Interview: Jason Segel

The bromedy vet stars in the Muppets' triumphant return.

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Walter the Muppet and Jason Segel, right, in The Muppets

Walter the Muppet and Jason Segel, right, in The Muppets Photograph: Patrick Wymore

Why are you so passionate about the Muppets?
I'd always been a big fan of The Muppet Show. My mom showed it to me when I was young, and it was sort of my first comic influence.

Do you think fans of the Muppets nowadays are just nostalgic?
I think there is something more than that. I love animated films, but you're never going to meet the [characters]. You can meet Kermit. There's something about [when] a kid is on set—the puppeteer is right there, [but] the child looks right at Kermit. They don't acknowledge that it's fake in any way. To them, Kermit is a very real thing.

Were you able to react off the Muppets as you would a human actor?
Yeah, I was. I had a bigger struggle than [noticing] the puppeteers. They set up monitors so the puppeteers can see what's going on because puppets, obviously, can't see. The problem was [that] I could sometimes see the monitors, and I'd never gotten to watch myself act live. Occasionally they'd have to stop and say, "Jason, we're watching you watch yourself." It took me about two weeks to get used to that.

Why do you think the time was right to bring back the Muppets?
One of the things that's really unique about the Muppets is [that] they're not cynical. It's become very easy to get laughs by making fun of people, and that's one thing the Muppets never do.

Were you ever tempted to lose some of that sweetness to attract a contemporary audience?
I think there was some worry, especially among the superfans, that I was doing the Muppets with a sense of irony, or an R-rated Muppet movie. But I'm the ultimate purist.

Is it just a kids' movie?
No, it's a family movie. What's amazing about the Muppets is a family is able to sit down and watch because there are so many different types of humor. The most contemporary example I can think of is The Simpsons. Family movie has somehow come to be synonymous with kids' movie, and those are two different things in my mind.

Is there a particular Muppet whose personality resonates with you?
I'm really drawn to both Kermit and Fozzie. Kermit is the original everyman, [he's] Tom Hanks or Jimmy Stewart. I really love Fozzie because he reminds me of myself trying to become funny. No matter how bad the jokes are bombing, he just keeps going after it.

Was writing for such well-established characters intimidating?
It was scary. You know that you need to do justice to [these] characters, [but] you can study [and] learn those voices. That's what my cowriter, Nick Stoller, and I did. We watched a lot of Muppets, and when we would write, we would try to—as dumb as it sounds—write in their voice. Literally. Out loud sometimes, with our terrible impressions of them.

The Muppets opens Nov 23.

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