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Preview: Ed Asner braves return to W.Va. to portray FDR

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Talking to Ed Asner feels a little risky.

The outspoken Emmy Award-winning actor, probably still best known for his role as newsman Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (and its spinoff "Lou Grant"), has a forceful personality and a sharp wit. He likes to joke around, but he can get serious real fast.

"I drove through West Virginia once," he said. "I drove from Chicago to New York in a Model A.

"We went through Ohio and came through West Virginia for about 50 miles before you got to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Let me tell you: I went blind trying to drive those roads. I was scared s---less.

"I've been back, of course, but I try to avoid it as much as possible."

Asner is joking -- probably. Either way, the frequently salty 83-year-old has embraced the inevitable. Wednesday night at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center in Huntington, he'll return to West Virginia and perform as FDR in a one-man play based on Dore Schary's Broadway hit "Sunrise at Campobello."

"It's a great play," he said. "And I've been doing it for about four years now."

With extended breaks in between tours; in fact, it took him a minute to remember the last time he actually performed the play.

"I guess the last time I did this must have been spring last year," Asner said. "Like I said, it's a great play. I love doing it, and we're going to be taking it to 18 cities this time. The hard part has been trying to remember the damned lines."

He's also not looking forward to the travel. Asner hates to travel. He especially hates to fly and has little love for the agents of the Transportation Safety Administration, which he considers more of a government jobs program than actual security.

"They sure as hell aren't going to catch any terrorists," he said.

Asner, a self-avowed liberal, said, "Government should put itself to work finding jobs and taking the expenditures we have putting armies, armed forces, in 167 countries and put that toward education. We'd get a better return on what we spend."

But he has to travel, he acknowledges. There's no way around it.

Asner doesn't like to sit around and he certainly hasn't been waiting around for the next "FDR" tour to start. He recently finished a run on Broadway in "Grace," a play that also starred Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon. He spent two days in Stratford, Conn., trying to persuade people to save a theater. Leading up to the start of the tour, he was scheduled to do a guest appearance on "Law & Order: SVU." And there are always other things that come up.

Aside from the acting and the activism, Asner does voice work for cartoons and video games. He's made a second career of it. He was the voice of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's critically acclaimed "Up," but before that, he was Jedi Master Vrook Lamar in "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," and comic-book nerds may remember him as the voice of the villainous (and technically female) "Granny Goodness" in various DC Comics cartoons.

"That androgynous cretin," he chuckled.

The voice work, he said, keeps him busy and provides him with a nice cushion of cash.

He called it "screw-you money" -- or perhaps a variation that's not recommended to be printed. Basically money that lets him pick and choose the acting jobs he wants, as well provide the financial stability to support the causes he believes in.

"I used to do a lot of audio books, but they got so cheap," he added sourly.

Asner is frequently involved in charities that promote peace, a cleaner environment and the arts. He's also been one of several celebrities who've called for a new investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

However, the voice work and even the charitable interests are mostly sidelights. Acting is more than just a way to make a living, it's a way of life.         

"I live to act," Asner explained. "There is no other reason for me to be alive. If I can't act, you might as well bury me. Call it an act of desperation."

He sighed mournfully, then pleaded loudly, "I don't wanna die!"

Asner is joking again -- probably.

Want to go?

WHAT: "Ed Asner as FDR"

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, Huntington

TICKETS: $45

INFO: 304-696-6656 or www.marshall.edu

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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