Sometimes when going to an interview or a press conference for a film, you run into people involved with the production that you aren’t scheduled to talk to. On the way to a press conference for Disney’s The Muppets at a Toronto hotel I ran into the film’s writer and co-star Jason Segel. He was someone I had interviewed earlier in the year over the phone and there was a brief exchange about what we had talked about the last time we spoke.
“Are you here to interview me again?” he asked.
“No, I’m actually here for Kermit today.”
In that one moment, Segel’s eyes lit up and it was infinitely apparent just how much his work on The Muppets means to him. He went from someone who looked weary from weeks of travel to someone filled with impish glee.
“You’re here for the real legend, then.” He saw the smile on my face and returned it. I might have blushed a little since Kermit has been a personal idol since boyhood. Across numerous television appearances and films, no man, woman, child, or animal had ever made being equal parts sensitive and funny as cool as Kermit the Frog did. I doubt anyone has ever been as equally quick with quips and hugs as Kermit has.
I sat in a room full of jaded members of the press who normally don’t bat an eyelash when it comes to such media cattle calls, but the air was different in that ballroom. There wasn’t a single person without a smile on their face. A few of the reporters even brought their equally happy kids.
I was worried I might not be able to remain professionally objective when Kermit made his way into the room. I had a billion questions I could’ve asked, but I was afraid that I would just sit in slack-jawed awe of Kermit and no words would come out.
Then from under the table, seated next to host Richard Crouse, a small green flipper came up as Kermit propped himself onto the chair in front of his microphone.
OH MY GOD KERMIT’S HERE.
What about this particular project intrigued you so much?
Kermit the Frog: Well, I think part of it was because it was called The Muppets. That kind of drew me right in. And then Jason gave me the script and as soon as I read it about halfway through it said “Kermit the Frog enters.” So I though, well, that’s me. I think I have to do it, you know?
You and Piggy are a couple. What has it been like working together over the years?
KTF: Well, I don’t know how many of you guys have actually worked with your spouse, but it can be tricky. Piggy and I aren’t married, but we’re definitely significant others, and when your significant other is a pig, there are challenges. For instance, you have to remember not to eat bacon. That’s very important. We work together knowing that she’s a pig, and pigs require certain things. Like, you always want to make sure there are truffles in the dressing room because pigs like those. It’s always tough to work with someone you’re close with, but it can be wonderful. You can bring all that magic to the screen, you know?
Jason Segel has been known for doing more traditionally adult fare. Were there any hesitations about working from his script knowing what he had done in the past?
KTF: Well, I have to tell you the truth because most of our films are for family audiences, but the truth is that if you’ve seen the opening to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that was something I actually inspired for Jason, so I’m afraid I might have started that, actually.
You are often playing a version of yourself on screen, what are the differences between Kermit the character and Kermit the Frog?
KTF: That’s easy for me to answer because I’m both! So it would be very easy for me to tell you. Well, in real life I don’t really think of myself as a big star. I’ve been doing this for a long time, mostly because I love it. But the character of Kermit is similar because I’m always surrounded by all these crazy Muppet guys, but in the movie we haven’t been together for a long, long time, but that’s not actually the truth in real life. We work together all the time. We just did Bohemian Rhapsody on the internet last year. I don’t know how many of you have seen that, but that was a huge thing. We did a lot of television. It’s just been a lot of years since we were on the big screen. But there are differences. I’m probably a lot quieter and less outgoing than the Kermit you see on screen.
The film ties in heavily with your old TV show. Is this a reboot of The Muppet Show series or of the franchise in general?
KTF: Well, reboot is a funny word if you’re a Muppet. When you get rebooted, you usually go flying through the sky! Actually, I don’t think so because we haven’t really gone anywhere. We’ve been around all these years, just off working on other stuff. I mean, I guess, it might be a reboot in the sense that we haven’t been on film in a long time. I don’t mind getting rebooted like that. It’s nice if young people get to see us and learn who we are. I think that’s fun. But most important for us Muppets is to just be who we are, so if it’s a reboot for a franchise it’s nice to be the guys that we’ve always been.
Has filmmaking changed a lot for you guys since the last time you were on screen?
KTF: It sure has because no one shoots on film anymore. It’s very weird. These days it’s actually high def video. I mean, some people still do, but this one we shot on High Def. Fine with me. Brings out my green.
What are the best reasons to see The Muppets?
KTF: Well, one really great reason is the popcorn. Another great reason is that I’ll get to make more movies. If people don’t go see it, then that probably will never happen. But also, we worked very hard on it and hopefully other than just make another movie was to bring lots of people together. Because that’s what we like to do. Most of our Muppet movies are kind of about family getting together to do all these crazy and fun things, and in this case to save our theatre, but it’s about coming together, which I think is important in the world.
