Back in September, I had the chance to head out to Los Angeles for a Disney Dreamworks Event. While there, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Jim Henson Studios for a tour and also interview the people who are behind the The Muppets, which will be released into theaters on November 23rd.
Make sure to read my other interviews!
We had the chance to interview the Director of The Muppets, James Bobin.
James created, wrote and produced the critically acclaimed Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show.
From the moment that James Bobin started talking, I was hooked. It may have been his British accent, his infectious enthusiasm or his tweed coat, but this was such a fun interview!
James says there was no difference between directing Muppets and humans!
None. I say none because you are directing them to act in a certain way and humans deal with their emotional things with their face and how puppeteers is with their hands. But the direction you give is the same. It’s how they interpret those notes in terms of their physicality that makes the difference. You’re doing the same job. And also you know, Muppets, the performers themselves are the same guys and the voices doing the mouth, so it’s like working with anyone. So no difference.
James grew up watching The Muppet Show on TV and actually thought it was an English show!
Well, in England we think it’s an English show because in England you watch hours as a kid and you watch the shows on TV on Sunday afternoons and, you know, it was a show which was shot in England, it was made in England for five years, everyone who made it lived in England.
It was written by Americans and performed by Americans, but the director and the technical staff were all English. And the actual Muppet Theater itself is an old musical theater, which is, like, a London thing rather than a New York thing. So it felt very English in a weird way. But also I think the tone of it, the sense of the, sense of humor is really quite English. And I think that’s partly because, I don’t know this for sure but I, myself as a writer, I’m very — when you write you’re obviously, you’re influenced by your environment. There’s no doubt about that. And these guys worked in England for six years.
So I think at that time after work go home and watch TV and there’d be like MONTY PYTHON or whatever on TV and so you watch that and go, oh that’s funny. So the Muppet show itself has got a very strange Anglo-American hybrid sense of humor which I think is brilliant. And makes it feel very unique and why it stood out back in the day was for that reason. So I was really, you know, for me I was very keen to bring that back, the English part of it , I guess.
James has a 4 year old daughter and a 2 year old son and explains how they love The Muppets!
Well, here there are very good experiments because my daughter’s four and my son’s two. So they are the perfect target age. My daughter came on set and, you know, she met Kermit and Kermit is, Steve’s operating kind of like this and Steve’s talking here and she looks at Kermit and she never once looked at Steve, ever. Ever, ever, ever. And just, she just thinks Kermit is this frog that walks around and lives in Steve’s arms. It’s amazing! And it’s so lovely to see that. It’s a great testament to the character of Steve’s work that she just buys it. And, and for me, the movie is about that.
The idea that this world exists where puppets and humans co-exit very happily and it’s, you know, we, and I love that about it. And, and, and one of the great joys of this job for me is doing a show that I can show them and have them appreciate for the first time and also it’s such a testament to Frank and Jim’s work on the characters because my daughter watched the show for the first time three years ago and immediately she, after the show finished, said, “I want to watch the one with the pig again. The pig’s my favorite character.” And so she was just drawn to Miss Piggy in a way that, you know, girls are.
And that’s really clever. You can do a character like that which girls identify with and love straight away. And she loves Piggy. It’s her absolute favorite thing. So, you know, and I hope that continues.
James talked about the many celebrity cameos in The Muppets and if they had to convince any celebrities to be in the movie.
I have this thing, actually, about the cameos whereby I’m glad they’re in it but I don’t like talking about them because, for me as a viewer, I’d rather watch it and go, “Oh look, there’s that!” It makes it more fun, you know. And if you know they’re gonna be in it looking for them before hand, it’s not as much fun. So I like the idea that people don’t know how we do it and how it happens. It’s fun, you know.
We have a lot, I mean, you know, twenty or so, I think. A lot of people. And it’s really fun watching them just be in the movie. And some people play themselves and some of them play characters.
And it’s very much like the old movies where you have some guys, you know, Bob Hope as an ice cream man but, you know what I mean, some people will just play themselves, like, you know, Orson Welles, kind of playing himself. So we did both things and for me, I really like the idea people come to watch the movie and see them for the first time and enjoy it like that. It’s kind of fun.
There wasn’t a thing where I wanted to have people on just for the sake of it. But luckily for us pretty much everyone we asked said yes. So that was a bonus. I mean, you know, we obviously, we benefited a great deal from the fact that people love the Muppets. People love, really love them in a way I’ve, you know, I always have. And I just obviously assume people think like me. So everyone does. I don’t know. Um, it seemed, it turned out people love the Muppets and that was great because pretty much everyone we asked said yes. And so the cameos went really well ’cause I feel like they’re part of the movie, which is the most important thing. They feel, you know, part of it.
James talks about which Muppet he and his children would be.
Well, I have to be Kermit don’t I because I’m the one in charge. I have to like keep all the plates spinning all the time, you know, while chaos ensues all around me. And I’m the one who kind of helps everyone get through the morale boosting.
My kids? My daughter loves Piggy. My son, I don’t know. He’s very young. He likes everything. Anything colored he likes, bright and shiny.
Make sure to see The Muppets in theaters on Wednesday, November 23rd!
Disney/DreamWorks is providing me with an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for an advance screening of Real Steel and select footage from The Muppets. All thoughts and opinions are my own.