From his early days on the comedy stage to playing lovable football fanatic, Hayden Fox, on the long running television sitcom Coach and Zeek Braverman on the dramatic television series, Parenthood to countless legendary big screen roles, actor Craig T. Nelson’s career has been as versatile as it is prolific.
Movie audiences have been loving his work for decades in popular films spanning just about every genre: Poltergeist, Stir Crazy, All The Right Moves, Silkwood, The Devil’s Advocate, The Family Stone and The Proposal. It was his voice work in the 2004 mega hit animated Disney Pixar movie, The Incredibles, that introduced Nelson to a younger audience. His voice is readily recognizable as the voice of Mr. Incredible, and as he tells it, the world stops spinning for a beat whenever a starstruck child hears him speak.
Nelson currently plays Mary Steenburgen’s husband in the upcoming romantic comedy, Book Club, out May 18th. He’s also resuming his role as Mr. Incredible in Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to the 2004 blockbuster animated movie, The Incredibles, out June 15th.
Our conversation runs the gamut from overcoming the perils of aging in Hollywood, mid-life adventures, the secret to his long and happy marriage to wife, Doria Cook-Nelson, and the unique challenges of playing an animated icon for Disney Pixar.
Allison Kugel: With Book Club, there are so many celebrated actors in one movie. What does an ensemble piece allow you to do as an actor that carrying a film or television show on your own doesn’t allow for?
Craig T. Nelson: The opportunity to work with the different characters that are being played broadens what you can do as an actor. Oftentimes, the way people react differently to different people they meet, it’s that same dynamic and it can be something of an adventure. Although in Book Club, most of my scenes are with Mary [Steenburgen]. There are only one or two scenes where I’m with everyone, although I knew everybody. In this movie, although it’s an ensemble cast, the focus was my interaction with Mary’s character.
Allison Kugel: What was your initial impression of the Book Club script when you first read it?
Craig T. Nelson: Oh, I loved it! It spoke to something I was familiar with; that whole process of aging. You think you’re never going to get there, but eventually it just shows up and there it is. I thought the script was well thought out, cogent, specific, and each character was delineated. I wanted to do the movie right away, after reading the script.
Allison Kugel: This movie addresses that mid-to-later-life slump that people can slide into without even realizing it’s happening. As you said, you wake up and it’s just there. How do you think men experience this phase of life differently from the way women experience it?
Craig T. Nelson: I think we experience it in much the same way. Although, it depends upon societal pressures. Part of the confusion is the result of what society is demanding now, which is pretty much all youth-oriented. Cosmetically and pharmaceutically you’re supposed to be able to prolong your life, or at least the appearance of it. The reality is that you do age. Yes, we are living longer, but there’s more pressure associated with it. I suppose it’s how all of that manifests in each of us, which has to do with our own peculiar personality. That’s the interesting part about it; how each one of us deals with it. Generally speaking, your libido drops, physically you’re not as active and not able to do as much. All of that is pretty much the same in people, but very few people address it psychologically. There’s a lot of pressure to be young. But there is also a lot of pressure being old, not to get any older. I think that is so screwed up.
Allison Kugel: In Book Club, your wife, played by Mary Steenburgen, is upset because she feels your marriage has fallen into a slump. Do you think marriage should be able to go through its natural ebbs and flows romantically, sexually and emotionally?
Craig T. Nelson: If you’re married to your best friend, as I am, and I’m married thirty-four years now, then you have to realize you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re physically going to change, emotionally you’re going to change. You have to adapt and change, and be prepared for that stuff. That’s also part of the adventure. It seems like just yesterday I was talking to older actors about aging. I was a young working actor, and they were all telling me how difficult it was for them and how they were approaching a period in their life where they felt they weren’t working as much. I think they felt neglected and not as respected. I can remember a lot of guys talking about that. When it started happening to me, it was like, “Whoa! Wait a minute here.” But at least I have the tools. I think I was prepared for it to a certain degree.