What were some of your favourite moments on set?
KTF: Usually every day at lunch. Those are my favourite moments. You know, it’s free when you work on a movie!
What’s a typical lunch for you?
KTF: You know, I eat the stereotypical typical frog stuff. Flies, mosquitos, worms are nice. I actually kind of have a hankering for fried chicken sometimes. But no pork products.
You’ve been friends with Fozzie Bear for a while now. Have you ever had the heart to break it to him that he might want to consider a career outside of comedy?
KTF: Well, (winces) I try to be as gentle as possible. It’s funny with the Muppets because all these years we’ve done all the crazy things we’ve done and yet and awful lot of the guys just aren’t very good at what they do. It’s very strange. I mean, I like to sing, but let’s face it, I’m no Frank Sinatra. Miss Piggy is an actress who’s sort of not that great of an actress. Fozzie’s not really a funny comedian except for when he’s not trying to be funny. Gonzo’s a horrible stunt guy who always gets hurt. I guess you could say that we’re excellent failures. I guess that’s a good lesson in itself.
You’ve worked on some projects here in Toronto in the past. How does it feel being back here?
KTF: I love being back here. I think I was first in Toronto in about 1973. I mean, I’m not as young as I look. We did a lot of Muppetland specials back here like The Frog Prince, and then we did The Jim Henson Hour, which was fun. Then there was Fraggle Rock, which I wasn’t on the show, but I was sort of a creative consultant, so I was around during those years. It’s great to be back. I have to say I prefer this time of year right now before it gets any colder. Being a frog and not having a winter coat, I don’t want to go dormant too soon.
A big part of the movie hinges on television executives telling you The Muppets aren’t relevant anymore. How do you feel about people saying that.
KTF: Well, I hope it’s not true. I mean, I hope we’re still relevant. We’ve got the movie and we’ve got our target demographics. That was something we mostly put in for the movie because it increases the dramatic weight for our big ending. But I have a feeling that parents that grew up with us over the years were introducing us to their kids long before this movie came out and I hope that they just reinforce that and that they all love it.
You are working with a lot of the old Muppet show crew and joining up with newer cast members like Rizzo and Pepe who aren’t in the film as much. Was there any sort of contention between the new and old guard?
KTF: No, I mean, Rizzo was around a bit during The Muppet Show, but Pepe sort of took an executive producer role in this one, so he was mostly behind-the-scenes. It wouldn’t surprise me if we do another film, and I really hope we do, that you would see a lot more Pepe. He wouldn’t stand for it otherwise. I love Pepe. He’s great. When he’s out there he wants to be the star of the whole thing, so for him to be behind the scenes it’s a very humbling thing for him. He’s a good publicist. He likes to go out and get the female stars to be in the film.
How hard was it getting all the cameos for the film?
KTF: Well, I don’t think it was that hard because many of them had seen us growing up on TV and seeing a lot of our films. And Jason Segal knows a lot of people. So we had to make a few phone calls and I think most of his friends were happy to be on board. I mean, we have Mickey Rooney in our film! He’s only in there for a moment, but that was awesome.
How have you grown as an actor since the early days?
KTF: Well, I was young. My tail had just fallen off. I was just out of tadpolehood. I don’t even think my feet had webbed yet. They were like these awful club feet. I went through a bit of a two collar phase. I didn’t really start when I was super young, but I always dreamed of being a singing, dancing, talking frog in show business, and I think I’m one of the only ones. I mean, there’s the Budweiser frogs. They’re great guys to invite over. You know, we all evolve and change, but I try to keep current and relevant.
Would you say Ranbow Connection is your favourite song? What are some of your other major musical influences?
KTF: I have many, many musical influences and I love Rainbow Connection as a song that I was able to sing, which was written by a really great friend of mine named Paul Williams. I love working with Paul and he’s done a lot of music for us. Coincidentally we wear the same sized clothing. We trade off. We just did a song and video recently with the band OK Go, and that was great. I think the new music in the film is great because it’s done by several different composers, where in the past it was mostly done by a single person like Paul, which is a good way to experiment.
What was it like revisiting Rainbow Connection again for this film?
KTF: That was really great and I think it will bring back a lot of memories for the adults who remember it from way back in 1979. I think the meaning of that song still holds a lot of weight today. It’s about following your dreams, following yourself, and letting a little bit of magic into your lives. I think it’s the message of pretty much everything we do.