Pull up a chair - James Caan has a story to tell.
The 73-year-old actor is between shots of the ABC comedy "Back in the Game," which premieres tonight. He stars as a gruff and boorish ex-pro baseball player trying to reconnect with his adult daughter, who begrudgingly moves back in with him.
Caan is clearly energized telling a heyday yarn about his ol' buddy Bobby - better known to the rest of America as Robert Duvall - from their time filming the 1969 drama "The Rain People." It turns out that Bobby, who played a widowed motorcycle policeman in the movie, was a bit strait-laced.
"Bobby was, like, 'I've got two kids, I ain't riding a motorcycle!,'" said Caan, doing his best Duvall impression. "He kept falling off that thing. He never got it right."
A 52-year career that has stockpiled more than 115 wide-ranging roles - from the legendary Sonny Corleone of "The Godfather" to the broken ankle author in "Misery" - almost demands such reminiscing. Of course, the enchantment is heightened when those listening are old enough to appreciate the tales - in this case they are; the small audience consists of show producers and writers.
In Caan's new series, his character is the ultra-competitive dad to Terry Gannon Jr. (Maggie Lawson), a former softball star who finds herself coaching her son's ragtag Little League team. Think "Bad News Bears" for TV. "These kids know me from 'Elf'!" said Caan, whose new TV character is nicknamed "The Cannon." "And maybe 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.' Ain't that somethin'?"
That's not to say that lessons aren't being passed down. The show's sports backdrop has Caan in his element. Mr. Tough Guy coached Little League when his son Scott was a kid. In that time, his teams won the city title one year, he chased after a few umpires with a baseball bat, and he got bounced from three games in the process.
So on this day, as a scene with the young folks gets underway on a baseball diamond, Caan instinctively gives a boy a tip on how to hold the bat before filming starts. "It's a nice change of pace," Caan said. "For a long time, unless 12 people were dead by Page 20, I wouldn't get the part. But I love comedy. I can be funny."
The series has Caan reunited with show co-creators Rob and Mark Cullen, who worked with the actor on the NBC drama "Las Vegas." When that series ended its five-season run in 2008, Caan refocused his energy on film but found, he says, that they didn't quite make them like they used to.
"I did one pretty nice one," he said without naming titles. "But there were three movies I did that I now call 'The Rent.'"
When the Cullen brothers, who wrote the part of "The Cannon" with Caan in mind, rang him up, he played hard to get.
"He tried to talk his way out of it - 'I'm too old. I don't want to do TV,'" Mark said. They managed to get him to read the pilot. Caan, never one to shy from sharing his opinion, had some notes. He didn't want a watered-down family comedy - "I've got a reputation to keep up," he taunted. He eventually gave in - though he recalls it playing out differently.
"They called me and were like, 'Hey buddy!' " Caan jokingly recalled. "When they call you that, you know what that means? You're working for no money. The minute they call you that, you're dead. Oh, yeah, this is a buddy job. I'm old."
"See, I can be funny."
'Back in the Game'
Premieres 8:30 tonight on WPVI-TV 6