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Ed Asner Interview: TV and Film Icon on 'FDR,' 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'Lou Grant'

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Image attributed to Ed Asner

Ed Asner

Eighty-one year young show business legend Ed Asner is primarily known for his Emmy-award winning role as Lou Grant on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff series, Lou Grant.

For more than a decade Asner delighted television audiences with his portrayal of the grouchy but lovable newsman and has won more Emmy awards than any other male actor (seven, including five for the role of Lou Grant). For his role as Grant, he is also the only actor to win the Emmy award for a sitcom and a drama for the same role.

“I would, but Betty (White) would have to look the other way or be more tolerant of me if I happen to pass a few more eyes than usual on the younger chicks on that show.”

The film, television, stage and voice actor also starred in 2009 as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s award-winning animated film, Up. In early 2011, Asner returned to television as butcher Hank Greziak in the now defunct Working Class, the first original sitcom on CMT.

Other television appearances include The Untouchables, The Virginian, Ben Casey, The Rat Patrol, Mission Impossible, Medical Center, Rich Man, Poor Man (TV mini-series), Police Story, Highway to Heaven, Switched at Birth (TV movie), The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, Hearts Afire, Roseanne, The Closer, Touched by an Angel, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Practice, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Cleveland Show, just to name a few.

Among Asner’s many films are The Murder Men, El Dorado, Change of Habit, Gus, JFK, The Man Who Saved Christmas, Elf, Out of the Woods, Gigantic, Christmas is Here Again, Stride, and Sheeba.

Asner portrayed investor, industrialist, and philanthropist Warren Buffet in the HBO movie Too Big to Fail and is currently bringing Franklin D. Roosevelt to life around the country in his one-man play entitled FDR. The former president of the Screen Actors Guild is also an impassioned, outspoken political activist and advocate for peace, protection of the environment and human rights.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mr. Asner, it is a pleasure. I read that you were born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in Kansas City Kansas.

Ed Asner: Right. I was born in Kansas City Missouri because they had the decent hospital so that’s where I ended up. That was strictly for delivery purposes. I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was acting something you always wanted to do?

Ed Asner: Oh, I loved getting on stage. I loved being asked to perform, but I never really volunteered. When I was young it became regarded as the sissy thing to do. You had to be drafted like Tom Sawyer’s fence painter.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You performed in plays during your military service?

Ed Asner: No. I happened to go to the Special Services officer at Ft. Monmouth where I was stationed. I said, “I’m an actor. I haven’t been paid yet as an actor, but I’m glad to be one. How about me getting into Special Services here?” He laughed and said, “We’re 50 miles from New York. What the hell do we need you for?” I was regarded as a radio repairman and that’s what I supposedly ended as during my army career.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Now you are traveling the country performing in FDR. How hard is it to deliver a one-man play to a live audience?

Ed Asner: Once you make yourself comfortable with it it’s exhilarating, but there are hairy moments on the route. You overcome them and acquire greater and greater confidence and pretty soon you’ve made it your own.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this a play that is enjoyed by everyone even though young people may not be too familiar with FDR?

Ed Asner: I think so because the incidents described are not only actually history but also are interesting. They are either humorous or interesting.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any plans to bring the show to the South? If you haven’t noticed, I have a slight accent.

Ed Asner: You know, that happened to tickle my fancy (laughs). I shot Huey Long in Baton Rouge many years ago. But for FDR I’m in Montana, Missouri, and then in 2012 we’re going to be in Orange Park, Florida and Fort Pierce, Florida. I’m hitting the South there, honey. Then Texas and Baton Rouge wraps it up for the South.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also appeared in the HBO movie Too Big to Fail portraying Warren Buffet.

Ed Asner: Right.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On The O’Reilly Factor you mentioned that you thought Buffet was fantastic. Why?

Ed Asner: I think he’s a rich man who has made his money, to the best of my knowledge, honestly and who is a generous man. He’s not trying to win elections like the Koch brothers and has even gone so far as to state that he doesn’t think he’s taxed enough. I think that’s pretty honest.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You describe yourself as a Socialist, correct?

Ed Asner: Yeah I guess so.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you feel that the wealth in the country should be spread around equally?

Ed Asner: I won’t say equally, but certainly much more than it has been. I think it’s a proven fact, going along with Warren Buffet, that the rich have been given quite generous cutbacks in recent years, that they certainly don’t pay proportionately the same kind of taxes the middle class are paying. I think it screams for rectification.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any chance you could appear on Hot in Cleveland and reunite with your MTM co-star Betty White?.

Ed Asner: I would, but Betty would have to look the other way or be more tolerant of me if I happen to pass a few more eyes than usual on the younger chicks on that show.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): She’d be jealous?

Ed Asner: I think I would make her jealous.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you speak often with Mary Tyler Moore?

Ed Asner: Not often. I left a message when she had her operation. I believe she’s doing fine.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In addition to a great ensemble, what made The Mary Tyler Moore show work?

Ed Asner: Brilliant writing.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I always enjoyed the sexual tension between Lou Grant and Mary. There was one episode where the two attempted a kiss. Was that something you had fun with?

Ed Asner: Oh certainly, well I had been hankering for 7 years to make Mary my own if there was a God. I never thought I’d get the chance. Then in that 7th year … not sure if it was the 7th or 6th, they decided to try it. We attempted the familiarization, so to speak, and broke into laughter.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And that was the end of that.

Ed Asner: Yeah.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You had previously worked with Mary on Change of Habit starring Elvis Presley.

Ed Asner: Yes, a few years before I did, but I never worked with her there. I didn’t even see her.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What did you think of Elvis?

