Local thespians Kate Hagen and Jay Pyette are working with Hollywood legend Ed Asner for the third straight year in this year’s Montana production of “God Help Us” at the Fort Peck Summer Theatre.
Asner said Wednesday in a telephone interview that he loves coming to work in Montana.
“It’s a Big Sky, I love Big Sky,” he said. “You don’t stand a good chance of picking up the virus while you’re there, and we’ve always had a ball in Montana.”
Asner came to Havre in October 2018 to perform “God Help Us” with Pyette and Hagen, then the three performed the play again last year in Billings.
The three will perform it in a three-day run this summer in July.
In working with Pyette and Hagen, Asner said, he enjoys that they deliver.
“They perform well,” he said. “They inhabit the thoughts of their characters and make it believable.”
He said they were no trouble to work with.
“They were occupying their roles conveniently and accurately, so that I could then concentrate on occupying my role … and I could relax,” Asner said.
“It’s pretty amazing to work with him,” Hagen said. “I never thought I’d do it once let alone now going in for a third go around.”
MAT Executive Director Jay Pyette said he’s excited for this third go around.
“The first time I was just pretty nervous to work with him and wanting to do well,” he said. “The second time was certainly more relaxed and we had a great time. Now, I’m just excited.”
Hagen said that, when on stage, Asner will throw all sorts of things out unexpectedly, so performers have to be paying attention and on their toes ready to respond if he throws someone a curveball on stage.
Pyette said people have to stay on their toes around him – he likes to pick on people and give people a hard time.
But it’s all in fun, he said, the more he likes you, the harder of a time he’ll give you.
Hagen said Asner is very fun to work with. He’s sharp, on top of things and in tune with things going on in the world, she said.
Pyette said he is a master of comic timing and his ability to play a crowd is also amazing.
“I think that one of the coolest things I’ve learned from him, though, is that no matter how many years you’ve been doing theatre some things don’t change,” he said. “He doesn’t take anything for granted and works just as hard in rehearsal as anyone.”
He’s an absolute legend, Hagen said.
“It’s so funny because you watch some of his movies and he kind of comes off gruff, but he’s got this big heart of gold – I mean really he’s just a big teddy bear,” she added. “It’s just so much fun just hanging around and being with him, and joking around. You just never know what he’s going to throw at you whether you are on the stage or off the stage, anything could come flying at you.”
Asner said he loves this play because it deals with what’s going on now.
“It confronts the couple, or I, as God confronts the couple, and we try to work out a solution so the two can live happily ever after and in some cases we succeed and some we fail,” he said. “We point out the conflict that exists in our country today.”
He said he is heartened by the transformation of certain parts of America with this president and with our problems.
He thinks the country is more united than it ever has been, he said, in spite of some people the country has become stronger because of it.
Asner started being credited in roles in the 1950s, and became a household figure during the run of the comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show. A short, partial list of the shows leading up to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in which he had credited roles includes top-end television of the time, such as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Untouchables,” “The Virginian,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Outer Limits,” “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” “The Rat Patrol,” “The Mod Squad,” “Ironside,” “The Wild Wild West,” “Mission Impossible” and “Gunsmoke.”
He played Lou Grant in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show ” from 1970-77, and continued in that role in “Lou Grant,” 1977-82.
His acting has continued nonstop including acting and voice roles in film and television and video games including “The Simpsons,” “Roseanne,” “Dharma and Greg,” “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Johnny Bravo,” “Family Guy,” “King of the Hill,” “CSI- NY,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Sponge Bob Square Pants,” as well his role of Santa in Will Ferrell’s 2003 movie “Elf” and the voice of Carl Fredrickson in Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures 2009 animated feature “Up.”
“God Help Us,” opens Friday, July 17 at 7:30 p.m., a show Saturday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 19 at 4 p.m. at Fort Peck Theatre.