From humble beginnings in Spokane, Washington, Craig T. Nelson began his career as a talented comedic
writer and performer for the "Lohman and Barkley Show." Although his work earned him an Emmy early on, it
wasn't until many years later that he found success as an actor. That success came at the hand of his close friend, Barry
Levinson, who had just written an award worthy satire about the American justice system entitled "...And Justice for All" and wanted Nelson to
play a part. Starring Al Pacino, the film put Craig T. in the limelight and helped usher in other minor
roles such as "Private Benjamin," "Stir Crazy," and "The Formula."
Then, in 1982, his window of opportunity exploded when Craig took on the leading role of a distressed father in Steven
Spielberg's "Poltergeist." The film was a huge box office success, inevitably spawning a sequel and a number of
high profile roles in "Silkwood," "The Killing Fields," and "All the Right Moves." Yet it was his foray
into television that proved most successful, showcasing his versatility and comedic roots. For eight seasons, Nelson
starred as Hayden Fox in the Emmy award winning sitcom "Coach." And he earned critical praise for numerous
made-for-TV movies such as "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story," "The Josephine Baker Story," and "Dirty Pictures." Most
recently, his work as Police Chief Jack Mannion in "The District" also provided him with the opportunity to produce
Today, Craig T. Nelson resides in Los Angeles with his wife Doria, their three children, and six grandchildren. His
latest endeavor puts him behind the mask of one of the world's greatest superheroes in Disney/Pixar's latest animated
feature. And I had a brief opportunity to catch up with him to talk about family, his career, and one incredible role.
Reel Questions, Reel Answers
First, tell me how you got involved with "The Incredibles."
Well, I'd been a big fan of "The Iron Giant" and I'd actually come to that animated film late,
recommending it to everybody. But I told my wife Doria that it would be
great to do a film like that. Then, about a half a year later, I was asked to do this role. And
when I found out that Brad (Bird) and John (Walker) were involved, I snapped at it for sure.
In a recent interview, Brad Bird said "every character in the movie is underestimated."
How do you think Bob and/or Mr. Incredible are underestimated? And what do you see as
his strenghts and weaknesses?
I think it's the way you take these people for granted. And once he's out of his milieu, he's
reduced to being this insurance investigator, almost impotent in a way. And there's a
portion of him where you can't see how he could do anything to help anybody.
I mean, he seems to have a sense of despair.
Tell me a little about the voice over experience and your collaboration with
Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, and the rest of the vocal talent.
For me, the sessions were over a two and a half year period. And I was doing "The District"
at the time. So, I would come in on my day off and attempt to get a day's worth of work
Usually, they lasted five to six hours, depending on what was needed that day. And
sometimes you got it and sometimes you didn't. And then they would leave (Brad and John), and
they'd go up and animate to it, begin to change a storyboard in some way, or find out a different
way to play a scene. Then you might, three weeks later, do another session of five to six
Were you actually interacting with the other cast
With Sam, I did. Most of the time, you're in a sound stage. And it's quite a
big area. And I was in there with Brad. He would be doing any of the other
characters and I'd be doing Bob Parr.
What is your impression of Pixar and the creative animators that brought the
film to life? And what kind of input did you have into the look and personality
of Mr. Incredible?
Well, that's up to them. They film you while you're doing it. And, of course, they
can put in or take whatever they want. But they are so adept at doing that. I
thought and feel that they capture essences so well of the actors that are doing the
roles. There are certain idiosyncratic behaviors that you see. Your mannerisms are
in there or a particular way of looking, like the mouth and how it forms certain
But they are absolutely remarkable. And they're so good at what they do.
Beyond that, they're so enthusiastic about what they do, that it's really hard not to
build on it.
Did they have a preconceived idea of what Bob and Mr. Incredible would look like and did they show
that to you before you got involved with the film?
Yes. There were drawings. And they had a certain portion of it animated very early
on so that you could see what it was like. It was like a sketch track in a
way. And there'd be certain scenes where there were line drawings and you'd
get a sense of the scene and where certain things fit.
What do you hope audiences around the world get from watching the film?
First of all, just a sense of fun and enjoyment. But the fact that it's a
family film in terms of the organic nature of the family and how they have to
stick together and how each one helps the other out. Also, overcoming the
obstacle of having these blocks put in the path - they're not willing to settle
for less than what they're capable of doing. Or what they need to do.
