'Muppets Most Wanted' press conference highly entertaining

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- A Muppets press conference is a production indeed.

About 100 media gather in a room at the Beverly Hilton, where both Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey -- human stars of Muppets Most Wanted -- served as hosts of the Golden Globes. ("There are so many 12 Years A Slave jokes still in my head that we didn't use," Fey will quip when it's brought to her attention).

They're awaiting a presser with Kermit, his evil Russian twin Constantine, Sam Eagle, Miss Piggy and humans Fey, Gervais and Modern Family's Ty Burrell, who plays a French detective of the lazy, stupid variety.

The plot involves Constantine and the Muppets' evil manager Dominic Badguy (Gervais) using a Muppets' world tour as a cover for a crime spree. Meanwhile, Kermit is framed and sentenced to life in a Siberian gulag, under the watchful eye of a secretly-infatuated warden named Nadya (Fey).

But for now, the press conference table is hidden behind giant Muppet movie posters. As it happens, I left my audio recorder on the table from the last interview and later heard the techies setting up:

"Do you want the mics positioned?"

"They're just prop mics, but what the heck."

"Should we put bottles of water in front of the Muppets?"

"It's a human here, Tina Fey, she'll need a real mic. This chair's Miss Piggy. She gets a fake one."

(The puppeteers arrive to set up and be miked) "Okay, where's my little friend?" one says. This could be Kermit (Steve Whitmire) or Constantine (Matt Vogel).

"This looks pretty damn good, actually," one says. "When do our mics go live?"

Someone's uncomfortable with his position under the table. "How about we get you a small sandbag?" a tech asks. That works.

The stars arrive, and Gervais laughs at the sight of his co-stars on their knees. "Oh dear, I worked in a sweatshop like this once."

Showtime! The posters are pulled back, to applause.

"Greetings Hollywood media elite!" says Sam Eagle, the Muppets' bloviating politician, who teams with Burrell's character on the investigation. (Midway through the press conference, Sam will excuse himself, and coincidentally, Miss Piggy will appear a few minutes later. "Hello, pig," a disgusted Constantine says)

Kermit is asked why he didn't play both parts. "Well, it didn't make sense for me to play Constantine because we had scenes together, and I don't really work on green-screen."

Constantine (who looks like Kermit, but for a mole on his face) gives his heavily-accented back-story. "I am from Russia. What is weird thing is I cannot speak any Russian words."

Gervais: "Just English with a Russian accent."

Burrell: "It's this weird part of Russia that's all English."

Fey: "You were born in a Russian airport?"

The humans are asked about the song-and-dance numbers they had to do.

Gervais: "I was okay with singing. I'm a failed pop star, and I try to sneak a song into anything I do. Dancing is a little awkward, I don't move well. But I was with a frog, so it doesn't matter. No one's going to be looking at me. They're going to be saying, 'There's a frog dancing!'"

Burrell: "America and the world was spared the sound of my voice. I spoke my song."

Eagle: "You are a great singer, a great actor and a great American!"

Asked if he's ready to leave his criminal past behind, Constantine says, "This is good question. I am thinking about doing new Netflix original programming. I am calling House of Toads. I will produce and show run. So let's take meeting, yes?"

More than most, Muppets Most Wanted has jokes aimed more at adults than kids (example: an Ingmar Bergman gag with the Swedish Chef). What will the kids get out of it?

Fey: "I have kids. This morning I had two. They'll like how funny the movie is. Kids who are 8, 9, 10 years old take a lot of pride in 'getting' the jokes. It makes them feel big."

Gervais: "Yeah, when I was a kid watching the Muppets, I had older brothers and sisters, and they were laughing. So I knew that it was cool. I think kids like things that adults like."

Eagle: "I, for one, did not get any of the jokes."

Burrell: "I have the IQ of a seven-year-old and I loved this movie. I also love juice."

Part of Dominic Badguy's modus operandi is to bribe journalists wherever the Muppets tour to guarantee rave reviews. Gervais gets serious for a second on the subject of reviews.

"Yeah, you like it when they get it," he says. "But"¦ it's a slippery slope. It'll drive you mad. And now everyone's a reviewer, with Twitter and Facebook, it's like glorified graffiti. If you care about that, you might as well go around to every toilet wall in the world and get offended when they mention you.

"But having said that, just say f---ing nice things about this movie, please -- not for me, but for the kids."

Kermit claims the movie was one of his most demanding acting assignments. "I'm actually stretching myself in this thing. Many, many scenes with Tina, but one particularly comes to mind. It was a closed set, and it was the scene where she licks me. I want to make it clear Tina is happily married.

Fey: "My husband was there, and he was being kind of controlling and creepy"¦ I did hallucinate for three or four hours."

Miss Piggy: "That's the last thing you're gonna lick, sister!"

And Muppet fans will particularly appreciate the duet Miss Piggy sings with Celine Dion.

How was it working with Celine? "It was a pleasure and a joy for her, naturally," Piggy says. "I'm only too happy to let her ride my coattails up to the Oscar stage. We only spent a little time together, but it was very meaningful for her."

FILMMAKERS STYMIED BY SEQUEL

The first two songs in Muppets Most Wanted -- They've Ordered a Sequel and We're Doing a Sequel -- addresses the problem the filmmakers had with their hit reboot of The Muppets two years ago.

"It wasn't very clear what we would do next," says Muppets Most Wanted director James Bobin (Da Ali G Show). "Which is why this movie starts seconds after the last one ended. I thought the Muppets could kind of face the same problem that we had, which is what will this movie be about, what's next?"

In fact, the original working title of the sequel was The Muppets Again.

When they finally did come up with a plot -- involving a Muppets tour across Europe that unwittingly serves as a cover-up for a jewel heist -- "we tried going (he sings) 'It's The Muppets Most Waaaanted,' but it didn't sit really well coming out of the Muppets' mouths."

"The basis of Europe in this movie is like Europe in National Lampoon's European Vacation, an old movie trope version of what Europe is," Bobin says.

And then there's Constantine, Kermit's Russian doppelganger, and the world's most evil frog. "In the movies of the '80s, the bad guy would be a Russian, so Constantine is based on General Orlov from Octopussy. That's my favourite movie Russian bad guy."

As usual, there's a plethora of cameos, including Celine Dion, Christoph Waltz and many more. 'We have a list of people who want to be in the movie, and we gather a list of intel of people that are fans, and people we like and people who like us," says producer David Hoberman.

Adds Bobin: "When Nick (writer Nicholas Stoller) and I write the script we have cameos in mind, and certain people have to be that cameo.

"I mean, you can't do the Christoph Waltz joke without Christoph Waltz doing a waltz."


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