Jason Segel has had a lifelong love affair with The Muppets. And just as soon as his Hollywood star began to shine, the actor/writer didn’t hesitate for a second when asked what he was interested in doing next. Disney hadn’t done a great deal with The Muppets franchise in recent years, releasing only the TV movies “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas” in 2002 and “The Muppets Wizard of Oz” in 2005. Indeed, everyone's favorite felt creations hadn’t graced the silver screen since 1999’s “Muppets in Space.”
“I think The Muppets belong on the big screen,” Segel told The Playlist during our recent interview with him. And so Segel and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nick Stoller were commissioned to take a crack at a script, which turned out to be a love letter to muppetdom and to beloved Muppets creator Jim Henson. Disney loved it, pulled up the money truck, and they were off and running. A few years later, the film is now done, and thanks to glowing reviews (including our own), it has become one of the most anticipated pictures of the holiday season. Ahead of the film's release this week, here are five highlight’s from The Playlist’s exclusive interview with Jason Segel.
Kermit defined who Segel wanted to be as an actor.
Every Muppet fan has a favorite (this writer goes back and forth between Gonzo and Animal, for the record), but it’s hard not to love that green guy. We asked Jason Segel about his favorite Muppet. “I always try and think of an answer that will make me seem clever, like some really obscure Muppet,” Segel tells The Playlist. “But it’s Kermit. You know? I know that’s kind of boring, but when I was a kid he was like Tom Hanks. He’s like the everyman, and he’s like the moral center of the Muppets and sort of defined who I wanted to be as an actor to some extent.”
The trick of creating a new Muppet and avoiding the Jar-Jar pitfall.
Arguably the biggest challenge of this Muppet reunion for Segel and Stoller was their decision to bring a new Muppet into the fold, a move that could have easily been a catastrophe. Henson’s creations are considered sacred by fans and, let’s be realistic, a lame Muppet could have sunk the whole thing into Jar-Jar Binks territory. “Oh, I know! Absolutely,” Segel responds with utmost seriousness. “Walter, in terms of us writing it, was sort of meant to be the eyes and the ears of the audience, of giant Muppet fans out there. He’s me to some extent. Just the crazy, crazy Muppet fan that grew up with them and they meant so much to him and he can’t bear the thought of them going away. It was really simple and people who are going to see this movie because they love the Muppets I think will feel exactly like Walter. When Walter finds out that that studio is going to be torn down it’s devastating. He might as well be hearing that the world is about to be destroyed.”
The epic original cut was three hours and featured cameos ultimately cut from the final print.
When Segel and co. finished their first cut of “The Muppets,” it was approaching “Lawrence of Arabia” length. Sadly, something had to go. “Yeah, we had a bunch of cameos [cut] a bunch that we shot actually," Segel says. "The original cut of the movie was three hours long or something like that. People really turned out in droves to be a part of the movie. I think if you grew up with the Muppets and especially if you have kids you want to be a part of it so you can say to your kids, ‘Hey look I’m friends with the Muppets.’ ”
Fans can expect to see some of those additional scenes and cameos on the DVD/Blu-ray. “This will be a spectacular DVD,” says Segel. “I think they are already working on that and I think the plan is to have those cameos, at least the ones who agree to it. Which will be really cool because some of those scenes are hilarious.”
Segel hopes Frank Oz will give new “Muppets” a chance and feels vindicated by early audience response.
Muppet O.G. Frank Oz, who was also developing a new Muppet movie of his own when Disney chose to go with Segel’s take, has had some negative words for the new “The Muppets” movie. Segel remains optimistic and hopes Oz will still give the movie a chance. “I feel like he made those comments before he saw the film,” says Segel. “David Hoberman, one of our producers, made a great analogy. These guys have been a family for so long and there is some version of us being a step parent. And no matter how nice the step parent is the kids are going to be skeptical of them. So I’m hoping that we’ve earned their trust now that they’ve seen the movie because I feel the same way you guys do. I love it! I think it’s such a good movie. I watch it constantly. So yeah, I guess I feel vindicated just in that the movie is everything I hoped it would be.”
In a perfect world, Segel would bring back “The Muppet Show” next.
We asked Segel what he would do if, in a perfect scenario, “The Muppets” is a big hit and Disney comes to him and says it’s his call what to do next. “I think bringing back 'The Muppet Show' would be absolutely amazing. I think they’re primed and ready for it. And I also think The Muppets belong on the big screen, so I guess hopefully we’ve set the stage for maybe The Muppets themselves to take the torch and decide what they want to do. Because they were always best when they were a singular vision of themselves and, you know, it is a big franchise and there are things like rides and toys and all that that get involved when something becomes so big. But The Muppets being a small, self-contained band of comedians is sort of how I think they’re best.”
“The Muppets” opens in theaters nationwide on November 23rd.