ED ASNER (The Gathering) Exclusive Interview
I recently got a chance to speak with ED ASNER about the 1977 Christmas TV classic, The Gathering, which was released exclusively in the Warner Archive in time for the Holiday season.
Ed Asner shared some of his memories about shooting The Gathering, talked about his plans for Christmas, and his future project. So enjoy the interview below and make sure to grab yourself a copy of The Gathering.
Congratulations on ‘The Gathering’ being released again.
Ed Asner: For years, I have a friend, a former lady newspaper reporter in Ohio who’s constantly leading a campaign for ABC to put it on, to put it on. Quite often she succeeded because there was no access to the VHS at that point. I don’t know when the VHS came out but now that the DVD is coming out I guess there will be a number of purchases.
How does it feel to be involved in a movie that’s such a Christmas classic with such a demand that Warner Brothers is re-releasing it?
Ed Asner: Well, I guess if they’re willing to open the purse strings there must be gold in them. I’m proud that it’s happening and I’m glad that people will have easy access to it now. But it’s really been repeated a vast number of times.
At the time that you were making the film did you think it was going to be such a success?
Ed Asner: At the time that I accepted this I had two scripts that dealt with the homecoming theme. One was with this rich family written by James Poe, he was a descendant of Edgar Allen. And the other script dealt with a poor family and not that I chose riches over poverty but I liked his script better and therefore chose it. I was quite startled and very impressed at the cast that was assembled. All of them stellar performers and all delivered beautifully. I felt that there was something in the works that would be very impressive when it finally showed. My most difficult moment was the scene by the waterfall which is Tim Conway’s hometown. Chagrin Falls. Supposedly they were the only democrats in the town, too. I had difficulty in that scene talking to the doctor. It was like the first scene that I had to do and I had difficulty with it but after we got through that it was very smooth sailing for me.
What are some of the best memories that you have from filming the movie?
Ed Asner: Well, my family was there. My kids were all in the chorus singing carols outside of the house. So I love the fact that I got them into the piece. Just working with all those good actors was [great]. Maureen Stapleton. Bruce Davison. Rebecca Balding. Veronica – who later starred in the cop show in L.A. – Hamel. Larry Pressman. John Randolph. Jimmy Karen. Maureen Stapleton of course was a phenomenon. Greg Harrison and Gail Strickland.
Was there a scene in ‘The Gathering’ that was your favorite to do?
Ed Asner: The scene with Larry Pressman, the two scenes where my impending death is exposed. The one was Larry Pressman which ends in the fireworks outside of the house and when Maureen senses what’s going to happen and angrily slams me around.
The story is so relevant today. Do you think they’ll do a remake of it and if they did would you like to see that?
Ed Asner: Why would they? They made a ‘Gathering’ part two after my death. They had Maureen coming together with Efrem Zimbalist and some of the kids again, but I don’t know how successful it was. That was the only effort that I know of at perpetuating with it. But that’s like saying recreate ‘The Mary Tyler Moore’ show. Why should you?
I get questions all the time, like ‘What about “Up 2”?’ I don’t envision a sequel easily to ‘Up’ and if they do I hope that it can maintain the level that ‘Up’ had. There was supposed to be an ‘Elf 2’ as well but Will Ferrell got very successful, starring in dozens of movies so that queered up. But I’m glad because I think that ‘Elf 1’ stands alone just as I think that ‘Up 1’ stands alone. I think ‘The Gathering’ stands alone.
What’s your favorite Christmas movie?
Ed Asner: I liked ‘Elf’ an awful lot.
Is there one that you like to watch every year during Christmas time?
Ed Asner: No. I don’t do that. I don’t succumb to that sentimental crap. I used to look at ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ but I got tired of that.
What are some of your Christmas plans if you’re not watching movies?
Ed Asner: Oh, we’ll have a Christmas Eve dinner, maybe watch some movies. I don’t know. I like peace and quiet. I’m going to be going back on the road for a lot of weeks so peace and quiet at home is something that’s very nice, without obligations.
You’ve had such a long career. What have been some of your favorite projects to work on?
Ed Asner: Oh, always the cumulative total of Lou Grant. Seven years with Mary [Tyler Moore] and five years where I was the so called star. ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ I loved. ‘Elf’ I loved. I loved ‘Up’. I loved the black comedy that I did called ‘Heads’. ‘Family Man’ I did with Anne Jackson and Meredith Baxter.
How do you go about choosing projects? Do you look at the director or the story, how do you decide?
Ed Asner: It’s the story. First I look at what I have to do and then I look at the total story. Then I see how much they’re going to pay me.
That’s the most important. [laughs]
Ed Asner: That’s not the most important. I’m doing a low budget movie in North Carolina starting January 3rd and I’m not going to get rich. I did ‘Gigantic’ last year in New York with John Goodman and Jane Alexander and Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano. I didn’t get rich on that but I loved the movie. So it’s a combination of all these things. If I have the time and I’ve had a good paying job then I can afford to do a lesser paying job.
What’s the name of the low budget film you have coming up?
Ed Asner: ‘Elephant Sighs’ and it’s a buddy picture. It’s about five men who come together, who are together. They’re losers and they all depend on each other.
What’s your part in it?
Ed Asner: I’m like the older one. I’m kind of like the leader but not with tight controls. I’ll be doing it in January.
You’ve also done a lot of voice over work. What’s the main difference from voice to acting in front of the camera and do you prefer one over the other?
Ed Asner: Voice over. I’ve had a lot of fun with ‘Boondocks’. I’ve had a lot of fun with ‘Freakazoids’. I’ve enjoyed them all as long as you have something substantial to do. I don’t like going ‘burp’ and ‘slop’ and ‘fade’. As long as it tends to involved acting I love them and I’ve enjoyed them all. I’ve had a great time. My first cartoon was ‘Captain Planet’ and I played a character named Hoggish Greedly in it and I had a ball doing that. I’ve done five Carl Hiaasen books. I’m up for a Grammy on the last one. I think they used somebody else finally on the one after that but doing books is a wonderful challenge and it’s a great deal of fun for me.
Are you hoping to do anymore books in the future?
Ed Asner: They don’t call me anymore. Trying to figure out this business is like the Rosetta Stone. You need a Rosetta Stone. One of my most impressive moments was when I first did books, I had done about five books, the first books I ever did, ‘Playboy’ put out a big Christmas issue with a huge catalogue section for Christmas gifts and they had a huge VHS audio section, suggestions for Christmas gifts and they had reviews of all the audio books, like twenty pages of it. All five of the ones that I did were reviewed by different reviewers half a column long in the magazine and they all got raves. I was amazed. They all got raves. I did them all alone. One I did with Julie Harris. That got a rave, too. I looked at it and I said, ‘Oh, man, when people start reading these I’m going to have to use a baseball bat to drive them off with all the offers that will come in.’ I didn’t get another offer to do a book for at least year.
After a lot of success that I had with the audio, all of a sudden the market just dropped away. I think that they tended to stay in the east and they had the authors doing a lot of it but I think they got to the point where I think they thought, ‘Well, nobody really cares if a name is doing it.’ They just want the good voices with no names. But I had done good work.