In December 1982, with the film magazine for which I was associate editor on the rocks (it tumbled all the way over but recovered later) and everyone gone on holiday, I found myself alone in the magazine's Los Angeles offices; that's the way I liked it. Quiet is good for getting some work done, and the place was not usually quiet. While I struggled with backlog, my quiet was interrupted by the phone: not the general office phone but MY phone. Who knew I was there? I picked it up and found that the voice on the other end of the line belonged to Ed Asner.
Asner was calling me from New York (where he was making the film Daniel), at the behest of the film's publicist, of whom I had requested an interview with any cast or (major) production crew member. My publisher had told me anyone would be fine... except Asner. Don't interview Asner. He was too political.
Then Screen Actors Guild President and supporter of the 1980 Actors' Strike, Asner was considered in some circles too hot to handle. I didn't hang in those circles and didn't care for my instructions; I was glad when it turned out to be Asner who called. I'd been a fan for years.
We spoke more about Daniel than his role in it (the lawyer who defends, and helps the children of, a thinly disguised Ethel and Julius Rosenberg-ish married couple who are accused and convicted of, and executed for, espionage and treason). He was enthusiastic about the film, and given his political background and his outspokenness against the death penalty, it was right up his alley. He spoke intelligently about the making of the film, and while, since nearly 24 years have passed since our conversation, and since I was writing what is known as work-for-hire, I cannot reproduce here exactly what was said then, I can certainly convey my strong impression of how dedicated he was not only to his job but to the entire project. He was also down to earth and friendly as pie.
It was already apparent to me from his body of work so far that he took acting seriously, and from said work and his (to me, at any rate, correct) politicization of the position of his craft's leading union, that he took the whole art and business seriously. That he has the talent to effect what his heart and mind believe in is what makes the acting work; that he has the strength and conviction to make the rest of it work too is astonishing.
The conversation we had was lively but eventually drew to a close. Asner mentioned that the director, Sidney Lumet, had chosen a special technique to distinguish present from past, since the film hops back and forth between the two. I eagerly asked him what that technique might be and he said,
"Well, as Chloris Leachman used to say on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 'That's Mother's little secret!'"