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Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell are in demand in 'Muppets Most Wanted'

Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell at the Los Angeles premiere of "Muppets Most Wanted"
Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell at the Los Angeles premiere of "Muppets Most Wanted"
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The comedy film "Muppets Most Wanted" takes the entire Muppets gang on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid and London. But mayhem follows the Muppets overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine — the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit — and his dastardly sidekick Dominic, also known as Number Two, portrayed by Ricky Gervais. The film also stars Tina Fey as Nadya, a feisty prison guard, and Ty Burrell as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon. Here is what Gervais, Fey and Burrell said in interviews at the Los Angeles press junket for "Muppets Most Wanted.'

Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell at the Los Angeles premiere of "Muppets Most Wanted"
Getty Images

Interview With Ricky Gervais

How would you describe your role in “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Gervais: It’s about me and Constantine infiltrating those gullible Muppets. And I pretend to think they’re really brilliant. And I want to manage them and take them on a world tour, but really it’s just to get close to things like bank vaults and the crown jewels.

That’s what happens when two master criminals. We [Constantine and I] working together in the movie. In real life, we’re sort of friends. We’re chums. In the movie, we’re sort of at each other’s throats.

How long have you been a fan of the Muppets?

Gervais: I’ve loved the Muppets for about 35 years … But when I met [Constantine], he is now my favorite Muppet of all time and one of my best pals, really. He had a really hard upbringing, born in the pond in Russia, one of eight siblings.

What was your favorite part of filming “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Gervais: My favorite was filming in Pinewood Studios in England. [Constantine] is amazing in the movie. He’s sings, dances, and is a great impressionist …

Just wait for the sequel: “Muppets Least Wanted.” It’s just going to be us two. We’re going to get rid of all the other Muppets.

Interview With Tina Fey

How long have you been a fan of the Muppets?

Fey: I have been a fan of the Muppets since I was a little girl. And then I really like the reboot movie that Disney did a few years ago. I thought it was really good, and I took my daughter to see it, and she really liked it. So I was just thrilled to be asked to continue on the tradition.

How would you describe “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Fey: “Muppets Most Wanted” is kind of a jewel-heist adventure caper. The Muppets get tricked by an evil frog named Constantine, who happens to look a lot like Kermit, except [Constantine] has a mole. He tells them he is Kermit and that he’s going to take them on a world tour, but he’s maybe secretly really robbing all the world’s greatest jewels. Meanwhile, poor Kermit has been put in jail, where Constantine should be, in Russia, and I am in charge of that jail. I portray a woman named Nadya, and I am a Russian Gulag warden.

What was it like for you to sing and dance in “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Fey: It was really fun to sing and dance in the movie. Bret McKenzie writes great songs, and he wrote all the songs from the [previous “Muppets”] movie. And, obviously, he was in Flight of the Conchords and stuff. And they were really fun, catchy songs.

You get to pre-record the songs in the studio, so you get as many tries as you need to get it right. And then they fix it up a little more, and then you get to lip sync when you film it. It’s not so much hard. I’m not an amazing singer, so it was probably harder for Bret to listen to me sing then for me to try to do it.

[Says jokingly] Do you have a crush on Kermit?

Fey: I do. And I was able to channel through my character Nadya and pretend it wasn’t really me who has a crush on Kermit and pretend it was Nadya.

[Says jokingly] Were you worried about getting the wrath of a jealous Miss Piggy?

Fey: Miss Piggy and I shot only one day together, at the very end of the movie, n the roof of the Tower of London. My character enters, and she realizes that Kermit and I know each other, and she did shoot me the hot bacon look of death. Sizzling bacon dagger!

Did you do anything special to prepare for Nadya’s Russian accent?

Fey: I worked with a woman named Jill McCullough who is a dialect coach, who worked with me and Ty [Burrell]. She taught Ty his French dialect. She taught Ricky [Gervais] how to pretend to be English, because Ricky is actually from outer space. [She laughs.]

So I would Skype with her, and she would actually go through the script with me before I went to London. And then when we went to London, she would be on set. She would talk to us in whatever dialect we were supposed to do. She’s a crazy, crazy dialect genius.

What’s your first memory of the Muppets?

