Producer Todd Lieberman Talks Casting Ricky Gervais, the Sequel’s Connection to the First Film, the Music, and More on the Set of MUPPETS MOST WANTED

     January 8, 2014


While it’s always great to talk to the actors on a movie set, they’re usually pretty guarded about revealing the plot.  Enter the filmmakers.  While producer Todd Lieberman didn’t reveal any of the twists and turns of The Muppets sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, during a group interview last year, he did provide a lot of information.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Muppets Most Wanted picks up where The Muppets left off, though it goes in a completely different direction.
  • On the cameo appearances in the film, Lieberman said: “We filled it with some pretty amazing people, from Oscar winners to Grammy winners to really recognizable actors. I think it’s going to be an insane spread of some very talented people.”
  • There will be a couple of Muppet characters in this film that weren’t in The Muppets.
  • Lieberman said there will be a wedding in this film, though he refused to confirm which characters it involves.

In addition to what I already mentioned, Lieberman talked about casting Ricky Gervais, the quality of the script, the musical numbers, filming in Europe, the famous landmarks that are in the film, and a lot more.   Hit the jump for what he had to say.

muppets-most-wanted-ty-burrellQuestion: What did you want to cover in this movie that you didn’t in the last one?

Todd Lieberman:  Last time we wanted to start with kind of an emotional story and introduce a new character and introduce the Muppets to a generation that maybe weren’t as familiar with them as I was or James [Bobin] was or my partner David. That movie hopefully set that starting as a basis, so now we just want to have a boatload of fun. So, I think in this movie, we’re leaning a bit more on mayhem and a fun caper aspect of what the Muppets can offer – and I think there’s an emotional story there too – but I think people will be really excited about some of the craziness that goes on. 

Ricky Gervais seems like an odd choice for a Muppet movie because he has such a cynical personality versus the Muppets who are sort of anti-cynical. What can we expect to see from that dynamic?

LIEBERMAN: Complete cynicism. [laughs] No, Ricky is probably one of the biggest Muppet fans in the world. He was so unbelievably happy to be a part of it. He’s obviously extremely funny, extremely smart, so putting someone like him into the world of the Muppets, I think, will turn out really well because he sort of balances them out. But, I think, in a way, he comes across Muppet-like in this movie, so I think people will be really happy with it.

The old Muppet movies were pretty standalone stories. Will this one have any sort of references to the last one apart from Walter being there? Will they mention Gary and Mary at all?

muppets-most-wanted-ricky-gervaisLIEBERMAN: This movie starts where the other movie left off. Even though it goes off in an entirely different direction from where the other movie goes, there’s a connection. 

Can you talk a little bit about getting the script to a place where you were like, “We can make this”?

LIEBERMAN: Thank goodness for James Bobin and Nick Stoller. Those guys came up with an idea and, three months later, a draft that we knew we could move forward with. We knew from the very beginning once the first draft was delivered that this was something we could shoot.

Can you tell us a little bit about the music?

LIEBERMAN: Bret McKenzie. Oscar winner Bret McKenzie is back. The first movie showcased a lot of the talents of Bret and what he can do in different genres. This movie will do the exact same thing in different ways. We’ve got pieces that span from a ballad to just an unbelievably fun old school musical-style romp, so he’s showcasing all different kinds of music in this too.

muppets-most-wanted-set-photo-james-bobin-2We know that Tina Fey and Ty Burrell are going to be in the film. Are we going to see any other celebrity cameos?

LIEBERMAN: Yes…[laughs] Part of the fun of what the cameos are – and, look, a lot of them have been reported, some have been rumored – I think part of the fun is that you don’t know they’re coming, then they show up on screen and you’re like, “Oh that person!” Thankfully, we have the Muppets and a lot of people want to work with the Muppets. We have an enormous array of interesting people.

Did you have to turn down any?

LIEBERMAN: No, there certainly were a lot of people who wanted to be in the movie. You can’t just throw a cameo in the movie. It has to be specific to a joke, a scene, or an emotional moment. We filled it with some pretty amazing people, from Oscar winners to Grammy winners to really recognizable actors. I think it’s going to be an insane spread of some very talented people.

Did you have to turn down any Muppets?

LIEBERMAN: [laughs] No, they’re pretty persistent, those Muppets. They will not be turned down. 

Will we see any Muppets that weren’t in the last one?

LIEBERMAN: That’s a good question. There will be a couple, actually, that you didn’t see last movie, yes. Last movie had almost all of them, I do think we introduce one or two that weren’t in the last movie.

