Q&A: Ricky Gervais and Muppets on their new film
THE Muppets are back with Muppets Most Wanted and another new muppet – an eastern European frog called Constantine, who breaks out of his Siberian jail and convinces the rest of the Muppets that he is Kermit.
Along with the Muppets’ new manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), they plot to use a Muppets world tour as a cover for a crime spree. Here, the film’s writer-director James Bobin joins Kermit, Miss Piggy, Constantine and Ricky Gervais to spill the beans on sequels, Miss Piggy’s beauty secrets and muppet babies.
Q. Kermit, how did you prepare for the action sequences in this film?
Kermit: It’s something I haven’t done before, so I prepared by watching all of Bruce Willis’s movies. When that didn’t work I just went to his hairdresser.
Q. Ricky, is supporting the Muppets a dream job?
Ricky Gervais: It’s not a job is it? This is fun. I can’t believe my luck. I’ve been a fan of the Muppets for 30 years. I used to watch them on Sundays with my family, so it was a good call to get. And I hadn’t come across Constantine before, but now he’s one of my best pals.
Constantine: That is right, we are buddies. You will give me your email address right? I keep asking for it but Ricky does not give it.
Ricky: I think about Constantine a lot. I say to my girlfriend, “I wonder where Constantine is today?” Usually in a bag.
Constantine: This is right!
Q. Constantine - how does it feel to have everyone hate you?
Ricky: Wow, that’s usually my question!
Constantine: It’s such a tough question to answer. There is part of me that kind of enjoyed being the bad guy and enjoyed being hated. I was written that way, so what can I say?
Kermit: Lady Gaga did a song about that. I have to say though we don’t hate him, that’s just the story from the movie. He’s actually an old pal from the swamp and he’s a good guy.
Ricky: In the movie he’s evil but doing this movie and meeting me has thawed his little heart of stone. You see he was born in a pond in Russia one of 800 brothers and sisters. All tadpoles. Many of them dead, eaten by fish. But showing him love has made him quite a cuddly little thing.
Q. Ricky, were you upstaged by the Muppets?
Ricky: I knew that was going to happen from day one. When I saw the script the first thing that worried me was the song and dance number. I’m okay at singing - I’m a failed pop star and I always sneak a song in. I wrote a song with David Brent, I wrote a song with David Bowie for Extras, I wrote a song in Sesame Street with Elmo, and also did The Simpsons. But dancing - that was a little bit awkward, until I thought “There’s going to be frog on screen dancing. They’re not really going to care what you’re doing with your clumsy little short legs”. And it was meant to be awkward as well. I ruined a lot of takes by laughing. In one take at the end I went “Wahay! I’m In the Muppets!” So they yelled “cut” and said, “Yes, you are in the Muppets, So let’s do that again and don’t say that.”
Q. Did you channel the spirit of David Brent in any of your dance moves?
Ricky: I did that song and dance many times, and most of it was choreographed – but there’s a bit of Brent there that was ad libbed. That’s my best dancing!
Q. Constantine, are you worried about being typecast?
Constantine: Well you know the one thing I’m really worried about is the authorities catching up with me. Also my face being plastered everywhere. Maybe I need to change my career path. Maybe I will be an agent in Hollywood.
Ricky: Yeah you could do that. Anyone can.
Q. How do you feel about people using the word ‘Muppet’ as an insult?
Kermit: Well we’re sort of like a rep company. I’m not a species called Muppet, I’m a frog. I belong to a group called the Muppets. And frankly, I see the point; they’re a little slow.
Ricky: It’s a term of affection as well. You call someone a Muppet when they’ve made an error. We’ve all made mistakes, especially the Muppets and that’s why we love them.
Kermit: I think there are worse things to be called.
Ricky: I’ve got a list.
Q. In the movie we see you paying off a journalist for good reviews, is that how it works in real life?
Ricky: Do you want some money? Just say.
Q. Was Ricky harder to work with than the Muppets?
Constantine: No there was only one character who was really hard to work with. Everybody knows who it is, so let’s Just get it out in the open -
Miss Piggy trots in
Constantine: Right on cue, Pig!
