Cinema has plenty of classic couples – Hepburn and Tracy, Bogart and Bacall, Brad and Angie – but few are as ageless or as lovable as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
The charming amphibian and his porcine paramour are reunited on the big screen for the eighth time in “Muppets Most Wanted,” which opens Friday. In this Disney caper, the Muppets fall into the clutches of the world’s No. 1 criminal, Constantine, who, with the exception of a facial mole and a vaguely Eastern European accent, bears a striking resemblance to Kermit.
After a case of mistaken identity leads to Kermit’s imprisonment in a Siberian gulag run by Tina Fey’s warden Nadya, Constantine – disguised as the Muppets frontman – travels with the gang to major European capitals to pull a series of heists with the help of his second in command, Dominic Badguy (it’s pronounced “Bad-gee”), played by Ricky Gervais, posing as an international tour manager.
“Most Wanted” arrives as a follow-up to 2011’s “The Muppets,” which returned Jim Henson’s foam-and-felt superstars to theaters for the first time in more than a decade and introduced a new Muppet, Walter. Written by Nicholas Stoller and star Jason Segel and directed by James Bobin, that film grossed $88 million at the box office and won an Oscar for Bret McKenzie, the “Flight of the Conchords” comedian who penned songs for the musical.
Bobin and Stoller wrote the script for the sequel, and McKenzie also returned to write numbers such as the gleefully self-aware opening song “We’re Doing a Sequel.”
Kermit and Piggy aren’t conventional stars. Neither is Gervais, the confrontational comedian best known for boundary-pushing TV comedies such as “The Office” and “Extras,” who joined the famed Muppets duo for a quick chat about the new movie recently at a Beverly Hills hotel. An edited version of the conversation follows.
Ricky, many comedians cite the Muppets as an inspiration. Were they a creative influence for you?
Ricky Gervais: I didn’t realize until doing this movie the obvious profound effect they’d had on me. I think they’re the same as I tried to do on “Extras.” They would take celebrities and make them these divas or egomaniacs, twisted versions of themselves, being brought down a peg or two by a crowd of normal people who didn’t care that they were celebrities. That’s what I did in “Extras,” but clearly, they did it first, 30 years before.
Piggy, you’ve long been a role model for pigs and women. Is that something that you take very seriously?
Miss Piggy: Absolutely, yes, of course. I have to always bring my A-game, so to speak, because people look up to moi. Everyone looks up to moi. All of Hollywood turns to me for inspiration. I’m sort of like every actor’s Stanislavski in this day and age. They watch and learn from the master.
Ricky, what was your reaction when you were approached to play Dominic?
RG: “Yes.” I was worried that I couldn’t do it because I was doing other things, but everyone said, “You’re crazy. Of course you’ve got to do it.” … Then when I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, a little chill went down my spine thinking I nearly didn’t do it. I would never have forgiven myself. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of this.
How do you prepare for the role? Did you go back and look at great Muppet villains of the past?
RG: I think I said, “I assume you want me to do the smarmy English git act?” And James went, “Exactly.” That was it … I loved turning up and saying the lines that I remembered and making the other ones up. Honestly, it was a breeze for me.
MP: Was there a script for this movie?
RG: I didn’t read it. I knew the gist of it.