Kermit the Frog truly needs no introduction, having been a staple of show business for the last 50-plus years. From his humble beginnings in a bayou swamp, he’s moved on to become an ace reporter, a variety show host, an inductee into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, and a beloved friend to children everywhere. He ventures back onto the big screen for the second time (or eighth, depending on how you count) this Friday with Muppets Most Wanted. In an exclusive interview with Mania.com, he talked about life on the lily pad and whether it’s gotten any easier being green over the years.
Question: Do you prefer Kermit, or “Mr. the Frog?”
Kermit the Frog: Kermit, always Kermit. No need to stand on ceremony.
Q: The last movie did very well, and on this one the buzz is pretty positive too.
KTF: Oh good!
Q: This is after a period where you guys were sort of out of the limelight. How does it feel to come back and slip into these shoes again?
KTF: Well, you know it’s interesting. I’m sort of always in the “lime” light. That’s just the way I roll. But slipping into shoes, well that’s something I prefer not to do. I’m really thrilled about the movie, and I’m happy to hear that the buzz is good. That means lunch is on the way for me.
But it’s a real thrill. We’ve done a couple of movies now with James Bobin and the same sort of production team with Disney and all those people, and I’m thrilled about it. I think this is the best work we’ve done in a very long time. I think it’s a great Muppet story. I think it’s a really, really excellent use of our guest stars, like Tina [Fey] and Ty [Burrell], and Ricky [Gervais]. They play major roles, and they’re really good, very funny, you know?
Q: And all three of them are very good improvisational actors.
KTF: Yes they are.
Q: I saw with the press conference downstairs that improvisation is a big part of your performance.
KTF: It always is, it always is, yeah.
Q: How does that work on set?
KTF: You know, everything is really tightly scripted. I try to come in, I try to be a professional. I try to know my lines, hit my marks. I’ve learned to do that over the years, but the great thing about those guys is they’re always willing to just play around a little bit and find new stuff. And that’s sort of where we settle in on this movie. It’s a whole new thing. You know, Jason Segel was wonderful on the last film, but there was a little less . . . we were all trying to get on our feet, you know? And this time the whole team was much looser, so it was great.
Q: And when you bring somebody in, like Tina Fey or Ty Burrell who you hadn’t worked with before, how does that alter that dynamic?
KTF: Well, it’s great. First of all we have to find people who actually want to risk their lives, not to mention their careers, and work with the Muppets. You’ve got to be careful with that. I already knew Tina both from Saturday Night Live, and I had a guest spot on 30 Rock once, which was cool. We were old friends, and she has two beautiful kids, and she was happy to do it. Ricky is truly insane and that’s what I love about him. Very funny of course. And Ty the same. I think his role in the movie as the French inspector is just hilarious. Extremely funny poking fun at Europe and America and their relationship.
Q: How tough was it to shoot the Gulag scenes? I don’t think you’ve done that kind of Great Escape type style story before. Was that a challenge?
KTF: It is. It is quite a stretch for me as an actor. Of course I, you know, I am still playing Kermit the Frog in this movie. Which I always play, mostly.
Q: And you’re so good at it!
KTF: Well thank you, I perfected it I think. I think I’m the right guy for the job. And, you know, I’ve never actually spent time in a jail. I do try to draw on the history of my particular people, you know? My people have been oppressed.
Q: Have they?
KTF: They have, they have. They’ve spent years dodging people with jars with holes in the lid. So I sort of know what imprisonment could be like. I can draw on that, you know.
Q: I’m a big Marx Brothers fan, and my favorite scene from the movie was the mirror sequence with you and Constantine.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about how that got set up and how you guys worked together to get that . . .
KTF: Well, we actually did it! It was for real. I think some people . . . you know I was told that in the edit, and this is true I think, that we actually became so in synch that they had to make it out of synch. People thought it was a special effect, but I actually was on one side of the mirror and Constantine was on the other, and we really did that. You know, we are both frogs.
Q: You are.
KTF: So, while I really personally don’t see the resemblance, I think it made it easier somehow.
Q: Did you ever get mistaken for Constantine on set?
KTF: It was sort of the other way around a lot, but a little bit, a little bit. Miss Piggy still can’t tell us apart. I know it’s a part of the story, but in real life she can’t tell us apart either. It’s very strange. But it takes the pressure off, it’s good for me.
Q: Well Piggy did seem a little devastated that the wedding in the film didn’t quite turn out the way she planned it. This has happened before, I think. In The Muppets Take Manhattan there was another . . .
KTF: Yes, it was a similar experience.
Q: How many times have you guys pushed that far?
KTF: Almost gotten married?
KTF: Well, according to Piggy, it’s like a daily occurrence. She would like to say we’ve almost gotten married every day. We’ve done it twice in the films, I think. You know, the best thing for me is that she didn’t keep the wardrobe. So I’m still safe for a while longer.
Q: Until the next film?
KTF: Until the next film, that’s right. She keeps telling me there will always be other films so, chances for other weddings. Uhm . . . she might be right.
Q: You’ve been doing this for quite some time. Where do you go to find new material? You’ve hit this renaissance now, so where do you go, how do you reinvent yourself . . .
KTF: Evolve is a good word.
Q: Evolve is a great word. How do you evolve for a new millennium?
KTF: I think that’s true too, I do sort of. I try to keep up with what’s current, but I try not to be tempted to change who I am in order to appear that way. You know, I do go back to the swamp when I’m not working. Not always the greatest source of material. But we do now have the Internet in the swamp.
Q: Do you?!
KTF: So I can keep up with all the trends, and what’s trending and what’s tweeting and twittering and all that good stuff. Google is a great, great resource in the swamp.
Q: Is it?
KTF: Yes, and it’s a great word to have in the swamp too. It applies to everything. There’s just something about Google, it just sounds like a swamp word, you know?
Q: The Google is bubbling again.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in the formation of this story? You get this idea that you’re going to do a mistaken identity sort of caper film. What was the biggest challenge in getting that together, and making that work? The biggest obstacle you guys felt you had to overcome to get to that point?
KTF: Well you know, I will have to say that all came from James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller who wrote the thing. And I think the biggest challenge probably was finding Constantine. You know, for years I’ve had to do all my own stunts because we can’t find short, green stuntmen. And to find a double for me, it’s tough, even though I have many thousands of relatives. Not only that, but we had to find a frog who people felt looked similar to me, who had some distinguishing mark that I didn’t, and who spoke with a Russian accent. What are the odds? There’s no other actor in Hollywood that could have done that. I mean, maybe Leo DiCaprio…
Q: Maybe Leo? You get Leo in some green?
KTF: He’s sort of small.
Q: He is a small guy.
KTF: If he was green.
Q: Yeah, and he can be very intense.
KTF: But Constantine is wonderful. He’s actually a reasonably decent guy with a bit of a criminal past, you know. He comes from an amphibian crime family. I’ve forgotten the name of it. I have it written down somewhere, but I can’t remember right now. I’m drawing a blank.
Q: Do you think that the warmth and familial relations of the Muppets have hopefully worn off on him and softened him perhaps?
KTF: Well, I think so. I think so. I think if he could just slow down on the accent when we go out for dinner. It can be very annoying, you know. Very grating after a while. But he stays in character all the time. He’s a good guy. And I think we have to find a place for him to be a part of the Muppets going forward. You know, I don’t think we want a criminal as part of our family, so we gotta figure that out.
Q: Like what you did with Walter, who is thankfully not a criminal.
KTF: That’s right, that’s right. Makes it a little easier when you're not.