"The Muppets are basically RUINED FOREVER”; “Bit of a 180-degree swing from Jason Segel’s likable turn”; “If true, this is dead to me”. It’s fair to say internet responses to news of Ricky Gervais being cast in the new Muppets film were as considered as ever. Would he bring cynicism to the world of Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo? Or preach about atheism? Of course not. Now, the positive buzz for Muppets Most Wanted is forcing many to chow down on their hastily tweeted words. The 52-year-old Office creator, you see, is a Henson superfan. Here he talks celebrity cameos, believing Kermit is real and dusting off the Brent dance...
People are saying this is a bit different for you, but you’ve done Sesame Street…
Yeah. It depends how you see me. Some people see me as some sort of shock jock – snarky, cynical, sticking it to the man – which is not how I see myself. I did a lot of that at the Golden Globes and The Office was quite cynical, but it was also uplifting and romantic. If you look at movies; Ghost Town is a sweet romantic fantasy, I’m about to do my third Night At The Museum, which is a family movie, and I’ve done The Muppets, which is the biggest children’s franchise.
And it’s not just for children…
I saw the film yesterday and it’s so smart and grown-up I think adults are going to use their kids as an excuse to see it [laughs].
Not many kids will get the Ingmar Bergman references…
[Laughs] No. I don’t know what children see in The Simpsons, but I know what they see in The Muppets because I loved it as a kid. I’d look at my mum and dad, laughing as well, so I got that it was on two levels at an early age. Then when I was 14 or 15 they got John Cleese on it, and I thought, “I get it.”
Did it influence you?
It must’ve sunk in, because that’s what I tried to do with Extras. It was like I had the Hollywood people coming into a group of strange creatures and make a fool of themselves for our amusement. That’s what The Muppets did. The gag was someone coming on to the show and it either being beneath them, or someone accidentally insulted them. The Muppets did it first and best. That’s why this film is back on form – it’s like the TV show was.
Lady Gaga’s in it for three seconds beating an egg or something. Why do people do it?
Because it’s The Muppets. The bigger question was why they did it for Extras – The Muppets is a nearly 40-year-old loved franchise. I think actors and pop stars with a certain image want to go, “I’ve got a sense of humour. I laugh at myself. Look! I’m not really like that. If I was like that I wouldn’t do it!” But sometimes they just want to have fun. If you’re Lady Gaga and you’ve got 30 people doing anything you want, sometimes you want someone to say your hair looks funny. I think these people know they live in a strange, rarefied world, so they want to go, “Look, I laugh, I fall over.” I could be totally wrong.
You could be…
It could be because they got $10m for it. That’s why I did it [laughs]. Sorry, I was doing so well.
That’ll be our headline.
Gervais: “I did it for the cash.” You wouldn’t, would you? You’re one of about three people I trust these days [laughs].
You said you were a fan as a kid. What was it like working with them?
I’m a big kid. I love the magic, the disbelief. I don’t see the humans around them, I see talking animals.
You don’t see the puppeteers?
No. I had to remember to say hello to them. I’d say hello to The Muppets. I had to remember there was a human being I had to look in the eye, eventually.
Did you see Kermit The Frog coming out of a box?
No, I looked away. They didn’t get any time off with me, these poor puppeteers. I was making them talk to me between takes. I f*cking loved it.
You have a little sing and dance in the film. We know you like to sing, but dance?
I’m a failed pop star. I always try to sneak it in, whether it’s The Simpsons, with Elmo or David Bowie. But dancing, wow that’s awkward. I embrace the white man overbite – that’s what I’d do anyway. The joke was that I didn’t like dancing in this, but got made to dance, which played into the awkwardness that would’ve been there if it was taken seriously, but I’m not really dancing, am I? I’m running down the stairs doing arm movements.
You managed to sneak a little Brent move in there…
I thought it’d be funny – a little in-joke that anyone who knows it might like. Anyone who doesn’t will just think it’s a stupid dance.
It’s very subtle…
It was very subtle. And they let me look down the camera once. I mean, I’m in a Muppets movie, let me have fun.
Muppets Most Wanted is at cinemas nationwide from 28 March
(Images: Alll Star)