LOS ANGELES – Craig T. Nelson put together a varied collection of acting credits through the first 30 years of his career. Although he starred in multiple television series and appeared in numerous feature films, one type of acting job had eluded him.
“I had never been a voice in an animated film before I was offered the part of Mr. Incredible in ‘The Incredibles,’” Nelson says. “I was in Hawaii and just watched ‘Iron Giant’ for the fourth time and remember very specifically saying ‘You know something. Why can’t I do something like that? I want to do one of those. Who do I talk to?’”
In what still remains a mystery to Nelson, two weeks later, he got the script for the animated movie about a family of superheroes written by Brad Bird, the man behind “Iron Giant.” Nelson jumped at the chance to be part of the animated film that went on to be a hit with fans and critics. It ended up taking home the 2004 Academy Award for best animated feature.
The only clue to why Bird thought of Nelson is over the years, he has played a lot of father figures. That’s not been by choice, but Nelson knows a lot of people think of him that way.
It’s taken 14 years, but Nelson has returned to the recording studio for “Incredibles 2.” The action picks up immediately after the first movie with the family members trying to deal with a world where using superpowers is against the law. A fast-talking salesman (Bob Odenkirk) has come up with a plan that will change the public’s perception of superheroes and get the law changed. It wouldn’t be an action movie if something big didn’t go wrong.
Nelson is joined by Holly Hunter, who voices Elastigirl, plus Sarah Vowell and Huck Milner, who voice their children. Other voice talents include Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine Keener and Sophia Bush.
After the first movie was released, Nelson was constantly asked when a sequel would be produced. The Spokane native was certain after the first movie was released that a sequel would be made within three or four years, but that timeframe came and went as Bird stuck to his statement that he would only make an “Incredibles” sequel when he had the right idea for the script.
As time passed, it was frustrating for Nelson, but all he could say was he had no idea when a sequel would be made. In the interim, he continued to work in an assortment of live-action projects, including a starring role on NBC’s “Parenthood.” Nelson was most recently seen in the feature film “Book Club.”
The variety of work Nelson has done has not been some great acting plan on his part. At times, his decision was as simple as wanting to work with a certain director or actor. It was the chance to work with Marlon Brando and George C. Scott that was the big attraction for Nelson with the 1980 film “The Formula.” He not only got to work with the legendary actors, but Nelson learned a lesson from Brando that stuck with him and became particularly relevant when he started work on the first “Incredibles” movie.
“We are shooting in Chatsworth at an oil field out there. We finally get to the scene and it’s late in the afternoon. We have been there since early morning. We shoot the scene and the first thing Brando does is go to the sound cart.
”He asks the guy to play back the scene. He gets the earphones and listens. When he finishes I ask him what he’s doing. He says ‘Let me tell you something. This is an audio medium. It is not visual. I got to hear the truth and then I can play it.’
“After ‘The Formula,’ it started me listening to films and TV shows. Just listening. It was so revelatory.”
Nelson relates Brando’s words to what is going on with the recording sessions for the animated movies. He has watched Bird listen for the truth in the vocal performances. All facial expressions, body language and hand movements have been stripped away.
Because of Brando, Nelson feels comfortable doing animation work when he gets the rare opportunity to be cast in such a role.