Is Tom Hanks’ Otto Anderson Based on a Real Person?

‘A Man Called Otto’ is a comedy-drama film directed by Marc Forster. Starring, Tom Hanks as its protagonist, it revolves around the life of an old persnickety suburban man, Otto Anderson, following the death of his wife, Sonya. Having established himself as the neighborhood grump, Otto realizes his life has become vapid without Sonya and wishes to join her in death. However, when new neighbor Marisol moves in across the street with her boisterous, lively family, she turns his bleak world upside down.

The film alternates between Otto’s current life and his past love story with Sonya when he was younger. Through the dual timelines, it delves into a deep introspection of love and grief as he deals with the aftermaths of a life-changing loss. Though this grief highly informs Otto’s character, the stereotypical old-guy persona he carries also plays a big part in his personality. As such, Otto effortlessly gives off a sense of real-life authenticity due to his mundane yet significant problems. If you’re wondering whether his character has a real-life inspiration behind him, here is everything you need to know about the origin of Otto Anderson.

Otto Echoes Real-Life Ove and Backman

Yes, Otto Anderson is partially based on a real person. ‘A Man Called Otto’ is a film adaptation of a 2012 novel titled ‘A Man Called Ove’ by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. As such, Otto Anderson is an Americanized rendition of the protagonist from Backman’s novel, Ove. Like Otto, Ove is a grumpy old man who is a fanatic enforcer of rules and regulations.

In his early years, Backman used to work as a freelancer for a Swedish Magazine called ‘Cafe.’ He first got the idea for Ove through an article on ‘Cafe’ about a man named Ove who caused a big fuss while shopping for tickets to an art museum. Later, Backman’s wife commented on the similarities between Ove and Backman himself. “I’m not very socially competent,” Backman said in an interview with New York Times. “I’m not great at talking to people. My wife tends to say, your volume is always either at one or eleven, never in between.”

In this regard, Ove, whom Otto Anderson eventually echoes, is inspired by two real people: the man from the Cafe article, Ove, and Fredrik Backman. Naturally, the author’s own personality largely influences Ove’s character in the long run. “There’s a lot of me in him. When we get angry, it’s about a principle, and we get angry because people don’t understand why we’re angry.” A similar disposition is present in Tom Hank’s character, Otto, who once holds a grudge against a close friend, Reuben, due to their contradictory tastes in cars.

It is also worth noting that ‘A Man Called Otto’ is not the first cinematic adaptation of Backman’s novel. In 2015, a Swedish film directed by Hannes Holm, ‘A Man Called Ove,’ was released starring Rolf Lassgård. It garnered much critical acclaim and accolades and scored a nomination at the 89th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

‘A Man Called Ove’

As such, the 2022 American movie used its Swedish predecessor, ‘A Man Called Ove,’ and Lassgård’s character portrayal as a reference source. “The novel by Fredrik Backman, as well as the original movie, are both masterpieces,” Hanks shared with Collider while discussing the decision to depict an accurate adaptation of Backman’s story and characters, with only a few cultural changes. “I think it is universal the human condition is, and whatnot. And what Otto Anderson goes through is that fascinating mix between what he wants to avoid and what he absolutely has to have.”

Due to Otto Anderson’s roots in reality, from his initial inception to author Fredrik Backman’s reflection, his character possesses extremely relatable and humane traits. Though he is a very strict and particular mold of a character, it’s impossible not to relate or empathize with the life-altering grief as well as the life-affirming love he experiences in the movie.

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