Interview: Talking Muppets with writer, producer and star Jason Segel!
I caught Jason Segel towards the end of his big MUPPETS promotional tour, just one day after he wrapped up his first time hosting "Saturday Night Live." He should have been, by all accounts, exhausted and I wouldn't have faulted him for being a little sluggish. But true to reputation, Segel actually called me 10 minutes early, full of Muppet enthusiasm.
It's easy to tell when an actor is promoting a movie they're not fully invested in (*cough*mickeyrourke*cough*) and it was just as easy to tell with Segel how now, four years after he pitched Disney on rebooting the Muppets, just how excited, appreciative and proud he is of the new MUPPETS movie. And rightfully so.
I wish I had another 15 minutes with the guy because there was so much we didn't get to, but that'll have to wait for the DVD. For now, check out our exclusive chat below and make sure to see THE MUPPETS in theaters this weekend!
Jason Segel: Hey man, how you doin?
Good, thanks. Quick congratulations on just wrapping SNL.
Oh thanks man. I've been wanting to do it for so long and SNL is a bit of a marker in your career and so, it's really neat to have that one of the books.
As a writer, did you participate in the writer's room or did you let them handle that?
The latter, yeah. They want to know what you want to do, so I told them about Andre the Giant..
Which was great, by the way.
(Laughs) Thanks! It's just so bizarre… But yeah,t hey have a staff of amazing writers and the whole cast writes as well so you can just sit back and let them do their thing.
Speaking of writing, talk to me a little bit about your writing process with Nicholas Stoller on THE MUPPETS. After you pitch the movie, how did the two of you sit and crack the script?
We cracked the story in about ten minutes before the pitch. It's just so simple. What do the Muppets do best? Put on a show. So we knew we wanted them to put on a show. Then we wanted to acknowledge that it had been 12 years since the last Muppet movie and 30 years since the Muppet movies we grew up with, which are the Muppets we remember and love. As opposed to just making another Muppet movie, we kinda wanted to shine a light on the fact that it's been a long time since we had the Muppets of our childhood. We came up with this idea that they had been disbanded because the entertainment industry had passed them by. And from there it flowed pretty naturally. We created Walter as the eyes and ears of the audience. He feels like how Nick and I felt. He's the biggest Muppet fan ever who goes to meets the Muppets and finds them in disrepair and his job is to bring them back. And he's an analog for us.
Was there ever any hesitance from Disney or The Henson Co. about acknowledging the fact that the Muppets had been cast aside?
There was a bit of…trepidation about that idea but we tried to convey to them that if you're going to have a giant comeback movie, you have to have gone away. Otherwise it's just the next Muppet movie. And that doesn't have the same allure as the "giant comeback movie." And I think that's what this franchise needed. The idea of, "Hey everyone, pay attention, we're back!"
I heard you had the chance to go to Pixar and brainstorm some ideas for the script with their creative team.
Oh my god, yeah. They're absolute geniuses up there and one of the things we wanted to talk to them about. What they've managed to do is make movies that truly the whole family can enjoy. One of the strange things is that "family movie" has become synonymous with "kids movie" --
--or crappy movie.
Right! Or "crappy movie." But when you see TOY STORY 3 in the movie theater, parents are crying harder than kids are. It's a movie where kids are watching a movie about giving up their toys and parents are watching a movie about giving up their kids. And UP. The first 10 minutes of UP. They don't condescend kids. Any other kids would say, "No, that's too grown up for kids," but Pixar chooses to say they won't condescend kids and they can handle it. So we knew going into this movie, part of the point was that it wouldn't be just for kids but also for our generation. Like a mix of nostalgia and reintroduction. THere's nobody better to give you advice on doing a movie for everybody than Pixar.
Speaking of nostalgia vs. reintroduction, you managed to toe that line in the movie, but how exactly do you find that balance without leaning too hard on nostalgia?
Well, it starts by saying that it took (laughs) four years to get the script right. We knew that we wanted to hear those old Muppet songs. And you wanted to be reminded of why you love the Muppets so much. And then we had to humbly acknowledge that there are some kids who don't even know who the Muppets are. So nostalgia is totally lost on them. It's our job to try to find the witches brew and give the people what they're looking for in terms of their own memories while also servicing people who, prior to this movie, had no idea who the Muppets were.
The movie has gotten some great feedback so far, what's been the best part of that for you, as an actor and as a fan?
It's really amazing. People cry in the movie a lot. The nicest moment was when a woman walked up to me with her kid and she just said, "Thank you, now my daughter gets to experience what I experienced as a kid and we can enjoy the Muppets together."
If things go well and this era of Muppets launches a new franchise, would you still be involved as an actor, writer or producer?
I think my answer to that is that I would serve at the pleasure of Kermit (laughs).