A New Deal

A New Deal

Ed Asner returns to Pasadena as ‘FDR'

By Carl Kozlowski 10/16/2013

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Veteran actor Ed Asner has remained both highly political and widely respected for his work and his anti-war views in a career that has spanned six decades. But on Saturday, the legendary thespian will be bowing to a man he and many others worshipped during his time - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt - in the one-man show "FDR" at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium.

"What appeals to me is the fact that the man was a god to me," says the now 83-year-old Asner, who grew up during Roosevelt's time in office, from 1933 to 1945. "So I'm presuming to play God. He strongly affected my life and affected the lives of every American and most of the people in the world."

Asner, a former two-term Screen Actors Guild president, has been portraying America's only four-term president for the past four years, touring the US to deliver 30 to 40 performances annually. The show is based on Dory Schary's Broadway hit "Sunrise at Campobello" and explores FDR's life and the events and decisions that shaped a nation. In it, the president reflects on his years in office - from inauguration to the trials of World War II.

This isn't the first time Asner has brought the show to the Crown City, with a multi-show run at the Pasadena Playhouse in October 2010. He found that experience unsatisfying, however, as the then-troubled theater was lacking in its promotion of the show amid the throes of recovering from years of financial hardship before its remarkable current renaissance.

Asner notes that he's been trying to keep audiences entertained with a little more humor. "The show is fairly set, except I try to bring more comedy into the performance than in the past," says Asner, who notes that he hasn't seen Bill Murray's portrayal of FDR in the 2012 film "Hyde Park on Hudson." "You can't afford to have too many laughs, and it wakes them up, believe me. I may ad lib, but don't worry, I don't do pratfalls."

One thing that longtime liberal activist Asner is serious about is the current political stalemate that's threatening the nation in Washington, DC. He feels FDR "would have found a faster way to boot the rascals out if he were in power now," but while he empathizes with the struggles President Obama is currently facing with Congress, he expresses deep disappointment with some aspects of a presidency he hoped would mark a return to progressive ideals after a near-decade of disaster with President George W. Bush.

"Most of the time, Obama's had to react rather than act," says the outspoken actor. "After the debacle of George Bush, there couldn't be too much for Barack Obama to do. No matter what he did with his power, it wouldn't be too much. He was hesitant and minimal in many of his efforts.

"At the same time, for a constitutionalist, he didn't observe the constitution as often as he should have," Asner continues. "They've gone after seven whistleblowers, which is more than Bush did, plus he's still in Guantanamo. He hasn't been forceful in directions on torture, we're still all over the world and he was quite willing to pursue or initiate another war. I'd say he's acting more like George Bush than I ever expected, though I absolutely feel hope about how people fought back against getting into Syria, and I think that it's a wonderful sign that the body of the American people isn't a corpse yet."

Asner is more concerned with the way in which the Republican lawmakers are holding the nation hostage with the shutdown in the battle over the Affordable Care Act and the debt ceiling. With the government staring down the rabbit hole of insolvency at the time of the interview on Oct. 7, Asner noted his belief that "our government is skewed in a very bad way."

"I have no idea how it will end," says Asner. "Many people are talking about how as long as state legislatures create voting rules, lines and districts, we'll continue to allow creeps to become members of Congress. The tragedy is now that Obamacare has come into being, the majority of Americans aren't even covered by it because the states they live in are Republican and refuse to join; 48 million people have no coverage."

With seven Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes so far, Asner is staying highly active these days playing his annual array of roles as Santa Claus in TV movies. But he's more excited about an episode of the new CBS sitcom "The Crazy Ones," which he recently shot with its star Robin Williams. He keeps his stage chops sharp by doing play readings at the Actors Studio in North Hollywood.

Of course, his definitive role was playing the irascible TV and newspaper journalist Lou Grant in both sitcom form on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and drama on "Lou Grant." With over a decade of faux newsroom experience via that role, Asner offers a few thoughts about the state of real-world journalism today.

"I think the big time journalists are trying," says Asner. "Print has become so diverse, as has TV news, and with the various electronic media of the Internet and Google, people are subject to a great deal of diversity. In the one sense that's good because there's not one controlling factor, even though people who listen to FOX News probably don't listen to anything else.
"But there are many venues out there to offset that if they had an open mind," Asner continues. "I certainly don't think we've become any smarter and whistleblowing has become even harder, which is on Obama. I'd like to see Bradley {now Chelsea] Manning and [Edward] Snowden treated as heroes rather than criminals. There are more means of information, but no guarantee that people are being educated."

Ed Asner performs in "FDR" at 8 p.m. Saturday at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $22 to $32 for adults, with tickets for high school age and younger attendees $10. Call the Caltech Ticket Office at (626) 395-4652.

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