He’s worked with some of the biggest names in showbiz history: Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Milton Berle, George Burns and Jim Nabors. His career spans a phenomenal fifty-six years, stretching all the way back to the Eisenhower administration, yet he hasn’t aged a day. He is romantically involved with a pig.
His name is Kermit the Frog. And if it ain’t easy bein’ green, I don’t want to know what’s tough.
Unlike most Hollywood legends, Kermit doesn’t appear tortured by regrets or bitter resentments. Though the Muppets have endured a decade-long absence from the silver screen, he is, as ever, an amiable amphibian, thrilled to be working with his friends and making room for new ones (i.e. Walter and ‘80s Robot). Perhaps the secret to his career longevity is his reluctance to keep a house in Los Angeles. As he explains in the below interview, once he’s done working, it’s back to the swamp – which may cause a strain with his longtime companion Miss Piggy, but, given her diva-ish disposition, strain is inevitable. Kermit can handle it.
I’m not easily star-struck, but walking into a room at the Beverly Hilton to find Kermit the Frog gazing up at you with those uniquely-patterned eyes is humbling. Even though veteran puppeteer Steve Whitmire is right there with you, clearly manipulating the frog’s every gesture and utterance, he disappears as soon as the conversation begins, and your inner child comes scrambling out to play. That’s when it occurs to you that you’re talking to one of the biggest stars on the planet. And then you spend the next ten minutes trying not to get too tongue-tied.
I know some people find it disconcerting to see the Muppets at work (or, worse, not working), but suspension of disbelief is an integral part of going to the movies. The seams are visible if you choose to see them. I prefer not to look. I'd rather throw in with the lovers, the dreamers and this guy...
Mr. Beaks: Hi, Kermit. How are you doing?
Kermit: I’m fine. How are you?
Beaks: It’s a pleasure to speak with you today.
Kermit: Yes, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Beaks: We last talked on the set actually.
Kermit: I know, I remember you. I remember your face. I never forget faces. I’m not always good with names.
Beaks: Is that just perfect frog recall?
Kermit: It’s pretty good. I have an unusually large brain for a frog. I’m especially sentient. I have many friends in the swamp who are barely sentient, but you know.
Beaks: Well anyway, it’s wonderful to see a new MUPPET movie. How do you feel about how it’s all come together?
Kermit: Well, I think it’s good. I’ve enjoyed working with Jason [Segel] a great deal, and I’ve even gotten to know him better since we’ve been promoting. We like go do co-promotions and get the giggles with each other. When you get to that point with some other actor or performer, where you are giggling, you know you’ve really gotten to know them quite well.
Beaks: And now you’ve worked Walter into the mix. It seems he’s a part of the troupe.
Kermit: Well, we’ve always, through the years when we did THE MUPPET SHOW and stuff like that, we always had many sort of unknown characters come through the background, and many times they stick and they become some of the main guys. Even Ms. Piggy started as a chorus pig - for the first few episodes and then suddenly she stepped out. So in this case we just decided that Walter would step out immediately, you know?
Beaks: Would you say Piggy kind of asserted herself?
Kermit: Yes, and she hasn’t stopped in the last 30 years.
Beaks: Watching you two work again on screen is just a delight. Has anything changed, or are you two just a well-oiled machined at this point?
Kermit: Well I assume we are sort of well oiled. We’ve been doing this for a long time. But every day with Piggy can bring new surprises - although by now they shouldn’t be surprises anymore. I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but she has certain demands on set that can be kind of difficult: a certain size trailer…. pink M&M’s, which we have to have specially made. I mean, I’m pretty simple. When I’m on set, I just do my job and then I go to my little trailer. I only need a trailer with a tub, you know? I just fill it up with nice warm water, let a little mold grow, and soak.
Beaks: That’s all you need to unwind?
Kermit: That’s exactly what I do. Us frogs are pretty good at unwinding. We learn that at a very early age. You have to develop a laid back attitude when you live in the swamp, because you’re pretty low on the food chain and could get snapped up any second. It’s a lot like Hollywood actually.
Beaks: Just like Hollywood, I would say.
Kermit: I think so. Lots of snakes and rats, yes.
Beaks: There are a lot of Muppets that we haven’t seen for a while in this film, like Thog.
Kermit: Sure, and Thog’s hard to miss by the way.
