LOS ANGELES - When you need an old grouch, Edward Asner is your man.
Yet the actor best-known as gruff newsman Lou Grant, who expands his resumé of grumps as the voice of a curmudgeonly widower in Pixar Animation's "Up," wants people to know that he can play romance and action, too.
"I can do lovers," Asner said in an interview at his Los Angeles home. "I can do Sir Galahad types. I'm not going to limit myself in voice-overs to irascible old men.
"You better get that straight!" Asner adds, slyly slipping into the crabby tone that he perfected as Grant, the role that won him five of his seven Emmys, first on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and later in the spinoff, "Lou Grant."
Asner does not want to limit himself because Hollywood has done that for him throughout the years. He said that he had only one year in his 50-plus-year career that he landed as much work as he wanted, when he was working on Moore's sitcom and shot 1976's "Rich Man, Poor Man," a miniseries that also won him an Emmy.
Turning 80 this November, Asner still wishes that more offers would come his way. Asked how often he receives scripts that really interest him, he inquired, "Did you bring anything with you?
"No, nothing comes in," Asner said. "I'm not sought after. I never get enough work. It's the history of my career. There just isn't anything to turn down, let me put it that way."
Asner was sought after for the role of Carl Fredricksen in "Up," the latest tale from Pixar and its parent outfit, Walt Disney, the animated hits of which include "WALL-E," "Ratatouille," "Finding Nemo" and the "Toy Story" flicks. The film opens today.
"Up" director Pete Docter said that Asner was Pixar's first choice for the voice of Carl, a lonely, cranky widower who renews his spirit of adventure by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house and flying off to the wilds of South America.
Docter said that the Pixar animators often zero in on voices by putting on old movies and TV shows with the picture off, listening only to the audio to see who might fit the characters they're developing. Asner's Lou Grant was an icon of the bullying but lovable boss, Docter said.
"Ed, he has the comedic chops, he's got the acting chops, and he's made a career of playing these types of characters," Docter said. "He's sort of coursing through our entertainment DNA."
"I keep telling people that I'm a better actor now than I've ever been in my life, in my ability to choose and my ability to interpret," Asner said. "People are trying to farm you out once you reach a certain age. I think it's an American trait, and I think it's an ugly trait." *