On a mantel in his Los Angeles home, Ed Asner has a photo that appears to show him embracing a baby hippo. "That's not me," he says. "Someone gave it to me. They thought it looked like me."
Fans often hand Asner such tokens, a tribute to the "one of us"-ness he brought to his role as the gruff Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He conveys that quality, behind a microphone, in the new Disney/Pixar animated film Up. Asner plays Carl, who escapes life's drudgery by affixing balloons to his house and floating away...accidentally bringing along a young boy.
"The man is not respected by society," says Asner. "The child brings into his life caring and tenderness." Asner, a social activist, sees in Carl a touch of Paul Douglas, the Illinois senator and civil rights crusader: "That white hair. The dignity. If I had hair, maybe it would give me that quality...."
Asner, 79, also identifies with Carl's young friend: "I'm still a child. Still bewitched, bothered, and bewildered, at odds and ends."