The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Muppeteer Linz portrays ‘greatest Muppet fan ever’

By JOHN ROCHE
Renowned puppeteer and longtime Katonah resident Peter Linz calls his starring role in the new Muppets movie “a dream come true.”
 

In the new film “The Muppets,” puppeteer Peter Linz of Katonah portrays Walter, a fuzzy character dubbed as the greatest Muppet fan ever.

Although landing a starring role in the movie alongside Kermit, Miss Piggy and Hollywood heavyweights such as Amy Adams and Jason Segel is “the epitome of a dream come true,” according to Mr. Linz, Walter’s status as the Muppets’ biggest fan might face a challenger in Mr. Linz himself.

“As a kid, I loved the Muppets, “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street,” and they all played a tremendous part in my decision from an early age that I wanted to be a puppeteer,” said Mr. Linz. “The aspect of playing Walter, who loves the Muppets and is thrilled to be among them in the story of the film, really runs parallel to my nearly lifelong love for the Muppets. I was hooked on “Sesame Street” from when it first came on the air, and the same thing happened later on when “The Muppet Show” came on television.”

Mr. Linz, 44, said he decided to become a puppeteer at age 10, but has been playing with puppets since he was three. “As a child, I’d hear adults complaining about their jobs, and I’d think to myself, ‘Well, you’re a grown-up, so why don’t you just do what you really like,’” Mr. Linz recalled. “Eventually, I learned that life isn’t always that simple, but since “The Muppet Show” came on when I was about 9, that cemented it for me. I’ve never wanted to do anything else except be a puppeteer on film and TV, and here I am.”

Although he worked on “Sesame Street” for 20 seasons and had a much smaller role in the film “Muppets From Space,” playing such a pivotal character as Walter is in this film is the highlight of an already impressive career, which also includes a stint on Broadway.  “To say that it’s a dream to be working not only with all the classic Muppet characters, the incredible puppeteers behind them, and an all-star cast of ‘real’ actors is an understatement,” he said. “I was literally pinching myself on the set every day, and I haven’t stopped.”

The plot of the film, now playing on the big screen, centers on three die-hard fans of the fuzzy creatures, who upon learning that a tycoon wants to drill for oil under the long-abandoned Muppet theater, set out to find the old Muppets gang in hopes of saving their set and studio.

Mr. Linz’s character, Walter, who is a puppet, and his human brother, Gary, played by Mr. Segel, and Gary’s longtime girlfriend, Mary, played by Ms. Adams, eventually track down each of the Muppets: Kermit the Frog, who is depressed and living alone in a Bel Air mansion; Miss Piggy, who is editor at Vogue Paris; Gonzo, who is a plumbing supply magnate; Fozzie, playing in a Muppets tribute band; and Animal, who is in a celebrity rehab center in Santa Barbara for anger management.

“It’s a fun movie, and although as with any film it took lots of work, it was such a blast for me,” said Mr. Linz, who lives in Katonah with his wife, Marlene, and their three children, Aria, Mica and Jonah. “I think that fans of the old “Muppet Show,” the previous feature films and “Sesame Street” will really get a kick out of this film, but kids and adults getting their first taste of the Muppets in this movie should really love it, too.”

Although he’s had major roles on TV shows, including “Bear in the Big Blue House,” “Between the Lions,” “Lomax, the Hound of Music,” “The Book of Pooh” and “Cousin Skeeter,” was in the original Broadway company of “Avenue Q” and has appeared in films such as “Men in Black” and “The Producers,” among other credits, Mr. Linz had to audition for the role of Walter.

At his second audition, he improvised with Mr. Segel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and thrilled everyone in the room, including the film’s director, James Bobin. “But I was still convinced I blew it,” Mr. Linz said.

After what he described as “the longest week of my life,” he got the phone call telling him he had landed the role of Walter. “I know I’m a grown man and a professional, but I threw myself on the couch and was literally kicking my legs up in the air when I heard the news,” he said. “It was such a thrill, and I haven’t really come down off that cloud since.”

Getting a lot of attention for his role is a strange change from the norm, according to Mr. Linz. “The odd part of being a puppeteer is that our job is pretty much to be invisible,” he said. “That’s part of the magic, part of the appeal. So it’s a bit odd for me to be getting attention personally, since I’m used to being behind the scenes, even when my puppets are the main attraction. But it’s very cool — don’t get me wrong.”

Mr. Linz said he hopes that the return of the Muppets to the forefront will also get wider attention for the late creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson. “He was such an innovator, who really changed puppetry forever and in such wonderful ways,” Mr. Linz said. “He was a genius, and a mentor for me and every puppeteer in the last 50 years and for years and years to come.”

At its peak, “The Muppet Show” was the most watched program on television. Fans of all ages are flocking to the movie, including those who grew up adoring Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest, as Mr. Linz did. “Longtime fans of the Muppets have been waiting for them to come back into the spotlight, and I think this film does just that,” he said. “That’s the story within the story, but it really works well on both levels.” 

The lasting appeal of the Muppets can be traced to several factors, according to Mr. Linz. “Well, first of all, they are incredibly funny,” he said. “But I do think that it goes deeper than that, because we see ourselves in these characters. Our faults are celebrated in the Muppets. Some of us think we’re so amazing, but we’re really just a pig, like Miss Piggy, or that we’re hysterically funny, but aren’t really, like Fozzie. And not to get too mushy, but the Muppets are better together than they are apart. That’s another thing this movie really gets across well, and something I think we can all relate to these days.”    



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DECEMBER 16, 2011

PHOTO COURTESY OF DISNEY

Actor Jim Parsons, Walter and Peter Linz on the set of the new film “The Muppets.”