GARY | A stint at U.S. Steel Gary Works helped Ed Asner support himself early in his career, the actor said during a master class for local drama students Tuesday at West Side Theater.
"I worked at open hearth No. 1. How can I hold a master class in acting? No way," he said.
Seated in an armchair surrounded by students from local high schools and universities, the award-winning actor answered questions and critiqued students' work in an intimate setting onstage at the theater at West Side High School.
The audience quizzed Asner on topics ranging from how to handle rejection — "Go on no matter what (critics) say, full speed ahead" — to the pros and cons of voice-over roles — "It's all acting."
Students overcame jitters to deliver onstage monologues and were treated to Asner's gruff humor and spare, but genuine, praise.
"No matter how much we hate you, we'll at least understand you," he said, imploring one young actress to improve her diction.
Her performance was rewarded with an admiring, "You got there," from Asner.
Asner said he'd held similar classes in Los Angeles and other major cities but came away impressed with what he saw in Gary.
"The level of your talent, of your performances, is Uptown," he said.
Helen Campbell, an Indiana University Northwest junior and theater major, said she hoped Asner's critique would help her reach her ultimate goal.
"I want to do this professionally," she said. "I want to do this the rest of my life."
Asner's stay in Gary on Tuesday included a planned evening performance of his one-man show "FDR" at the pavilion at Marquette Park in Gary.
His work years earlier in the steel mill ended when he found a better-paying job in an auto plant, before eventually finding work as an actor.
The Kansas City, Mo., native said he'd fallen in love with acting, and a girl, while a student at the University of Chicago. Asner and the girl broke up, but he and acting never did, he said.