Memorial by Richard Bleil
A few days ago, as of the posting of this blog (yesterday as of the writing of it), Ed Asner passed away. No doubt you know of him, although he was never really a major actor. By that I mean that, to the best of my knowledge, he was never a lead actor in any movies or television series (although I’m not familiar enough with him to say that with certainty). He was, however, a very well-known “character” actor, highly recognizable and showing up in a multitude of television series and movies as a support character.
One of his earliest must have been the Mary Tyler Moore show, where he played the chief news editor on a television news program. He seemed to really make that role his own, starting off as a stereotypical gruff boss in the beginning of the series, but warming into a kind man with a gruff exterior by the end of the series.
He seemed to always be obese, bald, and I always picture him with a cigar. His face exploded with expression that I personally attribute to that mean grandfather look, although, to be fair, this is probably because he did look very much like my grandfather. He kind of got pigeon-holed into these “boss” positions, largely in comedies. Again, I’m not familiar enough with his body of work to say that he never broke out of this role, but every time I saw him in anything, it was the role he played, and they always seemed to be comedies.
Interestingly, he could also play a character with a hidden dark and evil side. His passing reminded of a movie called simply “Heads” wherein he, again, played a news editor but this time for a newspaper. I’ve been desperately looking for it as it’s difficult to find, even to rent or purchase, but I distinctly remember him playing this gruff but kindly grandpa looking character, but this time, he also had a very dark streak that he kept hidden. When it finally revealed itself, he was just incredible at playing this dark psychopath incredibly well. The movie was billed as a comedy/horror movie, and it lived up to the billing. I kind of feel bad, as if I’m subtly spoiling the move, but to be honest, just the title of this move undoubtedly gives the entire plot away.
Imagine Ed Asner playing this character, very calm, very calculating, very secretive suddenly revealing his dark psychopathic side, with his dark laugh and uplifted eyebrows as cigar smoke found an exit from his slowly laughing mouth. Yeah, he was good.
They kind of played him in a similar role in the movie “The Animal”. As silly a movie as “Heads” was, “The Animal” was even more so, as you might expect as Rob Schneider played the lead role. Here, Ed played a police chief in a very small town police station as opposed to a news editor. Essentially, it was the same role he played in the old Mary Tyler Moore show, but with a different title and a different venue. They took advantage of his ability to play that dark psychopathic role in one scene where, basically, he was used as a red herring as the audience was supposed to be trying to figure out who the second animal was. That scene was, in my mind, by far the best in the entire movie, as he slowly says, “You shouldn’t be out here…don’t you know there’s an animal out here?”
I think there’s a lesson for everybody in the life of Ed. Here I am referring to him so informally because this is how he portrays himself. I know nothing of his personal life, so apparently, he never had any major scandals in his life. As an actor, however, every time I saw him in a show or movie, I just knew he would be good. It feels as if he could show up in any movie and, regardless of the quality, would just kick it up to a higher level, even if his role was relatively minor. It never felt like he reached for something higher than that of which he was asked. He played his role, regardless of how major or minor it was, and played it very well.
This isn’t a bad thing, and something that I should use as a model for my own life. As my role in life is changing, maybe I can make things better for those around me by just playing that role, calmly, professionally and very well. Be like Ed; just be quietly excellent!