LOS ANGELES — When you need an old grouch, Edward Asner is your man.
Yet the actor best known as gruff newsman Lou Grant, who voices a curmudgeonly widower in Pixar Animation's Up, wants people to know he can play romance and action, too.
"I can do lovers," Asner said in an interview at his home in Los Angeles. "I can do Sir Galahad types. I'm not going to limit myself in voice-overs to irascible old men.
"You better get that straight!" Asner adds, slyly slipping into the crabby tone he perfected as Grant, the role that won him five of his seven Emmys, first on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later in the spinoff Lou Grant.
Asner does not want to limit himself because Hollywood has done that for him. He said he had only one year in his five-decade-plus career when he had as much work as he wanted, when he was working on Moore's sitcom and shot 1976's Rich Man, Poor Man, a miniseries that also won him an Emmy.
Asner, who will be 80 in November, still wants more work. Asked how often he receives scripts that really interest him, he asked, "Did you bring anything with you?"
"No, nothing comes in," Asner said. "I'm not sought after. ... It's the history of my career."
Asner was sought after for the role of Carl Fredricksen in Up, the latest tale from Pixar and its parent outfit, Walt Disney, whose animated hits include WALL-E, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo and the Toy Story flicks. The film opens Friday.
Up director Pete Docter said Asner was Pixar's first choice to voice Carl, a lonely, cranky widower who renews his spirit of adventure by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house and flying off to the wilds of South America.
Docter said Pixar animators often find voices by listening to old movies and TV shows with the picture off, to see who might fit characters they're developing. Asner's Lou Grant was an icon of the bullying but lovable boss, Docter said.
"Ed, he has the comedic chops, he's got the acting chops, and he's made a career of playing these types of characters," Docter said. "He's sort of coursing through our entertainment DNA."
Asner made good use of his prickly persona as a world-weary Santa Claus in Will Ferrell's 2003 hit Elf. His other big-screen credits include JFK and Fort Apache the Bronx. His many TV guest spots include ER, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The X-Files. Asner also has done a great deal of TV voice-over work, including for The Simpsons and Spider-Man.
He is doing more voice work for the animated series The Boondocks, on which he has a recurring character. Still, he wishes the phone would ring more often.
"I keep telling people that I'm a better actor now than I've ever been in my life, in my ability to choose and my ability to interpret," Asner said. "I'd say most people are probably in that same boat, old people, and it's a shame that they're not given the opportunity to demonstrate that intelligence along with their emotion, that it's not utilized.
"I suppose this occurs in every profession. People are trying to farm you out once you reach a certain age. I think it's an American trait, and I think it's an ugly trait."