Peter Linz was a fan of the Muppet Show since the first episode aired on television in 1976. Now a renowned puppeteer, he's starring alongside the Muppets that first riveted his attention at the age of ten.
“It’s more than I could ever have hoped for—it’s such an honor and so humbling,” said Linz, 44, who lives in Katonah with his wife and three children who attend Katonah-Lewisboro schools. “Every day I hoped I was good enough to be there.”
The newest film in the franchise featuring the now-famous characters of Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog is called The Muppets and hits theatres nationwide Nov. 23. Starring alongside Jason Segal and Amy Adams, Linz plays a new character named Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan who tries to reunite the old gang to save the Muppet Theater.
Linz has brought an array of characters to life during his 20-plus years of puppeteering—he spent 20 seasons on Sesame Street and is known for his work as Theo on Between the Lions, Snook the Sloth on It's A Big Big World and Tutter and Pip on Bear in the Big Blue House. He’s also an original Broadway cast member of the Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q.
But it’s his latest role that he is calling “the role of a lifetime.”
Patch sat down with Linz to talk about his experience with the film and what the Muppets have to offer modern audiences.
Patch: How difficult was it to get the part?
Linz: Disney auditioned puppet performers during the summer of 2010 on both the East and West coasts. My first audition was in New York with a Jason Segal stand-in. After 12 days went by, I was sure I didn't get the part and thought I did horribly. Then Disney called back and flew me to LA with three other performers—I was up against friends and colleagues. Then the actors auditioning were advised that if the role were cast as a human, the character would be closest to Michael Cera [Juno], an awkward teenaged guy. So I studied him, and for the second call-back did improv with Jason Segal. We ended up finishing the audition singing Love Will Keep Us Together. And the most incredible thing was getting the phone call from [director] James Bobin, saying I got the part.
Patch: Tell us about Walter.
Linz: Walter is young, he's in his late 20s and he's always been an enormous Muppet fan. He's from Smalltown, USA, and lives with brother and best friend [played by] Jason Segal. I'm not all that different from Walter. He's very positive, optimistic—he's smart and naïve and sees the best in everyone. He never quite fit in. He felt something missing from his life and through the film, he finds his place in world.
Patch: What was it like to act in a film featuring the Muppets that inspired you as a child?
Linz: I grew up with The Muppet Show and Sesame Street and knew from age 10 that I wanted to be a puppeteer. I've actually worked alongside these performers for many, many years but this was my first opportunity to work alongside these classic Muppet characters in a principal role. I worked on Muppets From Space with most of the Muppet performers, but not in as large a capacity as I did on this film. I've never had the lead role in a film. It was the job of a lifetime and absolutely thrilling. I had to step outside of myself more than a few times—with all the celebrities and cameras— and just stop and savor it—I've never kept a daily journal before, but I did. I didn’t want to forget a moment.
Patch: Who's your favorite Muppet?
Linz: My personal favorite was Animal, who was hysterically funny. In the film, Walter’s favorite was Kermit. And Kermit, he sees the best in everyone and he is never mean-spirited. I didn't exactly fit in growing up and I can identify with all of these misfit and zany characters.
Patch: No doubt some adults will want to see this film as a reminder of their childhood. Will today's kids relate to the Muppets?
Linz: This film is very true to the original spirit of The Muppets, which, by Jim Henson's design was never meant for just kids—he meant the show to be for families. The movie does a really good job of appealing to adult nostalgia and serving as a great introduction for kids who don’t know them yet. I think the Muppets are for everyone—they remind us of who we want to be.
Patch: How do you bring puppets to life? What are the challenges when live actors and Muppets work together?
Linz: The cool thing about Muppets is that they are actually physical characters and you can take them everywhere; they're filmed in the real world and you can touch them—you can’t do that with a CGI (computer generated image) Shrek. We [puppeteers] are actors, but instead of communicating our performance through our face & body, we channel the performance through our hands and in to the puppet. We watch a monitor and see the same picture audience sees. As with all Muppet movies, there will be music—and for the big dance numbers we had to learn choreography. Jason Segal happens to be a huge fan of old MGM musicals and Michael Rooney, Mickey Rooney's son was our choreographer.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Linz: Go see The Muppets! It doesn't matter if you're a long-time fan of the Muppets or someone who has never heard of them, you are going to love this movie.