Even though Mike G. spoke with him last year (click here), I jumped at the chance to speak with one of my favorite actors, Ed Asner. Well known for his work on such series as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant,” my favorite Asner performance showed a side of him that few people familiar with his comic chops would ever expect to see, that of the cruel father Axel Jordache in television’s first mini-series, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” His work earned him one of his seven Emmy Awards (out of a total of seventeen nominations to date). Two more personal reasons excited me about speaking with him: he was born here in Kansas City and one of my colleagues in the critic’s circle, Marie Asner, is married to Mr. Asner’s cousin, Harold. While promoting his new film, “Let Go,” Mr. Asner talked with Media Mikes about his love for acting, sequel talk regarding “UP” and his favorite characters.
Mike Smith: Fill us in on your character in “Let Go.”
Ed Asner: He’s an old con but very incompetent. If you remember “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” he’s the whole gang rolled up in one. But he’s a loveable old turkey – he has character, he has affection and love. He has a beautiful woman that he loves in the film that he stupidly does not pursue because his brother is pursuing her at the same time. He is constantly ignoring the gift horse that is being offered him in life and chooses the harder means of making a living and failing at it, which is choosing to be a stick up man. He’s pretty tragic but funny at the same time.
MS: You’ve won seven Emmys by portraying some of television’s most memorable characters. Obviously there’s Lou Grant, but you’ve also played Axel Jordache in “Rich Man, Poor Man,” Captain Davies in “Roots” among others. Do you have a favorite among them?
EA: I could not never deny the seven years of playing Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” It was a joy to share the power of that writing and to delight people with that writing and to be able to carve out a character to execute that writing. Those seven years are a precious package. In terms of one shot characters, the epiphany I had doing Axel Jordache…the feelings and respect I had for that character…that creature… in what I think is one of the most memorable mini-series in history…it gives me great joy to be identified with that man.
MS: Ernest Borgnine worked well into his 80’s because he still loved the process of acting. Is that what keeps you so busy? By my count you have no less than five projects in the works right now.
EA: Ten years ago I would have been happy to be doing just one of those. To have four or five in the can is certainly a pleasure. Acting is the air of my life. It’s my oxygen. Put me in the box if I can’t act.
MS: Any word on a sequel to “UP?”
EA: No. With each passing year “UP” continues to grow in people’s memories. I love the singularity and the fact that it remains a solitary gem all by itself.
MS: When are you coming home? We miss you here.
EA: I was home in June. I did my one man show as FDR for a fund raiser. Apparently you didn’t haul your ass out there, did you? (laughs)
MS: I did not. My son got married in June and to be honest I didn’t know you were in town. I’m going to have to scold Marie next time I see her for not telling me you were here!
EA: Give Marie a big fat kiss for me!