Allison Kugel: With the hit series Grace and Frankie, and with this movie, Book Club, it seems that Hollywood is now gaining a little more respect for stories about mature people.
Craig T. Nelson: I think this movie will help. It brings some awareness, which I think is good, but ageism has been prevalent in this business for a long time.
Allison Kugel: The Baby Boomer generation are such a huge segment of the population, they have tremendous spending power, and they want to see stories about themselves.
Craig T. Nelson: Right, but as you see in television, for example, you’ve got a specific demographic that’s usually being targeted. I have always argued, even back when I was doing Coach (the ABC sitcom Nelson starred in from 1989 to 1997), that it’s not necessarily accurate. I agree that a lot of buying power rests in the hands of people who are approaching retirement, and in their forties and fifties. It’s like with the glut of action movies we’re getting and have had for a while. What is that? It’s enough already. I would much rather see stories like Book Club, which I feel are specific, well written and truthful. I’m fine with animated movies about superheroes. Obviously, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with action films either, except that there is just so much of it, and what am I left with?
Allison Kugel: You began your career as a standup comedian, correct?
Craig T. Nelson: Barry Levinson and I did stand up [comedy] together for four years, and then another guy, Rudy DeLuca joined us. We wrote and performed comedy, and then we worked with Tim Conway, John Byner, and Alan King. That’s how I started.
Allison Kugel: How did you segue into film and television, and how does that early standup experience help you in the roles you play now?
Craig T. Nelson: I was never really interested in doing standup comedy. Barry Levinson and I were in the Oxford Theatre together, which was a theatre group in LA. We got to talking and Barry said, “Why don’t we do a standup act?” I had never done that and never even thought of it, but we put an act together. We went out and auditioned and started doing clubs. It was an intro into the business, and I met so many incredible people during that time. It does give me a different perspective. Comedy helped me to enlarge and be better at what I did. Another important thing is that you just get better as you get older. You realize what you’re doing more, and you don’t make as many mistakes. I’m so much more comfortable in a scene now than I ever was, because I know how to play it. Certainly, there are challenges, but your tool bag is filled up. There are so many experiences and so many people to draw on, and it’s a wonderful place to be.
Allison Kugel: This is not your first time playing Mary Steenburgen’s husband. You also played husband and wife in the 2009 movie, The Proposal, alongside Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. How was it playing her husband again in Book Club? This time around, was there a comfortable rapport already in place?
Craig T. Nelson: She’s so much fun to work with. She’s got this wonderful quirkiness to her that is so beautiful. It’s also very challenging, because you need to stay on top of your game with her, as with all the actresses in this film. I’ve worked with Diane [Keaton], I’ve worked with Jane [Fonda], I hadn’t met Candice [Bergen] until this film, so that was neat. I look forward to continuing to work with Mary. There is an understanding between me and Mary. You’re able to ask questions of each other or address problems in a scene together. There’s no wandering around, trying to get to the truth of something.
Allison Kugel: How is the book Fifty Shades of Grey a catalyst for the comedy that ensues in this movie
Craig T. Nelson: Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t an important part of my story in the film. It’s part of the women’s story. I think you’re going to be surprised. The book is a catalyst in terms of Mary’s character becoming aware of how bad things have gotten [in our marriage]. That’s the only purpose the book serves. We’ve been having problems in our marriage and the book forces the issue to the surface.
Allison Kugel: Do you recall a moment in your own life when you realized you weren’t living your best life, or there were things still yet to be done?
Craig T. Nelson: I’ve had a number of them, and still they continue. One of the many things I felt the need to do was professional car racing, when I decided to go ahead and pursue it. Gradually I became better and better at it. It wasn’t a death wish (laughs); it was a life wish. It was doing something that is very risky and challenging, but something I’d always wanted to do and never had the opportunity before. And now I’m going, “Wow, this is something I really enjoy!” It requires an enormous amount of concentration and focus, which is another reason I really like it.
