thing, my friend, a grumpy dad,” Hanks says, laughing, in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment.

In this version, Hanks’s Otto Anderson is a widower recently forced into retirement from his engineering post who runs his Pittsburgh subdivision with an iron fist — and lives in a constant state of curmudgeonly annoyance, particularly when it comes to his friendly yet rule-breaking neighbors. (In an amusing coincidence, Hanks has now played both arguably the cheeriest man in Pittsburgh, famed children’s television host Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and the grumpiest.)

“I would say that Otto is the fairest man,” says Hanks, who also produced the film, with wife Rita Wilson. “The guy who knows what is right, the most righteous man. He knows that you can’t park here [somewhere], you know? And that’s important knowledge to know sometimes… That’s just correct behavior, that’s acceptance of what the rules are, and the rules are in place to give everybody a fair shake. Now, as a dad, I try to impart that, but I guess I just end up sounding grumpy to all my brat kids.”

A MAN CALLED OTTO, from left: Tom Hanks, Mariana Trevino, 2022. ph: Niko Tavernise / © Sony Pictures Entertainment / Courtesy Everett CollectionA MAN CALLED OTTO, from left: Tom Hanks, Mariana Trevino, 2022. ph: Niko Tavernise / © Sony Pictures Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Hanks, left, and Mariana Treviño, in A Man Called Otto. (Photo: Niko Tavernise / © Sony Pictures Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Hanks’s collaborators were thrilled to work with the Oscar-winning actor, even if, for Mariana Treviño and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, that meant being on the other end of Otto’s ire for much of the movie. The actors play Mexican-American parents with two young children, and another on the way, who move across the street from Otto and refuse to be repelled by his cantankerousness. (In the film’s heaviest subplot, they also inadvertently thwart multiple suicide attempts by Otto, who is reeling from the recent death of his wife.)

“It was surreal, completely,” says Treviño, a revelation in the film as the energetic “mama bear” Marisol. “And to see up close how he manages to, though all the grumpiness that he projects, to see his core, the vulnerability where he was working from, the pain. It shines through all the grumpiness, and we could see that and we could sense that when we were shooting. And that was really enriching.”

It was the second time Garcia-Rulfo worked with Hanks, after 2020’s Greyhound.

“He’s insane, he’s just amazing,” the actor says. “His professionalism is insane. I’ve never worked with somebody that has that presence, that humbleness, and that openness to everybody on set, all the crew, all the actors. I learned so much from him about how actors should work on set.”

Hanks made life easier for his director, Marc Forster, who knows a thing or two about adapting hit novels (The Kite Runner, World War Z) himself.

“I couldn’t have made this film without Tom Hanks,” he says. “Tom is so well-prepared, he’s so kind. And he’s always thinking, and so alert of all the choices he’s making as an actor. He’s like someone who plays an incredible instrument. It’s like you’re playing with the best violinist in the world… He pretty much covers it all. It doesn’t get any better.”

So how much Otto Anderson is in Tom Hanks?

There is a driving pet peeve Hanks will tell you drives him to Otto-level crankiness.

“Oh, let’s just talk about people who don’t use their turn signals up ahead of you,” he gripes. “Suddenly the car that is slowing down and slowing down for reasons that you don’t understand, and then it literally stops. And if they had just turned on their right blinker to [indicate] they’re looking for a place to park, or they’re gonna pull into that driveway, everything is fine. But when they don’t do it, everything is hard. So, yeah, I have that.”

Feel free to tell the next person that does that ahead of you on the road that Tom Hanks would not be happy.

“Let them know that America’s Grumpiest Dad is disappointed in them,” he says. “And then see what happens.”

A Man Called Otto opens in theaters Friday.

Watch the trailer:

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