What was your favorite memory from the making of "The Incredibles?"
What was your least favorite?
I think one of my favorites was being at the Disney Studios on the sound stage
where they did "The Jungle Book" and a lot of other films, animated films for Disney. And working
with the same engineer who had done that recording. I grew up with those films and
it was very heartwarming to be involved on that sound stage.
Probably the thing I didn't enjoy as much was having to run around the block and
get out of breath and then come in and record. And then grunting and groaning. You
can only do so much grunting and groaning and then you're done, you know (laughs)?
But they made it enjoyable and fun. And there wasn't really anything unpleasant. It
was just an absolutely great time.
If you could have only one super power, what would it be and why?
The super power that I would choose would be compassion. And I don't know if you can
qualify that as a super power, but that's the one that I would want. Because that's
what I think it takes to make it through life - an understanding, a give and take. It
saves an awful lot of resentment. And when there's that forgiveness present and
compassion, it just helps you live so much easier.
After raking in over $70 million and besting "Finding Nemo" at the box office,
what are the prospects that there will be a sequel? And would you be interested
in reprising your role?
Well I don't think they're going to do it. I've heard John Walker say that. And
they're just not into doing sequels after "Toy Story" so I don't think that's a
possibility. But if they did, well sure, you'd have to do it. And I'd want to do it.
What is your definition of a "hero?" And who are your heroes?
I would say my definition would be someone
who is able to overcome the adversity of life. Whether depending on success or
failure, he or she ultimately strives to do the best they can do under
tremendous adversity and can come away from it having given everything they have.
Oh, my gosh. I've got so many of them. But I would have to say that probably right now, Lance Armstrong is the guy that I would
put up there as one of my heroes. He's done something that no one else has done and when you
put into it what he overcame, it's absolutely unbelievable.
On the same page, and certainly as equal, if not more so, would be Mother Teresa.
Tell me a little bit about your involvement with the USO and why it's important
that you participate.
Anything you can do to support men and women who are fighting right now is imperative. And
if that means giving of your time, giving your energy, whatever it takes. I mean,
they're doing our work in a way that very few of us are called to do. It's just
support in any way that I can give them.
You grew up in the comedy circuit, performing and writing for the "Lohman
and Barkley Show," "The Alan King Special," and "The Tim Conway Show." But then,
in 1973, you left show business all together and moved to Northern California where
you found work as a janitor, a teacher, a carpenter. What got you back into acting
four and a half years later? And what motivates or inspires you today?
What got me back was that I was on food stamps and welfare and I had a family to
support. But primarily, Barry Levinson had just finished a film with Valerie Curtain
called "?And Justice For All." And I went and auditioned for it and got the part and
that was in 1979. And it just kept going.
Right now, my family and my grandkids (motivate and inspire me). I'm so lucky to be a father and a
grandfather and to actually see them growing up and having children - it's quite
amazing. I lost my parents when I was fairly young and I'm really blessed to be around
and be a part of their lives.
What do they think of their grandfather as Mr. Incredible?
Oh, they just think it's fantastic (laughs). You know, they can't believe it.
What do you remember most about "Coach" and do you still keep in contact with
I do. I keep in contact with them quite a bit. What I remember most is the
laughs we had. It was just an amazing period of time. In fact, there wasn't a day that went
by that I wasn't on the floor from laughing so hard. And usually, it was from
something that Jerry had done or said. Or we'd be doing a scene or something and I'd
just lose it.
But we were just so close. We had lunch every day for nine years! And we didn't
miss a day!
Your chemistry with Jerry...
It was just one of those things. I mean, the man is just built
in funny. He just cannot not be funny.
You've been an avid racing fan for quite some, even owning your own racing team...the
Screaming Eagles, of course! What can you tell me about the Craig Breedlove project?
It's still ongoing. Craig is in the middle of writing
his book and should be getting there fairly soon to finishing it. We stay in contact.
And it's one of those things that you hold onto and keep working on.
Will you collaborate on the screenplay?
It would be something that I would write or certainly be a part of in transferring
to a screenplay.
Other than the Breedlove project, what's up next?
I'm working on a project with my son, Noah, who's my youngest. He's 29. He was
a writer on "The District." And we're writing a miniseries. It's actually a great idea
but it will depend on how it's implemented and what the mood is at the time.