|It's the rare child of the '70s who doesn't have fond memories of the Muppets. Sesame Street. The Muppet Show. All those wacky adventures on the big screen. Recently, Kermit the Frog and the gang staged a comeback in Disney's The Muppets. The PG romp focuses on an idealistic fan named Walter who decides the only way to save the doomed Muppet Theater is to pull his idols out of retirement to host a telethon. Shortly before the film opened, we spoke with a member of the cast who is without a doubt the greenest show business veteran in Hollywood.|
It's been awhile since you've been on the big screen. What inspired you to do another feature film?
Well, partially it's because we haven't been on the big screen in a while. We wanted to do that. Also, Jason Segel, who wrote the film and stars in it, came to us with a nice idea: It's a Muppet film idea written completely from a fan's point of view. And so that was kind of fun, and it was great working with Jason.
How does it feel to be co-starring with Miss Piggy again?
It's always good. In our film, the story is that we haven't been together for a very long time. Actually, we've done lots of television and Internet stuff over the years anyway, and I think our fans know we're still out there. So Piggy and I work together quite often.
These days, they tend to combine the names of show-business couples. There's Bennifer and Brangelina. Would you be Kermiggy?
Kermiggy? That's actually a pretty good one. I hadn't heard that. We might be that. We might be Pigmet, which sounds like something out of Shakespeare—better than "Hamlet" in Piggy's case.
As you look back over your career, Kermit, what are you most proud of?
I think the longevity. I've been in showbiz for 55 years, which is hard to believe sometimes. The years just fly by. I think I'm very happy with my work on Sesame Street. I love the fact that so many adults now come up to me, and they learned their letters and their numbers from me. Now they're introducing us to their own children, which is part of why I love this film.
Every year my family enjoys watching The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Oh, yes, one of my favorites. I love that film. … That was the first film I had ever done where I actually played another role. I'm Kermit the Frog the actor, and I play Kermit the Frog. But in that film I was actually playing Bob Cratchit, which is a whole different role. … I stretched myself as an actor to play an actual role from Dickens. Pretty neat.
I think my favorite moment in that film is when you tell Piggy about Tiny Tim's experience at church and how his illness pointed to the one who made lame beggars walk and blind men see. You guys were talking about Jesus, weren't you?
Well, we were, and you know it's really interesting about that film, even though we have lots of bears and pigs and chickens and rats in that film, the actual script is pretty much straight out of Charles Dickens' novel. We didn't change a lot of the dialogue, so it's a pretty faithful telling of that story. It really is a great story about the whole Christmas season.
The media has changed pretty dramatically since you got your start, but kids still need healthy entertainment, don't they?
Oh, absolutely. We've always tried to do that as best we could. Times change, and things get very cynical. I actually did the Ellen DeGeneres show a few weeks ago, and I was happy to work with her, because I know one of the things she tries to do which I've always tried to do is be funny without being mean to people. I would hate to make a joke about somebody and then have to work with them. I think it's nice to be responsible about that kind of stuff.
Even though you're not a parent yourself, you do have a young nephew, Robin. How do you make decisions about the entertainment you share together?
It's tough. I do have my nephew Robin, who's still a little guy. It's difficult in the world today because there's so much out there, and there's so much easy access to things you might not necessarily want your kids to see. I will only say that, in our case, my plan is to always be able to deliver stuff that parents can feel comfortable putting their kids in front of.
A lot of celebrities have had a hard time maintaining a wholesome image. They may start out that way, but then go off the rails. You've been very intentional and successful about being a good role model. How have you done it?
Well, I'll tell you, I don't spend my life living in Hollywood. That's part of it. I do all my work and then I always go back to the swamp. I always go back to the place where I came from and stick with my roots. People ask me what my advice is for people going into show business, and it's never believe your own PR. I think that's pretty important. And I'll tell you, when you live in the swamp you can go home. It's really nice.
Back to your pad?
Back to the pad. Back to the old folks home.
Why is it so important to you that parents are able to trust you to entertain their children?
I think trust is about getting to know each other. You have to judge what people are saying, to some degree, before you can trust whether what they say is real and has integrity. I've always tried to do that and not to betray that trust.
As a performer, have you ever been asked to do anything that made you uncomfortable?
Well, listen, I don't wanna get too racy here, but I'm one of the few actors in Hollywood who doesn't wear any clothing. I'm one of the few who can get away with that without being over the line.
Your Muppets co-star Jason Segel did that in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Well, I think I may have inspired that, but I didn't really mean to inspire it in that way.
There's a lot of nostalgia in The Muppets for your TV series The Muppet Show, which ran in prime time from 1976 to 1981. Revisiting some of those clips, what memories came back to you?
The best thing about that show, besides working with all of my fellow Muppet performers, was all those guest stars. We did 120 shows, so that's 120 different celebrities. In every case, at least for a week of shooting, we got to know those people. Some of the real highlights were people like Bob Hope and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, terrific people. And so many of those people stayed friends over the years. I really love that. One good thing about the Muppets is that we haven't changed an awful lot over the years, so hopefully a lot of that stuff we did back in those days still feels relevant. Even with guest stars that might have passed on or are much older, I still think it's relevant stuff.
Kermit, there are moments in your new film where you offer wise counsel to other characters. Is there a piece of advice you'd like to share with us as we conclude today?
In all of our movies we have bad guys. And in this movie, Chris Cooper—who's one of the nicest guys in the world—plays a really mean bad guy. And with all the Muppets, we've always tried in our movies, y'know, even in the first one with Doc Hopper who wanted to chop me up and make me into a meal, we've always tried to embrace our enemies. And I think that's an important message, not only for The Muppets, but for everyone in the world.
Published March 2012