Ed Asner is a busy man. At 89 years old, We defy you to find another specimen who moves around as much as this man does. Having just returned from a 37 day(!!) tour, he is understandably exhausted when we interviewed him over the phone last month. And while that doesn’t mean he plans on slowing down project-wise (he has over a dozen “in production” according to IMdB), he certainly cannot stay up-to-date with the latest HBO spectacular, given his rigorous schedule.
“What was that show on cable? With the Thrones?”
“Game of Thrones. They just had the series finale last night.”
“And I never saw a goddamned one!”
He is not slowing down, that’s for sure. For starters, he is apart of one of the most popular shows to premiere on Netflix this year, Dead to Me, which has already been picked up for a second season. And while his character doesn’t spend much time on screen, his impact looms large throughout. One of the most touching sequences in the entire series comes from an exchange he has with Linda Cardellini’s character. He also has a documentary that will be premiering in Boston this month. And as for touring? He isn’t slowing down in that respect either. He will be traveling overseas next month with his one-man show A Man and his Prostate.
Below are some pure Ed Asner gold. The man that we welcomed into our living rooms growing up as the cantankerous Lou Grant is exactly how you imagine he would be, with his trademark lovable grouchiness on full display. It’s he and Oscar at this point, neck in neck in terms of grouchiness… Although I would argue that Ed has the advantage point of having legs.
But the thing most people don’t expect to find is the soft side to Ed Asner. He is one of the most outspoken celebrities talking about Autism, and every year holds a celebrity poker game to benefit the Ed Asner Family Center which assists people with Autism and other disabilities. And how I discovered the sweetness of Ed personally is few times when interviewing do you get the tables turned and the person you’re talking to starts asking you questions. But that’s exactly what he did, quizzing me on what my favorite Mel Brooks movie is. The Producers (the original, naturally) is mine. Blazing Saddles is his. There is so much more to someone than how you see them on the screen. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
HOW TO ENTICE ED ASNER WITH YOUR PROJECT
“Well, if it’s something that I can play, I’ll do it. If it has potential to me. Not a gladiatorial specimen. And it’s funny. It doesn’t take much.”
WORKING IN TELEVISION TODAY V.S. THE 70s
“Everything is much more chaotic now. Everything was much more controlled in the old days. You got to work on time, you worked a certain amount of hours, you went home on time. Chaotic producers and directors were not that successful or tolerated I don’t think. And the reward was you got paid by the reception your program achieved. The field time is certainly limited now. I think writers are having to go on their own instincts, rather than on the results produced.”
HOW DOES ED ASNER BALANCE DRAMA AND COMEDY IN ONE ROLE?
“I don’t look for a balance in between. I just think “Is it real? Is it possible?” And if it’s real and possible, then it can be funny.”
FINDING THE CHARACTER
“A character can stretch quite a bit. So I don’t worry about the character that much. If it does, it will get smoothed out in rehearsal. But will it be believable? If it’s believable, it doesn’t matter if it’s character or not.”
THE MIDWEST COMEDIC SENSIBILITY
“Oh for a long time, there was an English sort of sensibility in terms of comedy. But I think the stars of the Midwest have certainly stood out. The Tim Conway’s, the Bob Newhart’s, the Johnny Carson’s. They all have BUM-BUM-BUM-DA-BUM. A solidness that lends itself easily to comedy. It used to be that New York Jewish comics dominated the world of comedy. But now the continuers, the standard-bearers can be heavily from the Midwest or the South.”
FAVORITE SCENE IN ELF
“You had Peter Dinklage, who in Elf helped create with Will Ferrell one of the funniest things you could possibly imagine. “Oh he’s an angry elf.” [Laughs]. That is a tremendously funny sequence. And his acting did a hell of a lot to sustain Will.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF PERFORMING ONSTAGE
I wouldn’t call it important, but I know when I get on it and I get results that I’m pleased. I’d be pleased anywhere getting a laugh. But there it’s instant gratification.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
I just finished 37 days of traveling with [the play] God Help Us and before that, it was [another play], Soap Myth. And I’m exhausted. I haven’t captured my sleep yet. And when I do, I will tell you whether I could ever do it again. I hope I don’t have to.
THE EXCITEMENTS OF TOURING
The moment is always exciting. It’s getting there that’s a pain in the ass.
THE ON-GOING IMPACT OF LOU GRANT AND THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
They’re funny. They deal with something. Betrayal, if you want to call it that. Honesty, conception. It’s all involved there.
BUT DOES HE HATE SPUNK?
People ask “Do you really hate spunk?” And I have to correct them and say “I hate that goddamn line. I really love spunk.” So I have to correct them.
DOES ED ASNER HAVE SPUNK?
I suppose a certain number of dumb ones do [expect me to be Lou Grant]. But the smart ones certainly don’t take it for granted.
Dead to Me is streaming on Netflix now. Tour dates for A Man and His Prostate can be found on the show’s website.