On the Set With the Muppets

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Muppets on the set.
Kermit, Miss Piggy and Walter act in front of body doubles playing the stars of The Muppets in front of a blue screen.

As a life-long Muppets fan (I used to watch them on the Ed Sullivan Show in the mid-1960s), I was thrilled when the Disney people invited me to visit the set of the next Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, to meet and talk to the cast and crew. One evening in May, I found myself on Hollywood Boulevard, where the El Capitan Theater was once again serving as the Muppet Theater; the street was blocked off, and the crew was filming a re-enactment of the final moments from last year’s The Muppets, this time from the back. Body doubles were standing in for Amy Adams and Jason Segel, while the Muppets behind them picked up where the previous film ended and segued into the new story. “This film sort of takes up right where our last film left off,” Kermit the Frog explained. “The end of that film is kind of the beginning of this film and so the opening number of the next film is a great number that I actually am a part of with all the other guys.”

Walter and I have similar hairstyles.
Walter and I have similar hairstyles.

After spending a bit of time loitering outside watching the crew set up, we were escorted into the theater and down below to a room where we would meet some Muppets, their assistants and a few key members of the crew. First up was Walter, the newest Muppet and central character of the previous film. He discussed his role in Muppets Most Wanted, saying, “I do some pretty exciting stunts and, uh, I’m thrilled with my role in this film. I’ve got this big, dramatic turn. You see where I make a discovery and I have to rescue Kermit and I jump from a moving train into another moving train going the opposite direction.”

The Muppets focused on bringing the characters out of retirement and reuniting the cast; going forward, Muppets Most Wanted is more of an action story, revolving around the gang’s involvement with a notorious criminal who happens to look just like Kermit. Walter described the movie as “an actioncal. It’s a musaction.” Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), who wrote the songs for the first film, has written new songs for Muppets Most Wanted; Walter excitedly stated, “Yeah, the music is just — he’s topped himself. He really has. Very happy to see that. Great lyrics and, yeah, I do get to sing and dance, but not as much as the last film because, you know, you wanna see new stuff. But the Muppets are really zany in this one. It’s really classic.”

Walter enjoyed working with the human cast members, including Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey. “Tina is great. She sings. Oh, my god, she sings like a nightingale. Yeah, oh, yeah, unbelievable. You know, she’s like the head of a Russian prison and she’s really terrifying and sexy at the same time. I think I can say that. Can I say that, Debbie?” Debbie, one of the Disney staffers, tells him he can say that.

MUPPET MOST WANTEDWe caught up with Kermit, and he gave a few more details about the new film, starting with his evil twin. “His name is Constantine and he’s actually played by a friend of mine from the swamp. We are the same species of frog and he looks an awful lot like me only he has a mark right here like a mole and he speaks with a strange, uh, sort of Eastern European accent, yes. Now I will tell you in real life he’s not that evil but in the movie he’s very evil, you know.”

Like Walter, Kermit was effusive in his praise for McKenzie’s new songs, and also complimented Tina Fey, saying, “I end up in a Russian gulag. It’s a very dramatic part for me to play, you know, uh, being a prisoner in prison. Of course the warden there, the chief warden, is Nadya, played by Tina Fey and, uh, yeah, I had big fun with her. She sings a great song called ‘The Big House’ about welcoming me to prison, and as Tina, said Nadia loves prison, so it’s a great song.”

MUPPET MOST WANTEDFinally, the diva herself arrived; we were in the presence of the incomparable Miss Piggy. Piggy agreed with Walter (whom she referred to as “the coffee boy”) that Muppets Most Wanted is an action film, explaining that she does all her own stunts. “I love the stunts where I put on a beautiful white gown and I walk down an aisle.” She then quickly denied that there was a wedding scene in the film, coyly stating that she had not said anything about a wedding. Miss Piggy was quite happy with her wardrobe, which includes designer gowns, but not quite so happy with the shooting schedule. “I was told we were — this movie was going to take us all across Europe, to Paris, to Madrid, to Germany. I didn’t see anything outside of London. Don’t get me wrong. I love London. Love Londoners, that’s what you call people who live in London, but it was cold there. It was cold the whole time we shot and I think I would have loved going to Madrid for just a weekend.”

In addition to the Muppet stars, we also had the opportunity to speak to some of the production crew, but that’s a story for another day. After the interviews, we went back outside to watch the filming of the opening scene, which featured Scooter, Kermit and a large contingent of extras, both human and Muppet. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos, so the shots provided by the studio will have to do.

MUPPET MOST WANTED

MUPPET MOST WANTED

Muppets Most Wanted opens March 21.

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