Fey: My first memory of the Muppets is Kermit in his reporter’s outfit on “Sesame Street.”

Why should people see “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Fey: I think “Muppets Most Wanted” is a really, really funny movie. It has lots of heart, but it also has lots of great comedy in it. And it has really great music and adventure spirit.

Interview With Ty Burrell

How long have you been a fan of the Muppets?

Burrell: I grew up watching the Muppets. I’m sure it’s subconscious, but I’m sure they had a huge influence on my sense of humor in general. It’s the same creative team as “Sesame Street.” Whatever eccentricities I have are due to the Muppets and “Sesame Street.”

I was really giddy when I got a phone call about this [movie]. I definitely lost all my negotiating power immediately upon receiving this phone call, because I giggled and whooped and said, “It can’t be true!” Like many Americans or people all over the world, it [“The Muppet Show”] was just a huge part of my childhood.

How did you feel about doing a French accent for your role in “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Burrell: Luckily, I was given license for it to be terrible. I was like, “Well, gosh, I haven’t really done a French accent before, but I’m excited about getting a shot to do it. James [Bobin, the director of “Muppets Most Wanted”] was very nice from the very beginning. H just said, “Look, it’s the Muppets. We’re looking for a comedy version of an accent,” which was a huge amount of pressure off.

But I also had a really good dialect coach called Jill McCullough, who was such a good sport and very kind to me as I botched this French accent. And also, I think it was a fun part of the process for me, because our running joke between Jean Pierre and Sam Eagle is that it’s a war of cultures between Europe and America. And the accent just a part of me getting a chance to be extremely smug and very self-righteous.

What did you think of the Sam Eagle character?

Burrell: We got along so well. I didn’t even so well until after the movie, but Sam Eagle is my favorite Muppet. He’ll sneak up on you. He’s that Muppet. There’s Miss Piggy, there’s Kermit, there’s Fozzie Bear. After spending a few months with Sam Eagle, you can’t not love him. He’s grumpy and sarcastic and also has a heart of gold.

What advice would you give to any actor who’s going to do a “Muppets” movie?

Burrell: Don’t be concerned with subtlety. Really, it was just a feeling that there’s nothing that the Muppets can’t hold. You can’t do anything too weird or broad that won’t fit into the Muppets. As long as it’s hopefully funny, which is just an awesome thing. It’s really an incredible thing.

I don’t think “Modern Family” is the most subtle thing ever, but it’s attempting to kept things in the realm of reality. So getting a chance to do something where I’m essentially the closest thing to a Muppet that there is, I am barely a human in this [movie].

What was it like filming the “Interrogation Song” scene?

Burrell: The “Interrogation Song” is basically a patter song. I didn’t have to hit too many notes. You’re welcome, America.

It was challenging because that stuff is very fast and also super-technical. The folks with the Muppets are so used to that. It’s incredible.

They’re the nicest, most patient people. And also, they’re good at it. They’re good at all the technical stuff, working out all the kinks.

They’re used to shoots being long. I was the weak one. I was the one having to down fluids and stretch. I’m so spoiled on my show. But it was a very cool thing. It took a while to make that song, but it was a very cool experience.

What’s your first memory of the Muppets?

Burrell: My first memory of the Muppets is roughly Statler and Waldorf around the opening sequence and hearing my dad laugh at it, which is a cool memory, because there aren’t that many things that you watch with your parents when you’re that age. But hearing my dad laugh at that stuff, it’s a very fond memory.

Can you compare and contrast 2011’s “The Muppets” to 2014’s “Muppets Most Wanted”?

Burrell: I think the reboot was, in a way, perfectly true to the original. And I can’t even put my thumb on it, but there is its own style with what James [Bobin] and Bret McKenzie and what those guys have done with this new iteration. This one [“Muppets Most Wanted”] is an expansion of that. It’s an even bigger iteration of the last one. We’re going all over Europe. It’s an homage to the Muppet caper.

But I just loved the [2011 “Muppets” movie] so much. I paid money to go see that movie with no kids. I just thought it was so funny. I think they are so funny and so smart, but [“Muppets Most Wanted"] also incorporates this huge European tour.

For more info: "Muppets Most Wanted" website

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