When penning their very own Muppet movie, The Muppets, writers Jason Segel (who co-stars in the film) and Nicholas Stoller had one essential code to crack – how exactly were they going to break into the fractured Muppet gang to get them back together for one more show? It turns out, it wasn’t how, it was who. The Muppets centers on Walter the Muppet (played by Walter the Muppet), the world’s biggest Muppet fan. Though Walter has taken great joy in the Muppets (particularly Kermit the Frog, his personal hero) as he’s grown up in Smalltown, USA, his favorite characters are treated as a relics by everyone else in town (save his brother, Segel as Gary). When Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) set out on a trip to Los Angeles, home of Muppet Studios, Walter comes along for the ride and to meet his idolts. What he finds at the Studios is unexpected – but the journey it ultimately leads him (and Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and the whole rest of the crew) on is far more unexpected (and wonderful).
Walter is voiced and operated (muppeted?) by veteran puppeteer Peter Linz, whose extensive resume includes stints on The Puzzle Place, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Lomax: Hound of Music (where he voiced Lomax himself), Linz also has a long relationship with the Muppets. The puppeteer spent fourteen years on Sesame Street, and he’s contributed work to a number of smaller Muppet productions, while also filling the giant Louboutins of Miss Piggy in Muppets from Space. But Walter is Linz’s first Muppet that belongs just to him, and the excitement that runs through Walter’s performance is surrogate to Linz’s own excitement in the performance.
I sat down with both Walter and Linz to discuss their first feature film, and the experience of interviewing a Muppet is one that I’d be hard-pressed to ever duplicate. As it’s not every day that you get to interview a Muppet (it’s not even really every lifetime you get to do that), I’ve kept in many of the smaller moments with Walter that would generally get cut out of other interviews, if only because they’re just so charming and so perfectly in character. Also, forgive me if I sound a bit silly at times, Walter makes it hard not to feel like a kid again and I think I may have a bit of a crush on him. After the break, Walter the Muppet discusses the minute differences between himself and his character, his musical tastes, doing his own stunts, and just who he thinks The Muppets is made for.
There are a few scattered spoilers to certain details of the film, so save this to read later if you want to be surprised by The Muppets!
This is your very first feature film…
Yes, it is!
And it’s a Muppet film…
Yes, it is!
And you play a character who is named Walter…
Who’s named Walter! How lucky is that, huh?
And he’s the world’s biggest Muppet fan!
How lucky is that as well?
And you’re the world’s biggest Muppet fan! It’s like you guys are cut from the same cloth…
Well, I had lunch with the director James Bobin before we started filming, and he was talking about who he wanted the character of Walter to be, and then he asked me about my own childhood and growing up and it dawned on me that I basically am Walter! [Laughs] And he said, “oh, oh, great, jolly good, I always love casting close to the bone,” I don’t know what that means… But, umm, he said it! I think it’s British.
Most likely. Their idioms are very different than ours.
Oh, they’re very nice people, I don’t think they’re idioms. Why would you say that about the British people? Oh! Oh you meant it’s an idiom, I misunderstood, I’m sorry! I’m a little naïve about some things…
[Laughs] Well, that said, are there any differences between you and your character Walter?
Oh, sure, sure! Well, my brother’s not Jason Segel.
That’s unfortunate, because he seems like a lovely brother.
Oh, he’s great! You know, he’s my brother insofar as, he’s my brother! He’s my friend! We’re good friends. But, no, I don’t have a brother named Jason Segel. Or even Gary for that matter. I did grow up in a small town. Let’s see, what else…well, honestly, I’m not as skilled a whistler as I portray in the film.
Did you have a whistling stunt double?
Ehhh, no no no no! But, umm, [mumbles something that sounds oddly like “lip-syncing”], ahem!
Hollywood magic, we’ll call it Hollywood magic.
Yeah, no, you know I did. I actually did whistle in the film, but I think the cut of the film I saw was enhanced, because I don’t remember whistling that well.
Well, growing up, I didn’t quite fit in. Other kids had the Farrah Fawcett poster, and I had a poster of Miss Piggy. Other kids were listening to like Nirvana, and I was listening to Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. “Woman Woman Woman.” Dance mix.
That was going to be a part of my next question – how did The Muppet Show influence your personal sense of humor as you were growing up?
