It’s no coincidence that Craig T. Nelson was tapped to play Mr. Incredible – after all, the actor has enjoyed an uninterrupted four-and-a-half decades of success in Hollywood, beginning as an improvisational comedian and writer with the famed troupe The Groundlings that led into a stint in big-screen dramas including Silkwood, And Justice For All…, and the horror classic Poltergeist and on then to a wildly successful and varied television career as the star of the sitcom Coach and as part of the dramatic ensemble of Parenthood.
But vocally, at least, Nelson may have achieved his greatest degree of pop cultural immortality as the voice of harried patriarch/recovering superhero Bob Parr in Disney and Pixar’s Incredibles, and as the long-awaited sequel Incredibles 2 makes its bow on Blu-ray today, November 6th, Nelson joined ComicBook.com for a look back – not just at his return to superheroic action and the wide vista of his entire career.
ComicBook.com: With the passage of time, I know you had pretty much given up hope that there would be a second Incredibles movie. Tell me about when it got serious: what was going through your head when you first got the word that, OK, this is really, finally, going to happen?
Craig T. Nelson: Prior to that, Sam Jackson had told me a couple of times at some pro-celebrity golf tournaments that they were gonna do this. It was like way out of line – I laughed, and I said, “Yeah, right.” So I'd pretty much given up that they were ever gonna do it. I saw Brad [Bird] – actually I presented an award to him at an event, and he said, “It looks like we're gonna do it. I'm starting to write.” So that was the first, and that was two years prior to it actually coming down that we were gonna do it, I think.
I imagine you were excited, but it'd been 14 years. Were you nervous, too? Were you thinking, “Can I do it again? Did I forget how to do Bob Parr?”
Oh yeah, vocally you're just in a completely different place. I'd been doing this other character on Parenthood for six years, and it was a whole different vocal register and all that. So I wasn't at all sure that I could do it, that I could come up to what they needed. So yeah, fear runs our lives, you know. It can manifest in a lot of different ways, but then you go in, you tackle it, you're on your way and there you go.
When did you get that feeling like, “Oh yeah, I got this.” Was there a sequence or a moment in the booth where you're like, “Oh yeah, I remember this guy, I can be this guy again?”
Well, I remember just telling Brad I wasn't sure I could do it, so we kind of fooled around a little bit and had some fun the very first session. We did it at Pixar, and I was pretty sure. I was able to get to what I felt I needed, and he seemed comfortable with it, so we were pretty much off and running then.
What was satisfying about the Mr. Incredible that you got to play in this sort of most recent chapter? What was there, something that was so fresh and exciting to you as opposed to what you got the to do on the first one?
Yeah, I got to be with the kids, I got to be the dad, and I got to explore all these crazy people in my house. If I deal with that, it was so much fun, I loved it. For me, that was just great.
You've got some pretty indelible characters on your resume, but this one is kind of special. When did he become special to you, when did you realize “OK, this is a role that I'm gonna be talked about and remembered for for the rest of my career and beyond I'm sure?”
I don't think that ever happened. I'm trying to think now – I really don't feel that way. I feel that I was given the opportunity to do something that was unique, because in the first one you had no idea how it was gonna be received or anything, and then when it did like it did, it was like, “Oh wow, this is great,” because it was a really good movie. I had a lot of fun in it and had this great family.
So the second one, you're weren't trying to measure up to anything because Brad had done something completely different – it was a brand-new thing. So much had changed from the first one to the second one, just in terms of technology and what they're able to do with the animation. So it was a whole range of things that were completely different. Plus the story itself was a different story.
So I looked at it just in terms of doing a new project. It wasn't something that I had to measure up to, or any of that. It was just, “Can I fulfill what's needed here?”
In between the two films though, did you get a sense of how the film wasn't just a big box office sensation when it came out – it's part of people's childhoods now, and I'm sure even during press for Incredibles 2 you probably encountered some journalists who said, “I first saw this when I was eight.” Has that kind of hit you?
Yeah, you do, but I get that with a lot of stuff, because I've been around so long, which can send you into a tailspin or can make you feel good about it – depends on just where you are. It's really neat, the thing that I like is being able to span those generations. To have the opportunity to be around that long, but then to be in some projects that in some people’s view are memorable, so that's great, that's really fun.
One of the through lines throughout that long career of yours is, there's few people I like to watch have an emotional meltdown comedically more than you, from Hayden Fox to Mr. Incredible. What's fun about getting to those exasperated heights that we see you get to?
It's fun for me too, because it's so silly isn't it? And it's so revealing, and I'm such a kid anyway – I just love to go there. It's really fun to do, and it always makes me laugh because here I am revealing part of myself that's been there and is there all the time, and I don't know. I guess that kind of identification is what makes it so much fun.
Was there anything different or a new spin on your experience working with Brad from Incredibles to Incredibles 2? Did you find anything that struck you as different or an evolution in his style?
Well I thought the first one was pretty solid in terms of its script. That didn't change dramatically, at least as far as I was concerned and my participation in it didn't seem to. The actual script itself didn't change. When we got to the second one, and we started doing it, because they're moved up the release date a year. So it was originally intended to come out in 2019 but they moved it up. So it seems like it was a little bit more of a crunch time involved. But then Brad was much more spontaneous, it felt like.
What do you love about the kind of creative process that's involved in making an animated movie – a Pixar movie and a Brad Bird movie, in particular?
There's such a difference between the two forms, if you're doing a film or you're doing an animated voiceover thing. Working with Brad, it's very specific and the fun of it is, the joy, if you will, and kind of the marvel of working with him is that he has such an understanding of where he needs and wants this character to be emotionally and vocally. So the tone has to be just right.
So that can be very disconcerting or it can be a hell of a lot of fun trying to get that. So for me, that's what was so interesting about it is that he and John Walker and the other producers are so in tune with that. It isn't just freeform, it's a very specific high and low and also mid-range. So it's a composite and it seems like it's so spontaneous, but it really isn't. So that's again, that's the genius of it.
I imagine that your improv training back in the early days of your career also comes into play, doing multiple versions of takes and scenes and stuff so that their animators have different things to choose from.
Yeah, some of it you're filmed so that your facial expressions, your body, the movement, is incorporated. But I think in general, it's more present in anything that's live action. But yeah, you have to adapt, and that's fun too. It doesn't seem to be as risky.
What might intrigue you about doing a live-action film with Brad Bird?
Well I think just working with Brad is wonderful. There's all kinds of things you can explore. I think that would be a lot of fun. I'd love to do that in terms of watching him being able to work in that form just to see what he does.
I talked to Brad at Pixar recently, and as I’m sure you know he was very non-committal about returning to The Incredibles at any point. But are you willing to wait 14 more years, 15 more years…?
Oh man, I don't think it's gonna happen! I don't think they're gonna get it done. I think Brad’s got too much on his plate.
Are you OK with that? Are you happy with this sort of two-part plan?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Yes, go out on this one.
Incredibles 2 is now available on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.