Ed Asner: Tough times for FDR and Santa

After iconic TV curmudgeon Lou Grant, Ed Asner’s most familiar roles lately have come in portrayals of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Santa Claus. The “good will to men” spirit of each is under siege, Asner believes, and it makes him sick.

“It’s been replaced by a emphasis on greed: ‘I got mine, screw you, I want more!’ ” Asner barks. “I’m pretty god-damned sickened that with all this country has, all the money, this country, as leader of the world, can’t properly feed, clothe, employ, house or educate our citizens.”

Asner, 83, was speaking from his home in California’s San Fernando Valley, in a phone conversation that interrupted his review of the script for his one-man show “FDR,” an excerpt of which he’ll perform on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The actor, briefly hospitalized in March after he cut short a performance of "FDR" due to "exhaustion," says his health is fine, and the abridged "FDR" at FLIFF is more of a time factor: "It's 140 minutes, no breaks," he says.

His 7 p.m. Cinema Paradiso appearance also will include a video montage of his career, screenings of two of his short films, “Good Men” and “A Man of the World,” and the presentation of a lifetime achievement award. The latter will sit next to Asner’s seven Emmys and five Golden Globe Awards.

If you believe the ongoing intransigence in Washington might be solved by a little FDR-style statesmanship and diplomacy, don't look for it from the star of “FDR.” Raised in Kansas City as a self-described “middle-class bozo,” Asner feels “betrayed by both the Democrats and the Republicans,” beginning with those out dismantle the policies Roosevelt ushered in after the Great Depression and those allowing it to happen.

“Someday the country will realize that when we were in the Great Depression, enough people had the courage and sense of duty and sacrifice to support FDR to go on with his so-called 'socialist' measures,” Asner says.

“You can’t even use the term socialism in this country. People say ‘Oh-oh, he’s a communist,’ but … they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground,”  he says.

The man who was the prime-time face of journalism from 1977 to 1982 on “Lou Grant” also has nothing good to say about the “clone press.”

“To own a newspaper means you’ve got to be rich. Same with TV. You cannot possibly get a disparate set of views with the tunnel thinking that goes on,” he says.

Asner’s face isn’t always scowling, and has become a holiday staple as that of Santa -- including the instant-classic Will Ferrell comedy “Elf” (“I love that show,” he admits),  “Olive, the Other Reindeer” and “The Story of Santa Claus” -- and he recently completed shooting the title role in Lifetime’s “Papa Noel.”

The actor, who did a short story arc as a gruff (what else?) doctor on the recently completed final season of A&E's "The Glades," just spent several weeks in Argentina shooting a fantasy starring Joseph Fiennes called “The Games Maker.” “It has a large touch of Harry Potter in it,” Asner says. 

IF YOU GO
What: The career of Ed Asner will be celebrated at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23
Where: Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: $15, $12 seniors/students
Contact: 954-525-3456, FLIFF.com  

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