Ed Asner has played a careers worth of screen characters, from Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show to the animated Carl Fredricksen in Pixars Up. Along the way hes wracked up enough Emmys to fill a duffle bag.
But its his latest stage character, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that is bringing Asner to Tacomas Pantages Theater tonight for a performance of his one-man show.
Asner, 83, was a young boy when FDR took office. The actor said he viewed the president as a demi-god while growing up during the Great Depression and World War II. When he died, I thought the world had been swept away, Asner recalled in a telephone interview last week.
The show covers FDRs contraction of polio and his recovery, his runs for governor of New York, and his four terms as president. Asner often lapses into the first person when describing his FDR character.
There is some discussion of my affair, fighting the Supreme Court, fighting the various rascally members of my Cabinet, Asner said. Hes been performing the show for four years in between his busy schedule of TV shows, movies and other plays.
Roosevelt is suddenly hot again. A movie currently in theaters, Hyde Park on Hudson, follows an alleged affair FDR (played by Bill Murray) had with a distant cousin (played by Laura Linney). Asner hasnt seen the movie. The political theme of Asners show, written by Dore Schary, fits his life. The controversial actor has never been afraid to speak his mind or champion a wide variety of liberal causes.
I keep seeing the same mistakes being made over and over again. The military-industrial complex is taking over our lives. Hopefully, the people will smarten up, Asner said.
For his show, Asner uses a wheelchair to enter the stage and then sits behind a desk or uses canes during the rest of the performance. During FDRs presidency, the press had a gentlemens agreement to never portray the president in his wheelchair. Asner said such complicity between the media and a politician would never happen in todays scoop-at-all-costs news environment. And that includes President Barack Obama.
I dont think hes inspired (the press) enough to get a pass, he said.
And what would his old character, newspaperman Lou Grant, think of todays media?
He would be appalled. Im appalled. The position of great papers is being diminished constantly. I dont know if well be able to return to that state of grace where it was an elite system of writing information and standards were maintained. Investigative reporting is almost a thing of the past. We are not being properly informed.
The actor defends FDRs election to four terms as president. Until then, it had been custom for presidents to retire after two terms (though a few attempted a third term). After FDRs presidency, the 22nd Amendment was ratified, limiting presidents to two terms. With war still raging, Asner calls FDRs fourth election to the presidency in 1944 automatic. Besides, (FDRs opponent Thomas) Dewey was a popinjay. He would have been a disaster.
Asner has appeared recently on Hawaii Five-O and he just finished a Broadway run in Grace. Compared to that ensemble work, his one-man show has unique challenges, Asner said.
Youre all alone. If youre going to create company, youre going to create it on your own. You have to implement the image of who you are talking to and make it as full as possible. And make the people believe the son of a bitch you are talking to is giving me a lot of crap.
Asner said he might appear in some upcoming movies and a TV series, but nothing has been finalized yet. The versatile actor hasnt slowed down, working in just about any entertainment medium.
I get my kicks on all the highways, Asner said. Im just delighted that when one well dries up, theres another waiting to be enjoyed.
Despite the success of Up (it grossed $293 million), I havent been asked to do another character in an animated feature movie. Then again, I rest on my laurels that I garnered there and go back to my stage work as FDR.
Asner said hes the busiest hes ever been and Im a better actor now than when I was a young man.
He attributes his success to keeping his mind sharp and working an exhaustive schedule. If you let your brain go moribund, then you better fold your tents. Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541