Ed Asner Previews His Hawaii Five-0 Encore, 36 Years in the Making: 'He's Still Spicy!'

Apparently Ed Asner nailed his guest-starring turn on the original Hawaii Five-0 back in the 1970s, because the crime drama’s current CBS incarnation asked him back — some 36 years later — to reprise the very same role in tonight’s episode, airing at 10/9c.

But you’ll have to forgive the actor if the details of that 1975 gig, as a smuggler named August March, didn’t instantly come flooding back when he got the call.

“No, I didn’t retain what I had done then. It was one of hundreds of TV roles I’ve played,” the seven-time Emmy winner tells TVLine. “But because of what Joe Halpin, the writer, and [executive producer] Peter Lenkov created for me in this script, it was easy to recapture the essence of the character from the past — as well as establish the refinement at present.”

In Asner’s original Hawaii visit, August March was an up-and-coming world-class smuggler. As is established tonight, March went on to serve 30 years in the clink and is now living free, as a presumably rehabilitated man, when today’s Five-0 team seeks his advice on setting up a sting after McGarrett’s sister (played by Taryn Manning) is pinched for trying to smuggle conflict diamonds.

As March’s criminal yesteryears are recounted, footage from Asner’s ’75 turn is weaved into the new episode — “You’ll see how much weight I’ve gained!” the 82-year-old quips.

But if you think Asner is here to portray a cuddly, contrite retiree, think again. “Oh, he’s still a spicy individual,” he says of his “reformed” alter ego. “He hasn’t changed.” In fact, Asner almost proudly boasts that in addition to working with Five-0 team members such as Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, he clashes memorably with Tom Sizemore’s Chief Fryer. “Yeah, I did a lot of head-butting with him.”

Of his rather unusual encore, more than three decades in the making, Asner says, “It was a delight that I was alive to inspire the idea, firstly. And secondly, the opportunity to work on a top show like Hawaii Five-0 with Peter Lenkov, whom I admire enormously… it was all roses. There was no lemon in the bunch.”

Hawaii Five-0 actually marks Asner’s third guest-starring primetime role in less than a week, with the actor having last Wednesday popped up on both ABC’s The Middle and TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland. On the latter sitcom, he was of course reunited with fellow Mary Tyler Moore alum Betty White.

“Betty can do no wrong — and evidently the whole production world knows it,” he says of White’s rebirth into the pop culture zeitgeist. “She pops up everywhere, doesn’t she?”

As for reuniting with the sharp-as-a-tack and sassy 90-year-old on camera, Asner shared, “I have a 95-year-old sister, and a 92-year-old sister, so…. They fully prepared for that young pup, Betty!”