Ed Asner defies all Hollywood rules about aging — specifically the one that says age and the ability to snag roles are inversely proportional. At 81, he’s working enough to make even his former Mary Tyler Moore co-star Betty White a little envious (and he’s hoping to reunite with the equally prolific senior citizen sometime soon as well). To wit: He’s spending this summer appearing as investment guru (and Office finale star) Warren Buffett in HBO’s movie Too Big to Fail (airing Monday at 9 p.m.), shooting a guest arc on USA’s guilty-pleasure hit Royal Pains, prepping a half dozen other movies, touring the country with his one-man show FDR, and even finding time to fly to suburban New Jersey this weekend to star in a play written by a friend’s teenage son. (Seriously. You can buy tickets here.) The erstwhile Lou Grant chatted with EW about all that — and the possibility of reprising the voice role of Carl Fredricksen in a sequel to the 2009 animated gem Up.
Why did you want to play Buffett?
To play a national icon like Warren Buffett and to work with [director] Curtis Hanson, I leaped at the chance. The role is not prepossessing, but it’s my first time on HBO, so I liked that. I really respect them.
And you’re playing FDR in your continuing road show as well.
I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. It all began when I used to do the theater on sea cruises. I was on this one cruise and I had not prepared anything and nothing had been prepared for me, so I did something from Dore Schary’s follow-up to Sunrise at Campobello. I did it on the ship and it went okay, so we took it out on the road as a one-man show. The thought of doing a one-man show appealed to me, to see if I could do it. Once I got involved, it became second nature for me. I really gin myself up to be FDR when I’m performing. I love him and I love doing it. We’ve done 50 cities and 100 shows [so far].
What is this play you’re doing in New Jersey? Was it really written by a 16-year-old?
I have an old friend whose son started writing plays. The playwright, Nicky Glossman, is in high school, but his plays are as adult as you can ever imagine. I’m going to be playing a mafia don for a couple of nights. We go back a ways, but this is the first play of his that I’m doing.
Tell us about what you’re doing on one of our favorite summer shows, Royal Pains.
I’m playing Henry Winkler’s father. Yes, I’m responsible for that creature. It’s fun because one of Henry’s first breaks was to be on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He was prepossessing at the time, and he’s always been grateful for the time he had there. So it was a good match.
Any chance we’ll see you on another of our favorite summer shows, Betty White’s Hot in Cleveland?
We were talking about my appearing there, but so far it hasn’t worked out. Betty is such a sensual creature, it would be difficult to have to put up with all of the sexual grabbing and grasping going on. Give her some sedatives, and then I think we may be able to make that happen. It would be, as they say, a run for her money.
We know you’re busy and all, but will there ever be an Up sequel?
No. They talked about it when it first came out, but [director] Pete Docter had other things he wanted to do first. I think he did such a genius piece of work on that. I just hope I’m alive when they get to Up 2.