Ed Asner is a Hollywood legend. A former president of the Screen Actors Guild, the 84-year-old actor is best known for his Emmy-winning role as Lou Grant during the 1970s and early 1980s, on both The Mary Tyler Moore ShowLou Grant. He earned a total five Emmys for his performance as the curmudgeonly newsman on both series, becoming the only actor to win in the sitcom and drama categories for the same role.
Receiving two more Emmys for Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots, Asner holds the record for most wins by a male performer to this day. With countless television, film and stage roles over the past 50-plus years, he has also become a prolific voice actor, playing, most prominently, Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s Academy Award-winning animated film Up.
Asner is set to appear this weekend at the Hollywood Show in Los Angeles — which also features reunions of much of the casts of CHiPs, Miami Vice and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – and Spinoff Online connected with the iconic actor to discuss his still very active career, which has included voicing Roland Daggett on Batman: The Animated Series and Granny Goodness on Superman: The Animated Series, as well as a scene-stealing turn as Santa Claus opposite Will Ferrell in Elf.
As a 10-year old boy growing up in Kansas City, did you ever read any Batman or Superman comics?
Ed Asner: Yes, right from the get-go.
Did you gravitate more towards Batman or Superman?
Batman, of course.
So when Bruce Timm asked you to voice Roland Daggett on Batman: The Animated Series, did that bring back fond memories?
Oh, yeah, for sure. I was perfect for it. [Laughs]
Were you asked to do anything specific in terms of Daggett’s voice by the casting director?
In those days, when you got the job offer, you didn’t do any investigative reporting as to why you got it. I was just so goddamned delighted that they were smart enough to pick me.
Were you equally delighted when Bruce Timm asked you to voice Granny Goodness for Superman: The Animated Series?
I was intrigued. I was titillated – accent grave on the “tit.” [Laughs] But honestly, we played around with her voice and came up with something quite campy. It was a delightful camp journey.
Did you know Granny Goodness before you were asked to voice her?
No. I didn’t know her but I thought, “How repulsive.”
While not an antihero, Lou Grant was a little rough around the edges. Where do you think he rates up against more recent TV bad boys like Don Draper, Walter White and Frank Underwood?
I have never watched those shows, I am sorry to tell you. But from what little I know, Lou would have been wary of them from the get-go. And I think he would have been a sullen participant in anything that they were doing.
Hawaii Five-0 has been reimagined by CBS to great success, and the network is remaking The Odd Couple. If CBS relaunched Lou Grant, what would it look like in 2014?
They would probably cast a Brit to give him the polish that Lou Grant didn’t have in the ‘70s and ‘80s. [Laughs] It’s an interesting question. It’s hard for me to imagine. He [Lou Grant] would have known, of course, that his roughness and style were not politically correct. He would have been stepping on his toes more gingerly to execute his desires. You have to remember, when he appeared before Mrs. Pynchon, he’d mind his Ps and Qs, and he’d be very careful about what he had to say so it would probably be an accelerated version of that. And then he’d just slam the door on his way out.
I mentioned the series Hawaii Five-0. You were asked to revisit a character, August March, that you originally played opposite Jack Lord in 1975 for the current series for not one but two episodes. Were you surprised when the producers asked you to reprise the role?
Very much so, I was surprised the role spanned 37 years, for God’s sake. [Laughs] It was certainly an interesting storyline that he was involved in with the artifacts that he dealt in. He was much more silently deadly 37 years ago. The present version was much more direct and deadly.
Speaking of deadly, is August March really dead, because it certainly looked that way in your last appearance?
He’s dead. [Laughs] He’s flatter than a pancake.
Pixar has a history of doing sequels or even prequels for its biggest hits, like Cars and Monsters, Inc. Would you be up for more Up and Carl Fredricksen?
Absolutely. But I don’t think it will happen because I think they regard that as a perfect pinnacle to achieve. And you don’t try to put an extra dip on the snow cone. I had no idea that what I think has become a classic was a classic when we were making it. But I’m delighted and I feel in agreement that it should be considered one.
Obviously The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered one of the all-time greatest comedies in the history of television, and you co-starred on the series with comedic legends like Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Knight and Betty White. What’s your take on the current batch of comedic stars, starting with arguably the biggest, Will Ferrell, your Elf co-star?
I think Will Ferrell is a genius. When we did Elf together, his perfect embodiment of Buddy, of the elf, forced me to become even more correct in my interpretation of Santa. The quality of his performance forced me to improve the quality of my performance.
And what about playing Santa Claus again? Would you like to see a sequel to Elf?
Yes, but again I would be very cautious. Elf is pretty near perfect.
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