He’s best known for his Emmy-winning role as the tough but lovable Hayden Fox on ABC’s 1989 to 1997 sitcom Coach, so it’s no surprise that star Craig T. Nelson talks about his recent career resurgence in sports terms. “I’m kind of sitting on the sidelines, just waiting, and projects have come out of the blue,” Craig, 74, exclusively revealed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
They’ve taken him from the bench to the field, with top players like Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen in his latest hit Book Club, out on Blu-ray and DVD on Aug. 28. Yet A-list co-stars are nothing new for Craig, who had his movie breakthrough with Al Pacino in the legal drama …And Justice for All before fighting ghosts with JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist.
“But I don’t measure myself by what I’ve done,” Craig revealed. “The main thing is how what you’ve done has affected people. The reactions I get are always amazing, refreshing, surprising, and really humbling to me.”
In Closer‘s newest issue, Craig opened up about the people whose reactions mean the most to him — his wife of 31 years, Doria, 69, and his kids from his first marriage, Tiffany, 51, Christopher, 49, and Noah, 42 — and revealed the star who intimidated this Hollywood tough guy. Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A with Craig!
Book Club really struck a chord with moviegoers. What attracted you to it?
It was something I found funny and insightful, and I thought, hey, these [projects] only come along rarely.
And what a cast!
I’d worked with Diane [in The Family Stone], Jane [on Grace and Frankie], and Mary [in The Proposal], so it was very easy. Andy Garcia’s been a friend for a long time. Don Johnson, I’ve known off and on for a while. Candice was the only one I’d never met, so I was looking forward to that.
At age 74, how do you continue to challenge yourself?
I leave that up to God. I’m just in it to do the best job I can when something comes along. And if I’ve been doing comedy for a while, I want to do drama and vice versa.
A lot of people don’t realize that you got your start on the comedy circuit. When did you realize you had the ability to make people laugh?
[Rain Man director] Barry Levinson and I were a comedy team in 1967, 1968 — something like that. We did clubs in LA and eventually got a job on a local television show. Another guy came in, [film actor and writer] Rudy DeLuca, and we went on to write for The Tim Conway Show.
You started acting with the top stars in Hollywood, like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy, Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves, and Meryl Streep in Silkwood…
She had a presence that was phenomenal and very intimidating to me. Not on purpose — it just was.
You were intimidating at times on Coach when you weren’t being lovable. What’s your favorite memory from the show?
The fun that we all had was unbelievable. It was really hard work for the first four years, but, man, we laughed.
Any thoughts about rebooting that?
We tried it [with a 2015 pilot]. Didn’t work. You know, those things are so hard to do.
Your other biggest hit was Poltergeist. That movie freaked me out.
Well, uh, me too. The tree… They didn’t use any computer animation. It was brand-new and they weren’t into that, so it was done the old-fashioned way. For me, it was life-changing. I learned some things that I put to use later.
You said years ago that “too many accidents” happened on the set of the sequel, and that there was “very bad energy” in the cavern where you filmed. Was what you learned related to that?
I couldn’t tell you — just stuff that was personal. For me, it was very important.
Well, perhaps you’ll talk about something else personal, like your second wife, Doria. Why does she still make you smile?
Oh, she’s quirky and so funny — I love that. I love her. I love her sense of adventure… and the fact that she’s got a life! [Laughs] She’s been a performer, she teaches tai chi, and she facilitates a lot of things that I don’t have time for, like thank-you notes, letters. She’s one of the most compassionate people I know, and she’s my best friend.
That’s so sweet! And how would your three grown kids from your first marriage describe you as a dad?
They’d really say they like me a lot. We have a good time, man! Right now they’re bombarded with whatever’s going on in this world. I’m so glad I don’t have to face that at their age now. My parents died when I was young — I had to learn and it was horrible. I didn’t have the maturity than that they’re asked to have now, so I make myself available. I’m on the phone with them, with [one] grandson, another who’s getting married. My daughter and I text back and forth. Everybody’s got something going on, and [they say], “Hey, Dad, what should I do?” The fact that they’re asking me, that’s great. I didn’t have that.
What are you like as a granddad?
I have three great-grandkids! One has every Pixar [toy] you could ever have — his room might as well be a museum. And he hasn’t even seen [my film] Incredibles 2 yet. They’re all great. When I’m with them, I wander around with my mouth open in wonder. I wish I could be with them all the time.
So what do you do in your spare time? Still drive race cars?
I quit racing in 1996, 1997. I did Daytona, raced in Monaco, did all the big races 24 hours a day. It was just too expensive. Had a great time though, really fun. I don’t do much anymore, and I’m going through that period where it doesn’t matter.
Are you finding anything about this time in your life that matters to you more?
Maybe becoming aware of your mortality and what you need to do. Luckily I have my wife, who’s physically fit and stresses that. It’s also important to give yourself a break and make sure you are your own best friend.
What drives you to keep working so hard as an actor at 74?
I think there’s much more to do. And I’m always intrigued about when it’s going to come along. At the same time, I get very anxious, but I just love the surprises!
For more on your favorite stars, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for exclusive news!