As a grown-up watching it, I’m pleasantly surprised at how faithful the film is to Dickens’ prose. It might not seem like the Muppets would treat the story with reverence and respect, but they do.

You know what? It’s true. I’m told that the Charles Dickens Museum in London — Muppet Christmas Carol is their favorite movie version of the story. I don’t know how we pulled it off. Jim had just died. Brian [Henson, Jim’s son] was directing, his first film. And we were doing this profound piece of literature with rats and pigs and chickens. Somehow, the presence of those things really triggers emotions. I’ve never been able to watch it without breaking up. I can’t do it.

When something really poignant happens and you laugh, it catches you off-guard and makes you cry. It’s structured in such a way that it does that. I love the effect that movie has. It’s really respectful of the material.

I know my answer to this question, but I’m curious: if you had to choose a Muppet movie that’s underrated, which one would it be and why?

Good question, but I don’t know how they’re rated. [Laughs] I’m inside here, I just live my life. I have no idea what the ratings are, what’s overrated or underrated. I just know what’s creatively satisfying.

Which, then, were the most creatively satisfying?

I’d say three: Muppet Movie, for sure. It’s an interesting thing, because with the frog-legs scenes, it’s slightly cartoony. But underneath that is the real journey that Jim took, and it has a lot of meaning. I think people sense that. Second one is The Muppet Christmas Carol, which we just talked about. It’s such a profound story and I think we did it justice.

The third one is Muppet Treasure Island, because it just evokes that world in such a rich way visually and character-wise. I was very, very pleased with that. And I like when the Muppet characters play other characters. That enriches the work for me. Some people don’t like it, but I love it.

That last one [Muppet Treasure Island] is my pick for most underrated. It’s such an incredibly funny movie. And Tim Curry’s performance is great, too.

Just an incredible talent. I think, too, the heart of Robert Louis Stevenson’s work comes through in Muppet Treasure Island. You have a little boy looking for a father figure, who tangles with a disreputable guy who finds some sort of honor at the end. It’s a poignant, powerful story.

With Curry and Michael Caine, it’s powerful to watch such talented actors to never play down to the Muppets, but treat it seriously.

Yeah, I think what Michael said was, he was going to play [Scrooge] like he was in the Royal Shakespeare Company. In one of his interviews, he said he’d prepared for the movie by cutting up his wife’s credit cards. [Laughs] 

But yeah, people of that stature can come in and enter an imaginary world and treat it as real. Without being false to their characters, too. Michael Caine was just utterly convincing. I remember when Brian told me he was going to use Michael Caine. I thought, “Well, Scrooge is soft.” I always think of him as a spindly, beaky guy. But by the end, I was convinced. Michael Caine just did that character justice. He’s so good. 

Tim Curry as well. Very theatrical guy. Very able to handle broad comedy. “After all, this is my only number!” [Goelz is referring to Curry’s sole musical number in Muppet Treasure Island.]

That song is so good.

Oh, yeah. And you know, Curry recorded an unbelievable version of “A Professional Pirate”. It was so good, and we were rehearsing to that. And then, when we went to shoot, he wanted to do it live. So he did a slightly different version, and it took me a little more time to appreciate it. ‘Cause I thought, “God, when you have something that good pre-recorded, why not just lip-sync and keep it?” But he did an amazing job with the live performance.

It’s a great scene, and a movie I really do love. I do have a bit of a reflective question. You have, I think, the longest tenure of any of the Muppet performers, of more than 40 years. If you could go back to yourself, circa 1976, what’s one lesson you’d give yourself about working for so long?

That’s a great question. I think I would tell him to trust everything will be all right. Just do your best in life, and your best in work. 

So, one of the more recent credits you and Frank Oz have is in the Pixar film Inside Out. How did that come about?

Well, Pete Docter [director of Inside Out] is a friend of ours. Frank’s been in a couple of his films, too. And this time, we were hanging out together, and he saw the way Frank and I bounce off each other. We insult each other constantly. It’s very inventive. I can’t do it with anyone in the world but Frank. It’s just the chemistry we have. He’ll insult me, and I’ll find a way to top it. It goes on and on, and it’s just absurd. Pete saw that, and thought it would be fun for us to come in.

I think we recorded for about an hour. There’s a little scene that was written, about three and a half pages long. And then Pete just said, “Let’s just have fun.” So we just started improvising. One of those improvs wound up in the film. And Pete’s great, he’s such a talent.

Outside of Gonzo, who’s your favorite Muppet character to perform as and why?

[Pause] I was going to say that I can’t really answer that, because I’ve had a whole bunch of characters in different groups. The Fraggles, the Muppet Show ones, and so forth. We did another series called Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake. It’s really fun, because when I originate characters, I pull them from my own interior life. My own soul. They’re a part of me that gets taken out for a walk.

It’s really therapeutic. There was a period in the 1980s when we were doing the Fraggle Rock characters and the Muppet Show characters, and I love switching around like that. A different part of me got exercised for each one. So my first answer was going to be that I love them all.

But the second answer is that Gonzo’s the easiest one to ad-lib with, because there’s a freedom with him that allows me to ad-lib any way I want to. He trades in the unexpected, so if something pops in my head that’s kind of a left turn, I can perform it and that’s believable. With Bunsen Honeydew, for example, he’s a structured guy and he’s oblivious to everything around him. He’s only interested in what he’s obsessed with. That’s a part of me too, but it’s hard to play with people and relate with people. It’s more of a construct.

One last question: you’re among the cast of Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. What can you tell me about that?

I can tell you a little bit, because I was only there for a few days of shooting. I dipped into the world, and mind you, this was a world that had been built in five months. And it had many, many more characters than the movie did. They were really benefiting from the expertise of the original film, which took five years to make from top to bottom. There’s a lot to learn at that point. This time, the shop geared up in Burbank and, God, they built so many characters.

There’s tons of Gelflings here, from an earlier point in time. The sets look utterly gorgeous. The way it’s shot by Louis Leterrier and his director of photography, those two guys are working handheld cameras and Steadicams. It just looks amazing. The camera’s very active, it’s right in the middle of the action. The sets live up to the original film, except this time, they did ten hours of material. It’s a staggering accomplishment. I don’t know if anyone can appreciate how difficult it is, unless you’ve seen it being done.

So, I’m very excited to see it. You know, I live near Skywalker Ranch, and a friend of mine is in charge of doing the sound design. It’s been a dream of his to somehow be involved in Dark Crystal, so he’s beside himself. He showed me some of the footage, and boy, it is lush. It looks and sounds very lush. There’s a lot more dialogue and story than the original film had, because this is mostly about the Gelflings. I can’t wait to see it.

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web: