20 Minutes With Ed Asner: 'Mary Tyler Moore' Star on Broadway, TV, and Politics

Ed Asner gets a birthday cake from his "Grace" co-star, Paul Rudd. Credit: Andy Kropa/Getty Images.

At 83, a lot of people might call a round of golf and a cocktail hour a full schedule. Not Ed Asner. The actor, best known for " The Mary Tyler Moore Show," is on Broadway eight times a week through Jan. 6, starring in the play "Grace" alongside Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, and Kate Arrington. His secret for keeping up with the young'ns?

"Naps," he told ABCNews.com, laughing. "I'm only in two out of seven scenes. The other bozos carry it for the rest of the play."

Asner plays a God-doubting exterminator in "Grace" and provides most of the laughs in a pretty dark play. "Mary Tyler Moore" fans know Asner can do comedy, which he did for 12 years as the gruff but lovable newspaper editor Lou Grant. But the funny stuff didn't always come naturally to him.

"I had a wife and three kids I needed to support," he said, remembering his "Mary Tyler Moore" audition. "I was going to give it my best shot even though I felt insecure about it. I felt insecure doing the comedy. Thank God my best shot was good enough."

Asner won five Emmys on that show and its spinoff, "Lou Grant." Though his portrayal of a newspaper editor is iconic, these days, he doesn't pay much attention to shows about the news. That includes Aaron Sorkin's "Newsroom," even though he appeared in Sorkin's last show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

"I haven't watched the other news shows," he said. "I think the proof is in the pudding that they don't last. They don't show the humor that 'Mary' did. They don't make characters like Lou Grant."

"Mary Tyler Moore's" writers, he said, "were willing to present opposing arguments. They didn't just create a clay pigeon and call it the enemy so we could destroy it."

Asner feels pretty much the same way about the news media. Earlier this month, Fox News lambasted him as a "militant socialist" for voicing an animated video for the California teachers union that appeared to depict a rich man - "the 1%," according to the video - urinating on people with less money. The message: trickle down economics doesn't always work.

"Didn't they have fun," Asner said. "I was surprised it was so blown up, and the rage. But I'm glad that what I said, I meant. It was a very good, well written script, and beautifully animated. I'm pleased with what it had to say. I totally support what it stands for."

That said, he's identified as a socialist for many years, and wishes America could be more like "the Scandinavian countries." "Look at how well taken care of they are," he said. "Medicinally, economically, educationally. There is a bottom line in those countries, that people are protected."

He's taken his passion for socialism to the stage. After his run on Broadway ends, he'll return to Los Angeles and resume his one man show about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a "great president" who embraced "certain socialist practices," such as the creation of Social Security.

Till then, it's naps, "Grace," and a little bit of TV. Asner said he relaxes to "Law & Order" reruns but never reality TV. "I don't believe in putting actors out of work," he said.