I met Ed Asner at the table read for “Bennie’s”, a TV pilot vehicle that starred the long-time accredited actor. He was 86 years old at the time, and got around with a cane off-camera. He must have cost a ton of money to insure, even though the pilot itself was tightly scheduled so that Asner only had to spend a few days on set, and his mobility was not pressed.
I fought like hell to get cast as Skip, a large gym member who would prepare and eat meals while working out. Messy foods like grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. At the table read I noticed that all actors had little placards set out on the large conference table, placed in front of a copy of the script. Ed Asner’s name and my own were facing across each other. During sections where neither of us had dialogue, I would casually look up from my script and see Asner staring at me. I felt for sure that he could tell that I was not a classically trained actor and would have me replaced just as soon as the final page was read. That didn’t happen. In fact, once we all finished the reading and gave ourselves a round of applause, Ed leaned in slightly as said to me “I like you.” Relieved but still wary, I simply replied “I like you too, Ed!”.
The pilot had a couple of other notables in it. Martin Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez played Asner’s nemesis, and Cathy Moriarty played a woman who dies while doing yoga. Yes, this was a comedy!
A few months after we wrapped, I got invited to a special screening of the pilot, to be shown at Ed’s retirement home in Maryland. He would play poker for hours a day there and he remembered me and was very gracious to both me and my wife. The pilot never got picked up, although Asner himself continued to work in television into his 90’s before passing away last week. It was an honor to have met him, worked with him, and learned a bit more about what it takes to work on camera. Rest in Peace, Sir.