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Asner Perfect Fit for Producers of ‘Up’

When it came time to cast the lead voice actor for "Up," Pixar filmmakers didn't look beyond veteran actor Ed Asner.

The animated movie, opening Friday, tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, an embittered elderly man who attaches hundreds of helium balloons to his home and floats to South America. Asner, says producer Jonas Rivera, was perfect for the role.

"That line between curmudgeon and sweet, old man was very blurry, and that was Carl," Rivera says. "We had to make Carl appealing ... and no one doesn't like Ed. ... He was electric to us, and we couldn't imagine it without him, really."

Co-director Bob Peterson says he remembers many nights when, as a child, he would watch Asner on television.

"How many times were we sitting at home on a Saturday night just laughing away?" he says. "I think we're all children of the media to some extent. We just didn't forget those childhood comedy heroes, you know. We learned a lot from (Asner's) timing."

Type casting

Asner is best known for his 12-year stint playing journalist Lou Grant on both the "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Lou Grant" television shows. Because that character was both remarkably gruff and lovable, the Pixar crew saw Asner as the poster child for crotchety teddy bears, and that's what they needed.

Of course, Lou Grant represents only a portion of Asner's lengthy career. He's worked on hundreds of television, film and theatrical projects over the years, but he realizes that he will forever be one with the grumbling journalist.

"I thank God it was a beautiful human being," Asner says. "I don't mind in the slightest when people look at me and say, 'Hi Lou.' It's a mark of affection."

But does Asner see himself as a curmudgeon? Not really.

"I prefer to think of myself as abrupt," he says. "I don't have time for that crap. What do you got to say? Say it. Get it over with. Talk to me."

As for voicing Carl, Asner says he took his cues from the "Up" screenplay and the early visuals Pixar provided to him.

"The character was there by the way it was written and by the physicality of whatever I saw either in terms of the animation that was shown to me or the little figure that they sculpted of him," he says. "I'd read it (the script). Sometimes it was perfect. Sometimes (co-director) Pete (Docter) would say, 'Try it this way,' or Bob would say, 'Try it this way.' So, I'd try it four or five different ways, six different ways. Sometimes, in the midst of it, I'd say, 'Let me try it like this. Let's see how this works.' So, it's experimentation all the time."

Going 'Up'

In "Up," Carl discovers he's stuck with a young stowaway named Russell after he launches his house into the sky, and the two characters embark on some wild adventures, but the whole thing was inspired by a single image.

"One day, Pete drew a picture of an old guy with a bunch of happy balloons," says Peterson. "The sourest man in the world selling the happiest balloons in the world, and we looked at that and said, 'Hey, there's something there.' So, he and I sat down and started building this story from that one drawing."

From there, Docter says, they came up with the image of a house floating away.

"Working backward to that, we had to answer, 'Why is he floating his house away? Where is he going? What led to this?' " Docter says.

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