As "real man" moments go, it's hard to beat standing with NASA engineers inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as they land a spacecraft on Mars. So, naturally, when the Curiosity rover made its picture-perfect descent on the red planet this past summer, Tim Allen, a VIP guest, reacted the way any red-blooded 59-year-old space nut raised on Gemini and Apollo missions would.
"I burst into tears," he admits.
For an actor who built his reputation and fortune playing a stereotypical American male, grunts and all, Allen comes across these days as thoughtful, self-aware and refreshingly …
"Oh, please, don't say sensitive. It will kill my image," he says, trying to keep a straight face. Dressed in jeans and a faded polo shirt in a Hollywood studio, Allen looks nearly as boyish and trim as when Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor was making more than 30 million people laugh every week on Home Improvement. At the sitcom's peak of popularity, in 1994, Allen simultaneously had the No. 1 TV show, movie and book in America. "I was following in the great steps of Bill Cosby and Roseanne," he says. "Now I'm just, you know, old."
He jokes, but Allen is clearly evolving with age. He has a successful new sitcom, Last Man Standing; a new stand-up act; and a fresh outlook on marriage and fatherhood. Allen married actress Jane Hajduk, 45, in 2006, and their daughter, Elizabeth, is now 3. (He has another daughter, Katherine, 23, from his previous marriage.) "It's so different this time around," he says of his home life. "I used to live an isolated existence, even in relationships, but now my family knows me for who I really am. Mostly, that's a good thing." It certainly offers Allen some peace of mind. "Yesterday I was swimming with my 3-year-old, and I looked up and thought, 'How wonderful this world is,' " he says. "We're always searching for something, but it's going to be all right. Stop fretting so much."