Q&A with Ed Asner

Q&A with Ed Asner

Actor Ed Asner presented his one-man show as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then stayed to answer student questions about acting, acting out and more.

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“I crawled out of a death bed to be here with you … It’s the biggest damn mistake I’ve made. … so, what can I do for you? What do you want?”

Such was the greeting to students, staff and faculty at a special Q&A session Monday afternoon — and it was no less than one would expect from a sniffly Ed Asner.

The award-winning actor performed his one-man show as Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Sunday, as the culminating installment of Pacific University’s Performing Arts Series. Leaning on double-canes and wheeling himself around stage in an antique wheelchair, Asner spent more than two hours essentially delivering a monologue — at times talking to the audience, at times to invisible characters off stage — that recounted the pivotal leadership and experiences of the four-term U.S. president.

From his frustration in the paralysis stemming from a bout of polio to his indecision in his first opportunity to run for New York governor and through the trials of his presidency — helping the nation recover from the Great Depression, fighting the isolationists, responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor and leading America through its portion of World War II — Asner portrayed an FDR that was determined and decisive, as well as flawed and emotional.

On Monday, Asner presented a somewhat similar character, if a little gruffer, as himself during the Q&A. Whether in one-sentence quips or long stories, he answered a myriad of questions on his life as an actor and as a political activist. The following are a few highlights from the hour-long session.

On his dream role:

“I didn’t yearn. It was never, ‘I want to do my Lear, I want to do my Willy Loman. … I never had a Hamlet. I like the Shakespearean histories better than anything. … I like the histories more than the tragedies, and I don’t think much of the comedies. … Ben Johnson, he’s my boy. Have you ever done Ben Johnson here? Work on it!”

On the changing trends in movies and television:

“It’s all a phase. We go through the westerns, we go through the Star Treks, we go through the reality TV. It’s all designed to make money and to save money. Reality TV, of course, kicked the crap out of actors. But they’ll hire actors again. You go to the movies and you see seven previews and they’re all crash-bang. The finesse of human beings is lost. … But I think it’ll be a phase. Someday, we’ll go back and rediscover, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ and we’ll delight to hear it.”

On advise for aspiring performers:

“Never trust a producer. … Get on stage if you want to be an actor. Get on stage however you can do it. Keep your backbone when you’re on stage. Don’t take any sh--. In this chaotic age, it’s hard to find who to trust. … Dedicate your self to building a name as an actor, and always keep in mind the idea of producing your own shows, of guaranteeing your life because no one else will.”

On Pixar’s Up:

“I had eight sessions, four to six hours each. I didn’t see the animation. I worked alone with the producer. I didn’t know where it was going. I had some idea of the kind of guy I was playing — they chose me after all. … The highest compliment for me, in recording, the producers told me the animators were very pleased with the variety I’d given them. That, to me, was fulfillment.”

On other comedic actors:

“Ted Knight was the funniest man I’ve ever known.