As a seven-time Emmy winner, Ed Asner has earned the title of a television legend. He’s probably best known for playing the lovable gruff Lou Grant for seven seasons on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and five seasons on its more dramatic spinoff, Lou Grant. However, over the past six decades, the 88-year-old Asner has also found success in movies and the theater. He played Santa in the holiday favorite, Elf; voiced Carl Fredricksen in the animated classic, Up; and has been a fixture on stages around the country.
He’s currently touring in the one-man show, “A Man and His Prostate,” written by former The Mary Tyler Moore writer Ed Weinberger, which stops at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Sept. 30. Keith Loria spoke with him about the show.
Keith Loria: You have a long history with Ed Weinberger. How did you get involved with this show?
Ed Asner: He was a writer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and he wrote this about his own experiences and the importance of the necessity of prostate checkups. I thought it was a great script and I wasn’t busy, and I told him I think I’d do a damn good job and get all the laughs he would want. We appreciate each other’s work.
KL: You say you weren’t busy but looking over your recent acting resume, you always seem to be working on something. What other projects can we look forward to seeing you in soon?
EA: I’m also on tour with “God Help Us,” another stage show I’m doing, playing God, of course. And I’m going back and forth between these two shows. I’m also doing a new Netflix show, Dead to Me, but I haven’t read it yet so I don’t know what I’m going to be doing on it.
KL: At 88, what do you enjoy about continuing to work in this industry?
EA: It keeps me from having to think about politics and all the difficulties that surround us. Acting is a wonderful thing to be preoccupied with. And I get a great deal of satisfaction from being on stage every night and seeing an audience leave a house with a smug smile on their face. That pleases me.
KL: The difference between this show and the “God Help Us” show is that for this one, you’re on stage the entire time. What are the difficulties and challenges of doing a one-man show?
EA: I don’t know, I just go out and say the lines, and it really works every time. Every 16 minutes a man dies from prostate cancer so it pays to check and that’s an important message to get out there. Women are laughing at the show as much as men.
KL: When Lou Grant was spun off into its own show after The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended, you went from comedy to drama, yet still had to play the same character. What was this like?
EA: It wasn’t an easy transition. Going from a three-camera, half-hour comedy with an audience to a one-hour, single-camera, non-audience show was sort of like going to the dark side of the moon. Everything had to be readjusted and refined. More and more, I retreated into myself and my own tawdry soul.
KL: Television has changed a great deal from those days, hasn’t it? Would you ever go back to a regular role?
EA: Yes, it certainly has. I would like to do a half-hour show again, maybe something every once in a while.
KL: What do you think the secret of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was, that has kept it so beloved all these years later?
EA: We all filled the niches quite well and we loved each other while doing so. I used to worry about doing comedy, that the laughs wouldn’t come. The writers were brilliant. I started doing this show and hitting the marks the way I was supposed to, and it was just magic.