The old Muppet Show was wordplay, it was set-up jokes, it was classic vaudeville humor, and it was character-based humor, not to be too artsy-fartsy about it – can I say artsy-fartsy?
I’ll bleep it out.
It’s pure, it’s funny for its own sake, it’s not like shock humor, which I don’t particularly go for. Well, with the obvious exception of being completely shocked and electrocuted in the film! Which I was…take after take after take.
Well, you seem to have recovered from that.
Oh, yeah, I’m fine! I do yoga.
Oh! Well, you are very flexible in the film!
I am very flexible! And that was real – Jason actually was wrapping me up into a ball, that was completely doing my own stunts.
That’s so impressive for your first feature.
Wha – what?
That you did your own stunts!
Don’t people usually?
Umm, I think that Tom Cruise does.
Oh, cool! So I’m in good company!
Your character Walter, his favorite character is, hands-down, Kermit. Who is your favorite Muppet?
Honestly, it’s Kermit. Kermit’s great. And close second, gosh, now that I’m with the group it’s really, I feel a little awkward choosing anybody to be a favorite. I love all those guys. But Kermit, you know, he was the first, right? He was the eye of the storm, he’s the calm in all the madness, he’s like the refrigerator you put your pictures of your friends’ kids on, he’s the center of it all.
Are you wearing your Kermit watch right now?
Why, as a matter of fact, I am, Kate! [reveals wrist and watch with a dazzling Muppet flourish] Check it out! You can touch it if you want!
[Touches watch] Oh, oh, wow!
That’s real glass.
Wow! You don’t see that a lot, most things are plastic.
Plastic, right? That’s real glass on that Kermit watch! [Talks to watch] Hello, Kermit! [Kermit voice] Hi-ho, Walter!
It’s like he’s always with you. Walter, what was your favorite day on set? I’m sure they were all wonderful.
They were all wonderful. My favorite day on set…hmm…
There are a lot of big dance numbers…
Yeah, yeah, there was the night on Hollywood Blvd., that was pretty cool. Jason’s birthday was a big moment. My first day on set was, it was pretty overwhelming, that was a pretty special day. Being there with Kermit and Miss Piggy and Animal and Dr. Teeth , I think seeing all those guys, and you know I had my script and I had my scenes together, and it was just – maybe my first day. My least favorite was the last day simply because it was the last day, I didn’t want it to end.
Maybe it won’t end.
Well, that’s up to you!
You and Jason have a big duet where you sing about being a Muppet versus being a man.
Jason says we sound awesome, like angels, I believe he said.
So what do you think the differences are between being a Muppet and being a man, if there are any?
I’m not sure that there are many. I’m a guy, you know, I’m a man. I’m a guy! I think the confusion is that a Muppet is a thing – it’s the group, I’m one of the Muppets, Kermit the Frog is one of the Muppets, but he’s a frog, he’s not a man, the song isn’t am I frog or am I a man, it’s man or a Muppet. I – what was the question?
The difference between man and Muppet.
Yeah, the Muppets is a group of people – and monsters and frogs and pigs and bears and things like that.
Do you think it’s more like a state of mind?
Oh, that’s good, can I use that?
Yes, of course you can.
I think being one of the Muppets is a state of mind. Whereas being a man is a state of being. Wow! Was that good?
That was good! It was really deep! Obviously, a lot of old fans of the Muppets are so excited that the film is coming out –
Let me tell you, this movie is for them.
Do you think it’s for them or do you think it’s for new fans?
Well, I think it’s for both. I know that Jason and Nick had to keep an eye on that with the script, because there’s a whole generation of kids and people out there who don’t really know these characters. But also, old fans, they may very well need to change their trousers after seeing this film, because some theaters have leaks and the rain falls in, and gets on the seats, so you gotta be careful, they can be a little damp, so you want to watch out for that. But I think that the old, existing fans are just going to be so thrilled, it’s a love letter, it’s a love letter to the Muppets.
End of interview trivia – Walter and I parted ways by giving each other high fives, during which I learned that he’s made out of fleece, not felt, because as he says – “fleece don’t crack.”
The Muppets opens today, November 23. For more of our week-long Muppet celebration, check out our Guide to The Muppets homepage.