Miss Piggy: I’m here everyone, it is I. My ears are burning - were you talking about moi?
Q. Piggy, there’s a wedding scene in this film, do you and Kermit have any marriage tips?
Kermit: I advise full compliance. I think it’s the only way to go in a modern marriage.
Ricky: Have you noticed in the Muppet movies when they get married and have children it’s ether a frog or a pig - there’s no weird abominations, like “we’ve got three frigs and a pog.”
Q. Ricky, what’s the spirit of the Muppets?
Ricky: I think trying your hardest, optimism and acceptance of difference which isn’t even commented on, other than being a good thing. I like the fact that they struggle. I do that a lot in comedy, it’s essential. I learned that from Laurel and Hardy. Optimism is another thing I’ve always supported. I like David Brent because he made a fool of himself but then he got back up.
Piggy: The real spirit of the Muppets is flawless beauty.
Q. Can you explain why Rowlf the piano playing dog talks, but Miss Piggy’s dog Fou Fou doesn’t?
Kermit: Well Fou Fou is just a pet, she’s hardly sentient. Rowlf is an old piano playing dog. I don’t think we need to explain it any further.
Q. Is there a genre you’d like to explore for the next Muppets adventure?
Ricky: The best genre is obviously sequels, everyone knows that films get better and better with every sequel. Rocky 6, Grease 2, Godfather Part 3. So we’re just looking forward to the next sequel, whatever it is. Muppets Less Wanted.
James Bobin (Director): The Muppet movies don’t really follow in sequence anyway, and they’ve done everything, so it could be anything.
Kermit: I’m personally hoping for Muppets Well Rested.
Q. How difficult was it to work with the beauty of Miss Piggy as a distraction on set?
Ricky: Honestly? Um...
James Bobin: Don’t worry Ricky, she can’t reach you.
Kermit: Now you guys know how I feel, all the time.
Ricky: I want Constantine to answer this.
Constantine: I’m sorry, I was not paying attention.
Piggy: I’m distracting even now. You can’t take your eyes off me, can you boys?
Ricky: Constantine you had to pretend to love her in the movie, didn’t you?
Constantine: It was my best acting.
Q. Ricky you’ve worked with a lot of the leading actresses in Hollywood, how does Piggy compare?
Ricky: She’s a bigger diva - and she won’t mind me saying that because she takes it as a compliment. She talks about herself all the time.
Piggy: Not all the time. If other people are talking about me, I’ll be quiet.
Q. Did you really film at the Tower of London?
James Bobin: Famously, you’re not allowed to film in the Tower of London. They’ve turned down everyone who’s asked to film there before, but suddenly you turn up with Muppets and people change their minds. We actually got to film there for three or four days, so maybe someone in the royal family is a big Muppets fan.
Piggy: I had to sign so many autographs.
Q. Ricky you had a cameo in the last Muppets movie, but it got cut. Were you surprised to be asked back?
Constantine: This will be a good time for Ricky and the director to hash this out.
Ricky: It wasn’t really a role, it was me and Billy Crystal turning up as ourselves, the host of the Oscars and the Golden Globes. But James told me - and I agreed - that you can’t put it in there just because you filmed it. They film about 4 hours of this.
Q. Constantine, what qualities do you look for in a evil henchman?
Constantine: This is good question. You must have evil snarl like Ricky Gervais has. You must have opposable thumbs, to move things around. Also library card so you can check out books for evil plotting - but you always make sure to return the books. I am evil criminal, not disrespectful to library system.
Q. Are there any other fictional characters the Muppets would like to team up with?
Kermit: It’s tough, because we’re the only ones these days who aren’t computer generated in the fictional world. So they’re not really there.
Piggy: I’m real. Okay parts of me aren’t real, this nose for instance...
Gervais: That’s an important point actually because I’ve just done Night At the Museum 3 with Ben Stiller, and there’s scenes where all the animals come to life, but they’re not really there when he’s filming, so Ben spent six weeks running around talking to a tennis ball on a stick. With the Muppets you’re reacting with these guys, and the timing and affection makes a difference.
Kermit: You could never host the Oscars with a tennis ball.
Muppets Most Wanted is on general release from 4 April