arts & entertainment
Ed Asner speaks up
By J. Rentilly ED ASNER IS not a grouch, but he’s played
one on TV. In hundreds of hours of episodic
television (most notably, The Mary Tyler Moore
Show and its dramatic spinoff, Lou Grant), not
to mention feature films such as last summer’s
breathtakingly beautiful and soul-stirring Pixar
film, Up, Asner has played gruff and grumbly,
but always with a noble and compassionate
heart at his core. So it’s often been for Asner,
who has forged a formidable career on screen,
radio, stage and TV, merging presence, substance and political conscience.
Asner is not one to mince words, or to
suffer fools kindly, but those who earn his
respect—and, at 79, with seven grandchildren
to go with seven Emmys, one might say he’s
earned the right to have others earn his
respect—will know great affection, wisdom
and laughter. A conversation with Asner is
much like watching Up: a real journey, enlightening, edifying, playful and very, very human.
The Costco Connection: For more than 50
years, you’ve been doing child’s play for a job.
I’ve heard you say that acting is playing.
Ed Asner: Well, I have to be careful who’s
listening. I don’t want to admit to my infantilism. [Laughs] All of this work is merely an
opportunity for my inner child to come out.
CC: You’ve also said that you’ve forged a career
out of simply playing yourself. Does that mean
that audiences know the real Ed Asner?
EA: Hell, I don’t know him. How
could you know him if I don’t? I
can’t be sure that the exter-
The Costco Connection
Up, available in DVD and Blu-ray, is available
at Costco locations and on Costco.com.
nals I project to the world aren’t merely the
mask and the costume that I’ve adopted. If
you were to plunge your knife through all of
that dreck, I don’t know that you’d find the
central core then. But I’m hoping you might
As curmudgeonly Carl, the lead character
in Up, Ed Asner voices a man who, rather
than fading into twilight, is embarking on
his most epic adventure.
CC: How have you improved as an actor?
EA: One of the reasons I’m better now is I’ve
acquired all of the tricks and the expertise
that 50-some-odd years have given me. But,
also, I still believe. I still relish. I still cherish. I
love the work. If there is a marriage of good
work and me, and I’m right for a part, I’m like
a pig in the mire; I’ll wallow in it.
CC: A film like Up is a story about healing,
about moving forward from loss and regret. I’m
wondering what this means to you as a man
EA: It makes a lot of sense to me. I believe in
this picture profoundly. Being the worthwhile
character that he is, and being inspired by the
greatest wife he could ever have wished for,
Carl [the elderly protagonist of Up] puts his
shoulder to the wheel and pushes and gets
involved in something bigger than he is. He’s
not allowed to look upon his navel and yearn
for his lost wife and mourn his lost adventures; he’s given the adventure of being alive
and being responsible to a few other creatures.
That can really get you to look outside of your
CC: You’ve done a lot of voiceover work in the
past few years. How is that different for you?
EA: You’re talking to a man whose greatest
influence growing up, dramatically, was radio. I
used to thrill at radio. I love that work, and I’m
able to involve myself in that work and invest all
of my believability in that work that I’m doing,
as extensively as anything on film or stage.
CC: A lot of journalists, writing about your work
in Up, say, “Cranky old man plays cranky old
man.” This seems to underestimate both you and
the character you play in the film.
EA: It’s like the liberal old ladies I’d run into
after the success of The Mary Tyler Moore
Show. They’d be so inflamed because I was so
mean to Mary [on the show]. Grouchy as Lou
Grant may have been, or grouchy as Carl may
have been, we’ve all known these people. After
you get past the grouch, they’re the sweetest
creatures you’ll meet, and they’ve instilled in
us the idea that we must prove ourselves before
we are accepted. That’s not a bad thing either.
CC: Do you ever reflect on the mountains
you’ve climbed or the valleys you’ve crossed in
this life and career?
EA: This has been a good year. I also have to
realize, I don’t have that many years left.
When they lower me in the box, I’ll still be
spouting lines and kicking, though. The
mountains are glorious. The valleys can be
dark and very steep to get out of. I’ve had valleys, primarily when work dried up or Lou
Grant got canceled, and the wonderment as to
whether or not there would be a tomorrow.
But my career has been a joy, it really has, and
if Up turns out to be the last thing I do, that
certainly would be an up note. I am inordinately proud of that movie. C
NOVEMBER 2009 ;e Costco Connection 51
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based journalist.