In January, I had the awesome opportunity to visit the set of The Muppets. Over the course of the week, I’ll be posting some of the round table interviews we conducted on set with the cast and crew. Today we bring you Jason Segel, who stars, co-wrote and produced the film. Here is a short excerpted quote:
That was something I wanted to do. The idea was born at the Jim Henson Studios. They designed the Sarah Marshall puppets. While I was there I asked if I could see a Kermit or a Miss Piggy and they said, “We don’t have them here anymore. We’ve sold them to Disney. Disney owns all the Kermit’s and Piggy’s.” That literally was the moment the idea was born, was that the Muppets weren’t at the Henson studios anymore. Then it grew from there. And Nick Stoller, I must say, is a tremendous writing partner. He came up with a huge amount of the idea. And James Bobin, when he signed on, really refined the script. We’re a good triumvirate; not since the days of Rome.
After the jump you can read the entire interview. Enjoy!
Question: Was there any lesser-known Muppets you tried to get in the movie?
Jason Segel: We’re bringing out a lot of Muppets from the archives. A lot of the guys from the old Muppet Show, some of the kind of obscure performances make appearances, which I’m really excited about. I can’t give too many away, but yeah, there’s some old favorites of mine. Marvin Suggs and the Muppaphones appear. I don’t know if you know who they are, but there’s some really cool weird ones.
Question: It seems like the older Muppet films were more geared towards adults, where the newer ones are focused more for children. Can you talk about how this film places in the series?
Jason: We’re trying to hearken back to the original three Muppet movies—The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, and The Great Muppet Caper. I think that one of the things the original Muppet movies did amazingly well, and it’s what Pixar does really well now, is that they don’t condescend to children by feeling like they have to dumb things down to the lowest common denominator. And when you don’t do that, you get a family film in its truest sense. And entire family can sit and watch and enjoy it. The worst equivalent is Barney the dinosaur, where parents are having to sit there while their kids watch this, and the parents want to blow their brains out.
This, I think, is going to be the exact opposite. I think parents are going to be laughing as hard as kids are going to be laughing. We have jokes geared towards children. We have jokes that are geared specifically towards adults that would go right over a kid’s head. It’s a lot like what The Simpsons does, as well. There’s something very special about the whole family being able to sit down and enjoy something together. That was our goal.
Question: How important was the music to you in this film, given that it played such a large part in some of the earlier movies, and your natural inclination as a musician?
Jason: We knew it was going to be musical from the start. All the great Muppet movies are musicals. When you look back at the great lineage of Muppet music, things like Rainbow Connection, that’s not a joke of a song. That is a serious song. If a legitimate musician put that song out they’d win the Grammy. So we really wanted the music to be great. James Bobin was the perfect choice for this movie because he’s been doing Flight of the Concords and it almost seems like he’s been training for this. Then we brought on Brett. It was just a perfect union of their styles and the Muppet styles. So I think we’re in really good shape.
Question: Is there a lot of jokes referencing that The Muppets are in a movie?
Jason: Yeah, there’s some self-aware humor. In the original script there’s a lot more. We realized you only need a few of those moments to get that joke. But yeah, we’ve got all of the original style of Muppet humor. James is a great student of comedy and of the Muppets. And Nick and I were tremendous fans. So we just tried to pay homage to some of that amazing work.
Question: Is there a period of adjustment getting your sense of humor and the Muppet team together, finding a balance?
Jason: No. I think maybe there was a moment of weariness that I was doing this with a sense of irony, that there was a wink, wink about it. “Oh, cute, R rated Jason Siegel is now going to do the Muppets and make fun of it.” I think as soon as everyone arrived on set and saw that wasn’t the case, that this was coming from a very genuine place, we were all on the same team very, very quickly. We all share a love of the Muppets, certainly, but also a love of comedy. It’s funny. It’s really easy to dismiss…part of the illusion of the puppetry is that you don’t see the puppeteer. So you forget that these are amazingly talented people that are not only puppeteers, but they’re actors, and they’re singers, and they’re great comedians in their own right. So it’s been an honor to work with this group.
Question: Is there an improv aspect?
Jason: There is, surprisingly. I did not expect that for a minute. But some of the best lines…I mean these guys know the characters so much better than I could ever hope to. I can imagine what I think the character might say, but these guys have been playing them for 10, sometimes 20, 30 years. I wish you guys were over there so you could see how a kid reacts to those puppets. It’s one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. The puppeteer just instantly disappears. You watch a child…you can see the guy standing there with a puppet on his hand and he’s talking, and the kid is looking directly at the puppet. Every time it happens it reminds me of why I wanted to do the movie. It’s a truly beautiful thing.
Question: Is it a challenge to act opposite puppets?
Jason: It didn’t take long before you’re looking right at the Puppet. I have a bit of a challenge as the puppeteers need monitors so they can see what’s going on, because puppets don’t have working eyes; they’re puppets. So they’re working off of monitors. But a lot of times we can see the monitor, so we can watch ourselves act. My acting is mesmerizing…
So a lot of times I find myself just watching myself act when I should not be doing that.
Question: Have you actually worked the puppets?
Jason: Yeah, I just operated Fozzie about a minute ago. I’ve done Fozzie, I’ve done Dr. Teeth, and I’ve done Beaker so far. It’s been amazing. That is what knocks your socks off. This is going to sound different than how I mean it, but my hand is inside Fozzie…
That’s amazing! I never thought that would happen!
Question: We know that you’re a big Muppets fan, theoretically speaking, are you going to take anything home after the shoot ends?
Jason: I really want a lot of stuff that I see around here. They’re very protective, certainly, over the puppets. But I’ve gotten a few bits of paraphernalia that I’ll save and treasure forever, and some really special photographs. It’s like me with Kermit shooting the breeze. That’s the greatest picture I’ve ever seen. I love it.