The Muppets’ big-screen comeback shows how much moviegoers longed to see Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, Gonzo and the rest of the gang back together again. But fans who sat down in the dark with the new movie have been pleasantly surprised, too, by the newest addition to the loopy ensemble: Walter. Wide-eyed, innocent, nattily-attired and half-dazed with celebrity-puppet adoration, Walter (voiced by puppeteer Peter Linz) recently spoke by phone to Hero Complex writer Patrick Kevin Day about making a film with his (their?) childhood idols.
PKD: Do you consider yourself a full-fledged Muppet now that the movie has come out?
W: Yeah, I guess I kind of do. I’ve never thought of myself in grandiose terms like that. Wow, an official Muppet. But I guess that’s the case, huh?
PKD: I saw a comment online in which someone said you were their new favorite Muppet.
W: Aw, isn’t that nice?
PKD: So I guess that means you’re part of the club.
W: Yeah, I guess so. I hadn’t really thought of it so much as a club as a repertory group.
PKD: Then in those terms, how would you describe your place in the group?
W: At this point, I feel like a cheerleader, except I don’t have any pom-poms. Or a skirt. I just feel like at this point, I want to share the Muppets with everybody. Especially to kids who might not know these characters, I hope the Muppets have the same effect on them they did on me when I was a kid.
PKD: You’re a student of Muppet history. Do you have a favorite Muppet or Muppet bit?
W: Wow. It’s like having to choose your favorite child. That’s weird because I don’t have any children at all. It’s really tough to choose just one. In the movie, I played this character, Walter, who’s a huge Muppet fan and knows all this Muppet history and everything. But actually in real life, that’s kind of who I am too. I just love them.
PKD: You didn’t practice any bits off camera with the Muppets?
W: Well, Fozzie did actually show me his rubber-chicken collection. It’s pretty darn impressive, I have to say. I didn’t know there were so many different types of rubber chickens. You’ve got your different colors, you’ve got feathered and stripped, you’ve got tweakers. The real modern ones have a little microchip that go “bawk, bawk” when you squeeze them. It’s amazing. I had no idea.
PKD: In the movie, you spend a lot of time wearing a nice blue suit.
W: I don’t mind you publishing this: Watch out this spring because that is the fashion, right there. You heard it here first, I’m telling you. Powder-blue suits. Watch for it! Call in a couple months, we’ll talk.
PKD: You seem so button-down and sensible compared with the other Muppets.
W: I was voted most likely to wear a suit to the grocery story by my high school class.
PKD: Do you behave any differently while wearing the suit to keep it clean?
W: I just like looking sharp. It doesn’t change the way I act or behave, I think. I just like looking good. And it’s the Muppet Theater. You have to dress up when you go to the theater. It’s an occasion.
PKD: So you respect the venue that you’re in.
W: Well sure, sure. And even if that venue is a fruit stand on the corner, I’m still going to wear my suit.
PKD: Is there any difference between the Muppets off camera and on camera?
W: That’s a great question. If I’ve learned anything from this film, take Kermit for instance. He’s been doing this for over 50 years, and Kermit is exactly the same in person as he is in movies and on TV shows. He’s just a guy. That’s how I’d like to be. If I ever got as famous or as well-known as Kermit the Frog, I’d just want to be me. Honestly, all the Muppets are like that. What you see is what you get. I think that’s part of what it means to be a Muppet.
PKD: It must be a relief to come in already knowing their personalities. No surprises.
W: Definitely. There were no nasty surprises. Just that I kept fainting. I know that was part of the film, but that actually happened quite a lot. I could tell on day one, we’re having our first table read and I’m like “That’s Kermit the Frog” and I’m passing out.
PKD: Did you see a doctor? That sounds serious.
W: No, Gonzo actually complimented the way I hit my head on the floor.
PKD: I was fascinated watching you whistle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muppet pucker like that. Did that come naturally?
W: Yeah, it’s a gift. The puckering. I’m a great puckerer. My mom always said I had the cutest puckery lips. Unfortunately, the whistling is the only bit of Hollywood magic in the movie. I did my own singing and acting and dancing, but I had some help with the whistling. It was actually a really talented singer-songwriter named Andrew Bird, and he did a phenomenal job. But it’s actually me doing the puckering.
PKD: All the Muppets have handlers. Is that correct?
W: Handlers? I know Kermit gets handled a lot by Miss Piggy.
PKD: So you don’t have an assistant that goes places with you?
W: No, that would be swell, though. We have each other. The Muppets have each other. And that’s pretty great. I know Miss Piggy has an entourage. Or she likes to think she does.
PKD: Did you feel pressure to be crazier than some of those Muppets? Like Lew Zealand?
W: No, the most pressure I ever felt on this entire film was when Jason [Segel] sat on me when we were filming in Kermit’s house. We were on the sofa. That actually happened. Jason forgot I was there, because I’m not the tallest guy in the world. And he just plopped down on top of me. That was the most pressure I felt during the entire process. But those guys are who they are, and I don’t feel any pressure to be like that. If anything, I do put pressure on myself because I’m performing with greats. These are the greatest actors of our time. Seriously, Kermit the Frog is a short, green Tom Hanks. And I’m in there doing scenes with him!
PKD: So you could see Kermit in a serious drama, with no laughs.
W: Oh yeah, but I think that would be a waste of his talent. He could pull it off, but would you want to see that? I don’t know. I’d see it, but I’d see anything Kermit’s in. But it would be selling his talent short not to put in some jokes.
PKD: Were you actually electrocuted for the movie?
W: Yeah, I did all my own stunts. Gonzo helped me, and the more he helped me the more painful they were. But that’s OK! Because I was keeping it real. But he was great, because Gonzo would test out every stunt beforehand because they looked like so much fun.
PKD: There was no fear on your part doing your own stunts?
W: I was terrified. I’m not proud. I may have had a little accident on the fence there. We had to do that stunt several times. Jason [who throws me into the fence] kept missing the mark. So I had to …Whoa. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this.
W: I thank him daily. But that was after I made sure he wasn’t spying on me. Because the guy wrote my life. And honestly, when he first approached me, I didn’t trust the guy at all. I mean, let’s face it. Someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I wrote a part for you in this movie” and you start reading the script and it’s your life story. Or at least pretty close to your life story. But it was his idea, it’s just serendipity that it worked out that way. But now that filming is over, we’re still great friends. We still go out to dinner. We do karaoke every now and then. The only weird thing is that people get us confused quite a bit.
PKD: Do you sing Muppet songs at karaoke?
W: We do anything. Actually, our go-to song was “I Would Do Anything For Love” by Meatloaf. We get obscure.
PKD: What’s next for you, Walter?
W: I’ve been so busy with this film. Let me share a quote, if I may. It’s a little profound. Kermit once said he had a dream of singing and dancing and making people happy. And that’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. I want to share my dream of people seeing the Muppets and seeing how funny they are, and wonderful and no matter how crazy or mixed up or scary your life can get, as long as there’s still Muppets, there’s still hope. That’s really profound, isn’t it? I stayed up all night writing that. [Yawns]. Excuse me.
PKD: Did you do that from memory? Or were you reading from a card?
W: I totally remember that. The first part of that quote is from “The Muppet Movie.” The only movie I’ve seen more than “The Muppet Movie” is this one, that just came out.
PKD: How many times have you seen “The Muppet Movie”?
W: Thirty-seven. As of this morning. In fact, I’m going to call it even with Disney because I think I’ve spent in tickets what they paid me to do the movie at this point. It all works out.
– Patrick Kevin Day
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