Jason Segel loves puppets -- a lot. More specifically, he loves Muppets -- a lot.
His love for Jim Henson's felt friends led the "How I Met Your Mother" actor to co-write and star in the new "Muppets" movie, and, thankfully, the 31-year-old has completely captured the sweet spirit of the gang.
Segel talked to The Huffington Post about bringing "The Muppets" back to the big screen, his favorite felt friend, and what he claims is a major deal-breaker in a relationship.
Did you really burst out crying when you first heard Kermit speak at a read-through of "The Muppets" script?
I did. It wasn't like a burst-out kind of crying; it was much more embarrassing than that. It was like the slow cry where you're trying super hard not to let anyone know you're about to cry so you're pursing your lips but they're quivering, and next thing I knew there were tears streaming down my face and there was nothing I could do to hide it.
Were other people who were there embarrassed or did they pass you tissues?
We took like a five minute break. What was worse was I was one of the producers of the movie; I'm kind of supposed to be the boss. People were looking at me like, "Is he going to do this the whole time?"
The Muppets are very sweet characters. They're never mean and never make fun of people. Were you worried about them finding a place in today's world, which is nastier than when they were popular in the 70s and 80s?
Here's the thing: All the things you mentioned are true, but The Muppets are also still edgy, so that's what's kind of amazing about them. They managed to be edgy without it being at somebody else's expense, and I thought that was kind of an important message to send to kids. You don't have to get laughs by making fun of somebody else and it can still be cool. This movie -- and I know, I wrote it -- in my opinion, it's pretty cool in addition to being nice and sweet ... There is a temptation to give in to what you know will be popular and successful, which is mocking people, but The Muppets would never give in to that.
What about the puppeteers? I often forget they are there.
It's really amazing; the suspension of disbelief kicks in so fast with The Muppets. For a kid it happens instantly. They come in and talk to Kermit and the puppeteer is right there and they're looking right at Kermit. And for an adult, funnily enough, it takes about five minutes but it happens -- it totally happens -- and I think that speaks to the magic of these puppeteers. Their job is to be invisible and they're the unsung heroes of this whole project.
You've always been into puppets and you've got a room in your home dedicated to puppets. That must drive the ladies wild with desire.
I'm still single!
Would you ever date someone who thought The Muppets were silly?
No, that would absolutely be a deal breaker. Must love The Muppets.
So would your ideal romantic evening be a bottle of wine and watching old episodes of "The Muppets"?
(Laughs) I wouldn't say that is my ideal evening, but it certainly sounds very nice. I mean, [Muppets] aren't my sole interest in life, but I do enjoy them very much.
I was surprised to read that early Muppeteer Frank Oz didn't want to be involved in the movie. Were you hurt by that?
Certainly. I would have loved to have worked with Frank Oz, but it didn't really surprise me. I sort of understand the idea that these guys created The Muppets. At one point The Muppets weren't famous. They were just these guys' idea -- they're just like me. They were some weirdos in a garage somewhere coming up with these great characters 40 years ago and I can understand the idea of new blood coming in and having some trepidation about that. So I was definitely not offended. It's sort of like a step-parent. That's who we are; no matter how well-intentioned you are, the kids are always going to be skeptical of you and not feel like you're part of the family.
Disney didn't really interfere with "The Muppets," and let you basically do what you wanted.
I think the moment in which we came in, Disney didn't quite know what to do with The Muppets. They were sort of just sitting there, although they were still doing interesting stuff, like the Internet parodies, and I think part of what you can't underestimate is the value of a singular vision, and that's what Jim Henson had. When he passed away, they got viewed more as a property or a franchise versus a comedy troupe, and I always saw them as a comedy troupe. I'm just a footnote in the legacy of The Muppets, but I came in and at least I had an opinion.
I would love to say it's someone who makes me look like "Mr. Muppet Guy" -- like some obscure character -- but it's Kermit. It's always been Kermit. When you're a kid, he's Tom Hanks. He defines who I wanted to be as an actor. He's the consummate everyman.
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