Empire Australasia - May 2018

(Kiana) #1

whatever’s necessary to try to be the very
best and be loved, even through the pain.
I remember Gilda [Radner] was a guest
star on The Muppet Show and she said to
me, “I wish I was more like Miss Piggy.”
Piggy came out during women’s lib and
those moments where she loses patience
and karate-chops somebody, I think that
part of it made women go, “Oh boy, I
wish I could do that.”

Sesame Street and The Muppet Show
became huge hits. Less successful was
your stint on Saturday Night Live —
John Belushi told a reporter he wanted to
shoot the Muppets with a gun...
Their humour was different to our
humour. Muppets is very high-energy
and SNL is more laidback. We were
taking time away from the cast members.
And [the SNL writers] had to write the
sketches for some reason, which made
everyone frustrated. As time wore on, it
became clear we shouldn’t have been on
there. But John and I, Danny [Aykroyd]
and everybody, we all got along great.

Your cameo in The Blues Brothers seems
to prove there was no bad blood.
That’s my claim to fame, yeah, the soiled
prophylactic. John Landis was in
Germany about a year ago and sent me
a postcard: the front was me as the cop
holding up a condom, with the words,
“One soiled.” [Laughs] It was bizarre.

You segued from your Muppet years into
directing ilms such as Little Shop Of
Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and
Bowinger. You also worked with Marlon
Brando on The Score, which was
apparently a nightmare.
That was complicated. Marlon, I thought
he was sweet and a humanist. I went to
his house at the beginning and had a two-
hour meeting with him. He was a little
devil — he would test you all the time.
But he agreed to a particular way to do
the character — he wanted to make him
homosexual. I said, “Okay, that’s ine.”
But I had just done a ilm called In And
Out about homosexuality and wanted to
make sure I was respectful and not

over-the top. He assured me it wouldn’t
be. Then he came in and essentially was
over-the-top. I said, “I just can’t do this.”
I may have been a bit too strong, but I
had to be, because I didn’t want that to
hijack my ilm. From then on, he hated
me. He hated my guts, you know?

Do you feel he didn’t take you seriously
because of the Muppets? It’s been reported
that he called you ‘Miss Piggy’ in front of
the crew...
No, that was bullshit. Just like the whole
story about him not wearing his pants on
set. All crap. He did come in with his pants
off, and rightfully so: it was 90 degrees
Fahrenheit in Montreal, he was playing the
piano and had the wardrobe next to him,
so when it was time to shoot he put the
pants on. And you wonder why Brando
didn’t like the press. Actually he was quite
enthralled with the Muppets. I sent him
some Bert and Ernie tapes because he
really wanted to see them. He was just very
much against authority. It wasn’t personal.

Talking of cinematic icons, it was a joy to
see Yoda back in puppet form in The Last
Jedi. How did that come about?
Well, several years ago Rian [Johnson],
who I didn’t know at that time, came to
me and asked if I’d be interested in doing
Yoda again. I said, “Sure.” Because I
thought he meant just the voice, which is
very easy for me. We had a good talk and
I really liked him. Then a week later I
understood that they expected the puppet.
I said to Kathy [Kennedy], “Do you have
any idea what you’re getting yourself
involved in?” But it was just wonderful. I
got to work with all these craftsmen I’d
worked with, in some cases, 30 years ago
on Little Shop Of Horrors. When it’s CG,
I don’t have a relationship with anybody.
I’m alone. But with the puppet I have a
relationship with all these people and
they feed me. And it was magical to be
back with Mark [Hamill] again. He is a
huge part of why Yoda works.

Have you kept a lot of stuff from your
Muppet days?
I have about six huge boxes of them. We
have something called Show And Tell on
the Muppet Guys Talking website, where
the four of us [Jerry Nelson passed away in
2012] bring out something from 30 years
ago and talk about it. We don’t even know
what the other person has, so it’s really fun.

Have you come across Harvey Kneeslapper
in one of those boxes?
If I did, I would burn him. NICK DE SEMLYEN


Clockwise from top:
Daniel Seagren and
Jim Henson work Ernie
while Oz works Bert for
an episode of Sesame
Street; Audrey II from
Little Shop Of Horrors
(1986) directed by Oz;
1980’s The Empire
Strikes Back with Luke
Skywalker (Mark
Hamill) and Yoda
(voiced by Oz).
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