Interview and video: Craig T. Nelson talks family, aging, 'Incredibles 2' and 'Book Club,' coming soon to Digital, Blu-ray and DVD
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
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 smoothly toggles between comedy and drama, television and film. On the small screen, he earned an Emmy as the titular character in the long-running sitcom “Coach,” starred as a police chief in the gritty crime drama "The District" and played the steady patriarch of the large clan in the dramedy series "Parenthood.”
At the movies, his roles have included a protective parent in the horror thriller “Poltergeist,” a tough coach in the skating comedy “Blades of Glory” and a greedy CEO in the recession drama "The Company Men.” He said he finds it refreshing when people tell him they have good memories of growing up with his turns as college football coach Hayden Fox on the “Coach,” which aired on ABC from 1989 to 1997, or with his superheroic dad on “The Incredibles,” which was a box-office smash when it 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, which Nelson said presented a bit of a challenge.
“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,” he said. “So, it was kind of like just picking up where we left off and didn’t seem too odd or anything. This one for me worked out faster than the first one. It took about a year and a half, the voice part of it, so it was a lot of fun. I mean, gosh, it just seemed like it went by so fast.”
Despite the decade and a half between the releases, “Incredibles 2,” which continues the saga of heroes-in-hiding Mr. Incredible (Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their three superpowered children, earned rave reviews from critics and families alike.
“It’s phenomenal to be a part of something like that. Sure, I’m so lucky to have been a part of it,” Nelson said. “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 uproariously shake up their monthly book club and their lives by reading the infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” and stars legendary actresses Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen.
Except for Bergen, Nelson had previously co-starred with all of them: he and Steenburgen played a married couple in the 2009 hit “The Proposal,” he was Keaton’s onscreen 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. You know, 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 HD 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. The film, which also stars Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr. and Alicia Silverstone, is relatable because it covers so many different circumstances common to growing older, Nelson said.
“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. … His self-worth was diminished, and so I had to kind of work around that and try then to understand it a little more because he didn’t have what I have, which is an outlet or a cover of protection, a place to go,” 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.
“When there’s a sense of peace in the family, it’s a wonderful down time, but for the most part, everybody’s going through stuff. So, 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.”
The comedy “Book Club” debuts on Digital Tuesday and on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD Aug. 28 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.