Ed Asner: I liked him. I did two movies with him. He was a nice guy.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Lou Grant the role of a lifetime?

Ed Asner: Yes because I’ve done it in one form or another so I can’t ignore it that’s for sure. I’ve had other roles that I’ve had epiphanies on and thrilled to be doing them. But how can I compare anything to Lou Grant?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your series, Working Class, has been officially cancelled.

Ed Asner: Right. I was starting to have fun and that’s what bugs me. I looked forward to the character refinement a second season would have allowed me to have, the refinement of the character when you make them your own as they make you their own. We didn’t get that chance.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sometimes they don’t give a new series a fighting chance.

Ed Asner: No, then never have, but I think it’s probably worse now than it has ever been.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I interviewed Patrick Fabian a few months ago and he is a talented actor.

Ed Asner: Yes he is. He’s a very fine actor and wa a big addition to the show.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Lou Grant was cancelled even though the ratings were high. Do you think the cancellation was due to your particular politics at the time?

Ed Asner: Oh yes, you might say that, outspoken little fellow that I was. Oh poppycock.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If memory serves, it had something to do with El Salvador.

Ed Asner: Yes it did. I got a letter recently from a young lady from El Salvador, a very fine young lady and nicely educated, who thanked me for being a solitary voice during that time. That was a nice compliment.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you clash with Hollywood Republicans?

Ed Asner: There is a couple that I find enjoyable. James Woods is one of them. He’s charming and very bright.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that President Obama has not done enough for the economy.

Ed Asner: That’s right.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What should he be doing?

Ed Asner: Far greater efforts made in the stimulus plan. There was a wonderful Op-Ed piece in The New York Times which talks about what Too Big to Fail was about. While doing it I thought what a nice puff piece for Henry Paulson. This article bore that out. It bore out the fact of all of the players who weren’t punished that have been part of Obama’s Finance and Treasury areas.

Paulson never got his hand slapped. Larry Summers was part of it. He was quoted in this article making untoward statements about the haves and the have nots. Another one who was involved was the Goldman Sachs guy, Robert Rubin. They were all involved, had their hands in the manipulations and got off scot free. Rubin was part of the genie’s lamp that produced the fiasco.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this country in an economic depression now?

Ed Asner: I certainly think so. The stock market certainly is reflecting that it’s not healthy. We just got a report that they’re terribly disappointed about the job report. If the job report doesn’t somehow get stimulated we’re in a lot of trouble.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think we have a chance to recover?

Ed Asner: Oh I think that we’re capable of doing anything, but I don’t think the disciplinarians and the regulators exert the proper influence to rectify the situation. I think that the mood set in this country is that the corporations (the rich) will continue to be stroked and coddled and allowed to create horrendous impasses like this recent bubble crisis. I don’t think anything has been changed. You can see that when you watch Too Big to Fail.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So unless that is curtailed …

Ed Asner: Yeah. The will in Congress, the means to rectify the situation … I certainly don’t speak knowledgeably because I’m not a financial maven but I look at the broad brushes. Nothing has changed. The potential for corruption is there.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your daughter, Kate, is an actress. Are your other children in show business?

Ed Asner: My son is a writer/producer/director primarily of documentaries so far. He created 100 Voices which is a beautiful documentary about American Cantors, Jewish Cantors, going back to Poland and revisiting their past. He calls it the birthplace of their style, their style of Jewish Cantor singing. The government received them very warmly and openly.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds fascinating.

Ed Asner: It is. It is called 100 Voices: A Journey Home. He is one of the producers so try to locate it if you can.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have other projects coming up?

Ed Asner: I did two episodes of Royal Pains which will be on in July. I’ve got the additional FDRs. In October I’ll be doing a couple of episodes on a new sitcom in Canada. I don’t remember the name. Also in October I’m doing a movie in Alaska.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You play Henry Winkler’s dad in Royal Pains.

Ed Asner. Yeah, it has been a lot of fun.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve met Henry and he appears to be a nice guy.

Ed Asner: I won’t claim him as a son but he’s a good guy.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What fills your time in addition to working?

Ed Asner: I talk to pretty ladies on the phone. I pet my cat and I read a lot. I’ve been so busy lately that there really is no spare time. I’d like to shoot for a time with no letters to write, no phones to answer, just lolling in bed. Hopefully there would be a good game on or some Law & Order or CSI. That’s about the only avocation I can talk of.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’d just like to lie in bed one day and do nothing else?

Ed Asner: Yeah. I resented having to add an addition to my TV so I could watch it. I thought that was a crock of crap but I bought it. I had to have it to watch normal channels on my TV. If I’d had cable I wouldn’t have had to buy the box.

Just to get a news bulletin I had to buy this damn thing. I despise the fact that commercial TV has completely reduced the size and identification of actors performing in their dramas. When I was president of the Guild I fought that and it has gotten worse since so I hate to support it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So I take it that you’re not a huge fan of reality shows?

Ed Asner: Oh no … I’m not.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mr. Asner, how would you like to be remembered?

Ed Asner: Stupid, but not that stupid.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): To be written on your tombstone?

Ed Asner: “If it’s all the same, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” was taken by W. C. Fields and so was, “I told them I was sick!”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any regrets?

Ed Asner: Oh sure, I’ve got regrets. I’ve got this Snowshoe Siamese sitting on my desk right now. I have regrets that I had him fixed and I probably won’t see the beautiful babies he would have made.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Those cats are beautiful.

Ed Asner: He is gorgeous. As they say, he is my familiar. His brother is an Abyssinian who goes out and gets the hell kicked out of him everyday, but he loves combat.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thank you for your time, Mr. Asner.

Ed Asner: Thank you darling, nice talking to you.

© 2011 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

 

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