Life Advice From Craig T. Nelson

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Who was the biggest influence in your life?

You know, I sat down and talked with Marlon Brando. That was wonderful; I actually worked with him. Met John Wayne, had a talk with him. Really admired Ernest Borgnine. Kirk Douglas—I remember going to see Spartacus in high school. Then years later, I get a chance to work with him. That’s pretty neat.

You drive race cars for fun. What role should fear play in a man’s life?

My default as a young man was always rage. I could hold on to it for a while, but eventually it would boil over. And it was really coming from fear, so I had to figure out why there was so much fear in my life. Race cars kind of forced me to overcome that. It was a struggle, but eventually I came to enjoy the speed and the challenge of being on a racetrack with other cars. And after a while, it had nothing to do with courage or fear—you just practiced to become better and perfect it.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be kinder.

How should a man handle criticism?

Criticism can be devastating, but sometimes it’s extremely valuable. I just try to not really care about it one way or the other.

Early in your career, you left Hollywood to live in a cabin in the mountains without electricity or running water. Why?

I was really discouraged with what I was doing, so I just decided to pack up and leave. I went up to Northern California and built a log cabin. I had my wife and two kids, and then we had a third child there. I didn’t have any money—I was a logger, a surveyor, a janitor. I taught school for a while.

What did you learn from that experience?

I learned how to survive—and at the same time developed…I guess, a certain awareness that I could come back into this business and survive in some way that they couldn’t touch me.

Your family was on welfare for a while then. What was that like?

The thing about it for me was how people looked at you, that feeling of…I don’t want to say worthlessness, but a feeling of “less than.” I never quite forgot that.

What is the secret to a happy marriage?

Say yes a lot.

The Key to a Happy Marriage: Drinking Together

How has being a father and grandfather changed you?

It’s been a journey, growing with the kids, learning how to be patient, how to be a patriarch. I lost my parents when I was a kid, so I want to make sure I’m responsible and someone they can rely on. That’s really important to me.

How should a man handle getting older?

That’s always the thing—you’re facing death. But I’m really comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done. I’m at peace. My kids know I love them. They love me. This is as good as it gets.

Politically you seem to lean more toward the right than most people in Hollywood. Does it get lonely?

I’m actually quite liberal in many ways. In other ways, I’m very conservative. So yes, there are certain viewpoints that I don’t agree with, but so what? They don’t agree with mine. That’s just the way it is. We don’t have to get lost behind it or antagonistic.

Considering that you are returning as the voice of Mr. Incredible, in Incredibles 2, I have to ask: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Forgiveness.

You don’t often hear forgiveness described as a superpower.

It’s a little-known commodity, little used. There’s an awful lot of judgment and self-righteousness. But forgiveness is hard to come by.