Ed Asner is ‘FDR’
March 1, 2011
One of the unique challenges that Emmy Award-winning actor Ed Asner faces during his one-man show "FDR," based on the life of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is working with new stage crews during each performance.
"When you go into a town for only one show, you never know what kind of crew you’re going to have," Asner told The Park Record during a phone call from his office in Los Angeles, Calif. "There have been shows where the sound man had either fallen asleep or whatever, and I had to improvise telephone rings."
Other times a prop won’t be placed in the right place.
"I did a show a week before last and I look over to the left side of my desk, where I usually imagine Eleanor sitting for a particular moment and realize there’s no chair. So I had to envision Eleanor in limbo, either standing or squatting, I couldn’t figure out which one she was doing."
Still, the most nerve-wracking aspect of the show for Asner is realizing the success and failure of it rests solely on his shoulders.
"In the beginning, the worst thing for me was to be on stage for 10 minutes and realize, ‘I’m out here for another hour and half and nobody’s going to save me!’"
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Asner found "FDR" by accident during an engagement with the Theatre Guild’s "Theatre at Sea" program on the Regent Luxury Cruises three years ago. Actors such as Asner, Carol Channing and Patricia Neal, among others, perform plays and musicals and songfests for those taking the cruise, Asner said.
"I went on one cruise and didn’t have anything prepared," he said. "So folks suggested I do ‘FDR.’
"So, I read it and did it and sometime shortly after, it was suggested to take it out as a one-man show."
Asner, a self-proclaimed Roosevelt devotee, has been able to mold the show into something he and the audience enjoy.
"I have become a master of my fate," he said with a laugh. "People keep offering me material and suggestions as I go along, and I think I make the script live by what ever modifications I do, through whatever practices I many use, it’s my way of bringing him to life."
While Asner said he doesn’t think he looks or sounds like Roosevelt, the character has developed through will and dedication.
"It became incumbent upon me to do the role as passionately and as involved as possible," he said. "I need to bury myself in the man and what he said. I have to believe in the role fervently and transmit it as fervently as possible to the audience. So they can carry that fervency home with them."
Asner has always looked up to the nation’s 32nd president, he said.
"I especially admired his guts," Asner said. "At the same time, I realized, the man knew how to compromise. Except, when he finished his compromises, the man was able to show there was battle involved and he was able to overcome his enemies, making himself a hero while doing so.
"He also knew how to play to the masses and, above all, I think he certainly had a level of standards, and a desire to change the world he inherited and makr it better."
During the past three years, Asner has learned a great deal about Roosevelt, especially when it comes to the freedoms he gives to the audience.
The first Four Freedoms are Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.
The second Four Freedoms, according to Asner, were introduced to American audiences through a 1945 fireside chat.
They are Freedom for Education, Freedom for Housing, Freedom for Health and Freedom for Employment, Asner said.
"I read up on these and wondered what would have happened if he had brought them onto the stage as he had the first four.
"We probably would have had health a long time ago," he said. "I don’t know if we would ever solve our education problem, because we yo-yo like mad on education. I do think there would have been changes in housing, and I think he would have found a way to maintain that war-industry activity and developed more jobs."
Asner says the importance of "FDR" is that it reminds people what the country’s ideals used to be.
"It also shows how a president acted and what he sounded like when he fought for those ideals," he said. "It also reminds us that we don’t have anything close to approaching that now."
"FDR," starring Ed Asner will be presented at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $18 to $65 and are available by calling (435) 655-3114 or visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.