Master Class with Tom Hanks

 Wednesday, December 14th, a handful of very distinguished cinema professionals gave a MasterClass at one of Sweden’s most venerable and beautiful movie theaters, Skandia on Drottninggatan in Stockholm. And even though this Masterclass had nothing to do with cinematography, it is bound to be of interest to our readers, since it had everything to do with filmmaking, and indeed with topics that concern every person on the planet: privacy, loss and the challenge of being a good neighbor. And one technical aspect of “Otto” will please cinematography buffs: it was shot on Kodak 35mm film.

 Husband and wife team of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, in their respective capacities as leading actor and producer of the brand new feature film ”A Man Called Otto”, as well as distinguished Swedish actor Rolf Lassgård, met a very receptive audience in a theater packed to capacity. ”Otto” is an American version of the Swedish film ”A Man Called Ove”, which opened in 2015 starring Rolf Lassgård, and was one of the most phenomenally successful Swedish feature films in history, selling 1.8 million tickets in a country with a total population of 10 million!
 First to enter the stage are Rita Wilson, the evening’s moderator Christina Jeurling Birro and Producer Fredrik Wikström Nicastro, who not only was a co-producer on this film, but also produced the original ”A Man Called Ove”. 
 Rita Wilson explains that she came across the movie ”A Man Called Ove” when she, as a member of the Academy of motion picture arts and sciences, was looking at various films that had been nominated for an Academy Award at the 89th Oscars ceremony in 2017. The film resonated with her and that was the beginning of a long process of trying to make an American version based on the same material. Mrs Wilson, who as an accomplished singer-songwriter also contributed a song to the film’s soundtrack, continues that since she grew up in a lively Greek-Bulgarian family, where personal privacy wasn’t always an option, she could relate to Otto’s need for his own space and seclusion. She showed the Academy award nominated movie to her husband, who was also intrigued by the idea of making an American version, and so they reached out to the people responsible for the Swedish original. Fredrik Wikström Nicastro clarifies that from that point on it was a five year long process leading up to the current film, which will open in the US on Christmas day and in Swedish cinemas January 13th 2023. Mrs Wilson adds that a lot of effort was put into not only making an American version of ”A Man Called Ove” but also going back to the source material, the eponymous 2012 novel by author Fredrik Backman, and making the necessary adjustments to have the story play out in a believable US environment. Mr Backman is actually in the audience as well, and gets a warm round of applause.

  We now come to the part which the audience clearly has eagerly awaited. Accompanied by deafening applause, Messrs Hanks and Lassgård enter the stage and launch into a cheerful dialogue capably moderated by Christina Jeurling Birro.  It’s pretty obvious Hanks and Lassgård get along splendidly and are really enjoying themselves on stage.
   Mr Lassgård, one of the most beloved Swedish actors of his generation, recalls how he one day got a letter on beautiful brown paper clearly written on a physical typewriter and chuckles ”the first time I get a fan mail from a fellow actor -it’s from Tom Hanks!”
  Mr Hanks confesses being a long time typewriter collector. ”Would you like to have one?” he offers Lassgård, ”I don’t want to die with 180 typewriters”.
 In getting to know each other, they found out they have two things in common: they have both played the Shakespeare character Falstaff, and they both love ice hockey. In fact, Mr Hanks, always quick to get a laugh from the audience, confesses that he was once a very promising ice hockey player, ”but I could never learn how to skate!”
 One of the first things up for debate is how to prepare for a role, and both actors agree that reading the novel is a key component for them, even if the script differs from the book. Lassgård recalls that on the first day of shooting ”A Man Called Ove” he was in character shoveling snow, and he managed to so disappear into the role that he was mistakenly thrown off the set by the production security team, who mistook him for some stray wanderer.
 The topic of neighbors is obviously in the cards when discussing the various versions of this film. Tom Hanks elaborates that in Los Angeles ”about half of the houses are being rebuilt, so you actually know the construction crew better than your neighbor!” And to the amusement of the audience he plays out a little scene chatting with an imaginary construction crew, ”another two weeks and you’ll be done, huh? OK guys, great!”
  The moderator asks them whether success has gone to their heads and Hanks muses that a nice part of being successful is when the transmission of your car breaks down you go, ”hey I can just get this fixed!” And Lassgård gets a big laugh with his reply, ”to be big in Sweden and to be big in the states are two very different things”.
And the masterclass is rounded off touching on suitably thoughtful themes.

   Mr Lassgård, with a long list of heroic and leading man parts on his CV, gets the question if he were for once to play a villain, which nefarious part would be his dream role?  ”I’m not longing to play a villain”, Lassgård answers and continues, ”no one is completely dark inside, there’s a light and a heart in every person. In my roles I’ve always been the good guy with a big heart. I’m content with that”.
 And with only a few minutes left to go, moderator Christina Jeurling Birro asks Tom Hanks, ”how do you think now this character Otto will resonate with audiences?” And the thespian reveals a more serious side, undoubtedly hoping to be able to reach the cinema audience’s hearts and minds through his interpretation of this role.  ”If a movie can make understanding and acceptance somehow glamorous enough to make the audience want to act the same way… I think cinema can do that”, Tom Hanks muses. 
Text: Lars Pettersson, FSF.     Foto: Mathias Blom/SF Studios