What was it like being in Europe and having that European backdrop for this film?

muppets-most-wantedLIEBERMAN: When the idea was pitched that it was going to be a kind of European adventure, we obviously wanted to shoot there and we were lucky enough to be able to utilize that background architecture and these cities like London. I think we take advantage of it in some cool ways. The Muppets against the backdrop of the Tower Bridge looks pretty damn cool, so I think it’s going to be big in scope.

Can you talk at all about Kermit playing a dual role or is that “special”?

LIEBERMAN: Well, Kermit doesn’t play a dual role; there’s a doppelgänger named Constantine that looks a little like Kermit, but it is actually played by two separate performers.

With filming in all of these different locations, which one was the most challenging?

LIEBERMAN: That’s a good question. I referenced just before the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. That was just a phenomenal experience. So, we’re in London – obviously the weather is a little gloomier than this with a little raindrops – and there were four days where we needed sunshine, but we got every single day that we needed sun in London. Two of those days were at the Tower of London, and this is, I’m told, a location that hasn’t ever allowed a major film crew inside the walls to shoot. So, shooting inside the Tower of London with the Muppets while tourists go by saying, “What is going on?” was beyond. It was really, really special.

What other famous landmarks and locations did you guys shoot at?

LIEBERMAN: Union Station. Very famous LA landmark. We took advantage a lot of London. We shot a lot of the movie, most of the movie at Pinewood, and as a film person I consider that to be a pretty significant landmark, but we shot in and around the city a lot. There’s definitely some recognizable areas and we haven’t done our second unit stuff yet, so there will be more recognizable areas from other cities. But, we definitely took advantage of London.

How does the shooting schedule compare to the first one?

muppets-most-wanted-gonzo-fozzie-kermit-miss-piggyLIEBERMAN: It’s pretty similar. In terms of days, maybe we’re a few days longer, but it’s pretty comparable.

What day are we on now?

LIEBERMAN: Right now? God…what day are we on? I want to say like 63? I don’t know; I have to look at the call sheet.

When you have a world where nothing is out of the ordinary, where anything goes, does that make your job as a producer more difficult? Any dream that anyone has can happen.

LIEBERMAN: The fun part with the Muppets is that you can break the fourth wall and do self-referential jokes. We do a lot of that, and there’s a certain amount of freedom I guess that allows a filmmaker to do and enjoy that. I mean, the technical aspects of making a Muppet movie are very challenging – we learned that with the first one. You have an exterior location like this that isn’t built three-and-a-half feet off the ground, so you have to have people lying on the ground and stuff them into small spaces. So, shooting the Muppets is definitely challenging, but I guess their whole idea is fun and mayhem and thinking of all types of crazy things to do with them is definitely part of the allure of doing it. I think we do it.

Do we get any new takes on classic musical numbers?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, yes we do. There’s something that we’re doing – we have a plan for it. I can’t say much more than that. We have an idea for a song that is a classic Muppets song that we want to incorporate somehow into the movie.

I know there’s going to be a wedding…

LIEBERMAN: Who told you that?

I have my ways. How soon will that storyline come into play in the movie? Is it plotted around or is it more of a spur of the moment type decision?

LIEBERMAN: Let’s see. I will say that there is a wedding that takes place and you know who – I’m not going to say who it’s with – but the idea of a wedding certainly is part of the emotional core of the story.

muppets-most-wanted-posterWhy this film to have this wedding? Why now?

LIEBERMAN: God…why now? I don’t know. [laughs] I’m not even sure you think you know who it’s with, so it’s hard to answer that question.

A technical question, but the scene we were watching with Kermit and the train, why did you have to have blue screen first and then pull it out?

LIEBERMAN: We’re shooting a reveal. So, this is where they leave Los Angeles, and Kermit’s presenting the amazing train they’re going to go on, and it turns out that’s not actually the train they’re going on. There’s another train that’s not as amazing. It was a little difficult because of timing and the way it pulls out. It’s a visual effects thing. 

You mentioned the second unit and you mentioned a lot of mayhem coming, so what size explosions can we expect?

LIEBERMAN: [laughs] We’ve got two really good explosions in this movie. The size has yet to be determined because they’ll probably be digitally enhanced.

Is Jason Segel involved in this?

LIEBERMAN: No, Jason is not. He was a big part of the success of the first movie and he’s doing lots of other amazing things now.

Was there any debate over trying to do a similar release date for the first film?

LIEBERMAN: That’s more of a studio question, but we really love the idea that in and around spring break, kids and families are out of school, which is a big part of what that March date is. Last time, we were Thanksgiving, and I guess that offers a few days of kids out of school, so hopefully this offers more days of kids out of school.

Here’s more from my Muppets Most Wanted set visit:

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