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The demise of the latter still troubles Asner, who insists that it was cancelled not due to failing ratings but rather because of his politics. “I was a spokesman for medical aid to El Salvador, so people thought I was giving commies money and I was branded a commie,” he said. “It was money for humanitarian purposes and it was blown out of all proportion. It was $25,000 from private donations. It was not taken from the union, which was how it was misrepresented.”
Asner maintains he was blacklisted for a period of time because he was viewed as a political liability, though more often than not the producers rejected him on the grounds that he was ostensibly “too old, too fat, or too overexposed.”
Asner continues to weigh in on controversial issues. He is an outspoken critic of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, asserting that the growth of global anti-Semitism is largely the result of Israel’s refusal to establish peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. And he is the narrator of a 15-minute DVD, “Solving the Mystery of WTC7,” which rejects the official view that following the 9/11 terrorist attack, the 7 World Trade Center building imploded because of widespread fires.
“Of course certain elements of the American government had to be involved,” said Asner. “I’m not saying George Bush pulled the plug or even knew about it. But when government policies and programs are not going well, you create a casus belli, an incident and a cause for war.”
At the moment, however, Asner’s thoughts are focused most intently on “Grace” and the challenges in bringing Karl to life, though he finds talking about how he gets into character distasteful.
“Some things should not be verbalized,” he said with a grimace. “They say making laws is like making sausages. You shouldn’t watch. It’s the same for acting, especially for the actor who works unconsciously.”
Looking back on his career, Asner contends that he would do nothing differently, though he might redo the way he lived. “Short of sex, I viewed myself pure as the driven snow. My self-examination could have been more rigorous. I could have been braver, better, more rehearsed for life.”
Asked if there was anything he wanted to add, he said, without missing a beat, “Bury my ashes in Mount Scopus.”
Simi Horwitz is a cultural reporter, whose previous credits include 17 years with Back Stage, and eight with Theater Week. Recently, she has contributed to Crain’s New York Business.