Box-office hits 'Club': Venerable actor Craig T. Nelson appears this summer in popular movies 'Book Club' and 'Incredibles 2'
Craig T. Nelson knows the phone will ring before too long, either with another acting opportunity or another relative looking for advice.
“I just keep doing it. You know, it isn't as frequent as it used to be … but I just do what comes up, if it's right and if I want to do it. And if it doesn't come along, then it doesn't come along," Nelson said. "You know, really it's up to God for me, what I'm doing and the projects that I'm gonna do or not do. So, I'm just living my life, and I happen to be an actor on the side, and so I try to keep that as my focus."
The venerable actor, 74, certainly has stayed busy with work this summer, co-starring in two disparate hits at the box office: the golden years romantic comedy “Book Club,” which earned almost $80 million at the global box office on a budget of just $10 million, and the long-awaited animated sequel “Incredibles 2,” which recently superpowered past the $1 billion mark worldwide.
“It's pretty much if you like the material, and you respond to it and you feel like you can bring something to it, then it's gonna be something worthwhile,” Nelson said.
An adroit everyman, Nelson has built a more than four-decade acting career that toggles between comedy and drama, television and film. He earned an Emmy as the titular character in the long-running sitcom “Coach,” played a protective parent in the horror thriller “Poltergeist" and co-starred as a tough coach in the skating comedy “Blades of Glory."
He said he enjoys it when people say they grew up with his turns as college football coach Hayden Fox on “Coach,” which aired on ABC from 1989 to 1997, or with his superheroic dad on “The Incredibles,” which blasted onto movie screens in 2004.
“That's what you're doing it for, really, is you're getting the reaction of people that have grown up with you or seen you or recognize your voice. As a family they could watch a television show, and it meant something to them — that's really important. And (if) it made you laugh or it made you feel like you were together, it's something you're sharing together, so, yeah, it's pretty awesome,” Nelson said.
“I feel old anyway. … So, no, it doesn't make me feel old. I can do that on my own. I don't need people telling me I'm older now. ‘Well, really? No kidding?' ‘Well, I used to watch you, yeah, but I was young.' Well, you were, and now I am older.' That's what happens.”
With “The Incredibles,” more than a decade passed from the time the first film heralded the current golden age of superhero movies to the start of production on the long-anticipated animated sequel. Despite the wide gap between the films, the story of “Incredibles 2” picks up mere moments after the cliffhanger ending of the first movie about heroes-in-hiding Mr. Incredible (Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their three superpowered children.
“Your voice changes. You go through changes, and so I had to make sure that the tone was right. Brad Bird, the director and creator and writer, was in the booth with you, so you don't really have a problem that way; it's just kind of an exercise in getting it to sound the same and be able to adapt. ... So, it was kind of like just picking up where we left off and didn't seem too odd or anything," he said.
“It's phenomenal to be a part of something like that. Sure, I'm so lucky to have been a part of it. ... I don't even know why I was chosen to do it in the first place, but I was. And to come back and be able to do the second one and then have it take off like this is like pretty amazing.”
Joining the ‘Club'
It's not a sequel, but signing up for “Book Club,” his other summer hit, also offered an appealing opportunity to reunite with talented collaborators. The grown-up comedy centers on four lifelong friends who shake up their monthly book club and their lives by reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” and stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen. Except for Bergen, Nelson previously had co-starred with all of them: He and Steenburgen played a married couple in the 2009 hit “The Proposal,” he was Keaton's on-screen husband in the 2005 film “The Family Stone,” and he guest starred as a love interest for Fonda's retired mogul on the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.”
“I loved working with the girls and especially Mary. I mean, she's incredible and wonderful and just so much fun to work with, so sharp. I just had a good time. It was a really good script, and I liked it,” Nelson said.
“It's so much fun to not only crack each other up but watch the other person lose it. It's wonderful. I mean, laughter is where it's at anyway for the most part.”
In “Book Club,” out Tuesday on Digital and Aug. 28 on Blu-ray and DVD, Nelson and Steenburgen play a longtime couple who have lost the spark in their marriage since his retirement.
“I had to kind of go back to a feeling I'd had at a certain time in my life that was not recent but certainly within the scope of what this guy was going through,” said Nelson, who has been married to actress Doria Cook-Nelson for 30 years. “He was trying to figure it out on his own. He wasn't utilizing the woman he had in his life, his wife, and he was looking for something external to satisfy what he thought he'd lost, which was his self-worth.”
Along with working on a couple of projects he's developed and reading various scripts, Nelson said he stays busy with his three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“There's all kinds of stuff going on. It's just nuts, and some of it's in crisis and most of these people are insane anyway. So, I gotta deal with that,” Nelson said with a laugh.”
“There's an awareness of having to be OK emotionally and physically to be able to handle the multiple requests coming in for my advice — which I must say is really kind of a benefit of getting older. Luckily, you're around to be able to offer some insight into younger people's lives. It's a wonderful exercise and a wonderful place to be.”