Allison Kugel: How does your real wife, Doria, feel about your race car driving?
Craig T. Nelson: It was something that my wife really suggested I do. She’s very strong. She’s a martial artist and she competes in Tai Chi Kwan all over the world in competitions. She said, “[Car racing] is something you should try.” And once I got into it, she encouraged me to continue doing it.
Allison Kugel: Let’s switch gears and discuss another upcoming movie you’re in, the much-anticipated Incredibles 2! Why the fourteen-year gap between the release of The Incredibles and Incredibles 2?
Craig T. Nelson: I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you that [Incredibles writer and director] Brad Bird was busy with other things. He wanted to do some live action projects and then he made Ratatouille right after The Incredibles. He was very busy in his career.
Allison Kugel: In the first movie, The Incredibles, your character, Mr. Incredible is struggling with living life as a civilian. He’s dying to be a superhero again and to use his powers. Holly Hunter’s character, Elastigirl, wanted a normal, low key family life. In Incredibles 2, it’s reversed. She’s out being a superhero and you’re the stay at home dad. How does that go for Mr. Incredible?
Craig T. Nelson: He doesn’t quite understand it and is feeling rejected, like, “Why don’t they want me out there?” He now has to take a back seat and for him that’s difficult. He makes the sacrifice for his wife. He’s got a resentment going on, but as you watch him at home you get to know these kids in a way that’s fun and interesting. And you get to see a guy have to adapt and get to know his children in a way that he hasn’t. That was neat for me to play.
Allison Kugel: When you’re voicing an animated character like Mr. Incredible, are you in the recording booth with any other cast members, or is it just you in there?
Craig T. Nelson: You’re not with the other cast members. You’re with Brad, who’s in every session. He’s directing what you’re responding to, and you go off that. Usually we’ll do a session every three weeks, for four hours at a time. Then they’ll put that into rough animation, so you can see what you’ve got. I’ve only done one session with another actor, and it was with Samuel L. Jackson who plays Frozone.
Allison Kugel: How do you get into character when you’re voicing Mr. Incredible?
Craig T. Nelson: You prepare ahead of time in the session, especially vocally because there are a lot of different ranges you have to get to. There are scenes when you’re doing a lot of yelling and shouting. And it’s a long and involved process that’s complexly different from regular acting.
Allison Kugel: I’m sure you’ve watched the first movie, The Incredibles, with your grandchildren. What do they think of you playing Mr. Incredible?
Craig T. Nelson: They don’t relate the two. They still don’t believe it (laughs). I have to do lines from the film, so they can hear me do the voice, and then it’s, “Oh yeah, that’s him.”
Allison Kugel: When you’re out, are you ever stopped by kids who know you’re Mr. Incredible?
Craig T. Nelson: The other day my older son was visiting, and somebody overheard me talking to him and they turned around and said, “My God! Are you Mr. Incredible?!” They’ll recognize the voice, it’s interesting. And then you have to convince this kid that you are! And you feel like an idiot trying to get a seven-year-old to believe you (laughs). They look at you with this wonder, yet at the same time disbelief. It gets confusing even for me.
Allison Kugel: My nine-year-old and I will be there on opening night, for sure. He’s been waiting for this sequel, no joke, for years! What will kids and families get to experience with Incredibles 2 that they didn’t with the first movie?
Craig T. Nelson: The special FX are extraordinary. Since 2004 when the original movie was out, they’ve developed a whole new range of different processes that have gone into this movie, including its color enrichment. For me, the exciting thing about the second movie is that the character Jack Jack, the baby, really comes alive and that’s going to be so much fun for people to see. What’s so great about this movie is that it’s a family deal. You can take your family to this movie and have a great time. And same with Book Club. It’s two movies I’m proud to let my family watch.
Book Club Photo Credits: Peter Iovino/Paramount Pictures, Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Picture
Incredibles 2 Photo Credits: Disney Pixar
Book Club is in theatres May 18th and Incredibles 2 is in theatres June 15th.
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.