Beaks: Did you enjoy working with anyone in particular on this movie?
Kermit: I really appreciate my normal guys, my close friends like Fozzy and Gonzo and Scooter. But a lot of the guys haven’t been around in a few years because of the work we have done, so it’s nice to have the Swedish Chef have a little bit more to do, and Bunsen and Beaker, you know? They are great. Thog of course. You should try traveling with Thog. It’s like you have a sidecar on a train. He’s a big guy.
Beaks: He is. Sweetums, too.
Kermit: Sweetums is not so large, but yes. Sweetums can be a little bit more ferocious. Thog’s a sweetie. He’s a big teddy bear.
Beaks: And Animal. This is big movie for Animal.
Kermit: Animal is Animal, you know? There’s only one of a kind there. He just has three motivations: it’s women, music, and food – and not necessarily in that order on any given day. But, you know, you just try to meet those demands and keep animal well fed, keep him calm, and everything’s fine.
Beaks: And how did you enjoy the musical numbers in this film?
Kermit: Music has always been such a huge part of everything the Muppets do, and this is no exception. We always want to have music, and sometimes we sort of wander away and then we come back and do other stuff. It’s always nice to have great songs, and it’s fun to do some of our old songs again like “Rainbow Connection,” “The Muppet Show Theme Song” and “Mah-Na Mah-Na”. And the new music is fun, too. We got to do big dance numbers in the middle of the street, which is particular gratifying for a frog to even get a chance to get out in the middle of the street, you know? It’s a pretty dangerous place for us.
Beaks: And how are you with choreography? How quickly do you pick it up?
Kermit: I’m pretty good. I sort of have two webbed feet. I’m not a wonderful dancer, but I’d say for a frog with moist feet I do pretty well.
And it was fun to actually meet Amy [Adams] and Jason, because I haven’t worked with them before, and Jason is sort of the ultimate Muppet fan. He knows what it’s like to be a Muppet fan for sure, and I think Amy, too. She’s beautiful and talented, and probably my biggest challenge in the movie was balancing Amy’s scenes with Piggy’s scenes. That’s always kind of tough, not exactly giving Piggy more than Amy, but making it seem that way, you know?
Beaks: Oh. Was there diva behavior going on with Piggy and Amy?
Kermit: No, not at all. Amy was wonderful, sweet, willing to do anything. And then there was Piggy.
Beaks: I have to ask about ‘80s Robot.
Kermit: He’s sort of new to our group, like Walter. ‘80s Robot was wonderful. I actually had an ‘80s Robot back in the ‘80s, and we sort of dug him out. We found him at a garage sale and did a little rewiring, got him up and running, and I think maybe he’ll stick with us a while. Maybe we will find a permanent role in the Muppets for ‘80s Robot, you know?
Beaks: And do you still offer New Coke and Tab at your domicile?
Kermit: Well, you know, I don’t actually live in a mansion. That was just part of the… well, we call that a “conceit.” That was part of the story in the movie. No, when I’m not working, I just go back to the swamp where I can get not New Coke, but other Coke, so it’s not so bad.
Beaks: I just figured you had a home in LA as well as back in the swamp.
Kermit: No, no I don’t. I’m only here when I’m working like now, and then they gave me this incredible place upstairs to stay at the Beverly Hilton. It’s nice. I only use the bathroom. (Pause) I mean to live in. I just fill up the tub with water and that’s it.
Beaks: As for making more Muppet movies after this, where would you like to take the gang from here?
Kermit: I think part of what we want to do with this movie actually is just sort of reintroduce the Muppets to those who haven’t see us on the big screen in a while. I mean, we’ve done lots of smaller projects, television and internet stuff, but this is probably the biggest project we have done in a very long time. I would hope that the next thing we would do would be a story that would really concentrate on who we Muppets are, maybe even more than this one. I mean, we’ve had a lot of years. We are pretty deep people, us Muppets. So maybe just further that introduction, and let people get to know us even better as I go through my mid-life.
Beaks: (Laughs) You seem to be handling mid-life very well, I have to say.
Kermit: I’m doing okay. I haven’t felt the need to buy a sports car. I’m still with Piggy, so we’re okay. I’m all right.
At which point he shook my hand, and I floated out of the room.
THE MUPPETS hit theaters Wednesday, November 23rd. If you enjoy feeling wonderful, I highly recommend it.