Gervais makes you feel a muppet

By Peter Mitchell

Interviewing British comedian and his Kermit-like friend about their musical comedy is a surreal experience.

Russian amphibian Constantine stars in Disney's new Muppets film. Photo / AP
Russian amphibian Constantine stars in Disney's new Muppets film. Photo / AP

Strange things happen in Hollywood. We all know that.

Take this recent situation in a Beverly Hills hotel.

Ricky Gervais is sitting on a chair in a beautiful suite with views over the mansions of Beverly Hills and up to the Hollywood Hills, but at the British comedian's feet is a strange man in a red shirt.

On first impression it feels like a scene from a new Hangover movie, although there are no empty bottles of booze, roaming tigers or abandoned babies in sight.

"Did you put him to sleep?" I ask Gervais, while pointing to the man on the floor.

Gervais smiles.

"I'm just lying down," the man, proving he is conscious, suddenly says. "Hi, I'm Matt."

Still lying on his back, Matt offers his left hand to shake.

Matt, who will later be revealed as actor and veteran puppeteer Matt Vogel, can't shake with his right because it is buried inside a familiar looking green frog.

The frog looks like Kermit, ringleader of The Muppets, but on closer inspection it is not.

This frog speaks with a Russian accent and has a mole on the right side of his face, just above his mouth.

Suddenly it is clear.

The frog is Constantine, the evil Russian jewel thief who broke out of a Siberian gulag and wreaks havoc, alongside Gervais, in Muppets Most Wanted, the new family-musical-comedy film starring Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the beloved puppets created by Jim Henson back in 1955.

Constantine is bad news and it is an uneasy feeling sitting so close to him, particularly with Vogel flat on his back below.

"Ricky, are you scared of this guy because with one flipper he could maim both of us?" I ask Gervais.

"He's a one-man frog," the British comedian replies.

"I'm the only human he trusts."

In Muppets Most Wanted Gervais plays Dominic Badguy, who poses as the Muppets' tour manager while helping Constantine rob treasures across Europe.

Ricky Gervais. Photo / AP
Ricky Gervais. Photo / AP


As I stare into Constantine's plastic eyes, I remark how he is almost identical in looks to Kermit.

"To me, all frogs look alike," I say.

Gervais lets out a gasp.

"What are you talking about? All frogs look alike?" an agitated Constantine responds.

I explain that, apart from the "Cindy Crawford style mole" on his face, he is a dead-ringer for Kermit.

"Yes, go on. I let you dig hole," Constantine says.

Gervais, enjoying watching me sink, laughs again. It's time to switch the conversation.

"Do you like the British version of The Office or the US version of The Office?" I ask Constantine.

"I like British Office because it is original and funny and is not always trying to be clean and happy," Constantine says.

Gervais wants to say something, but restrains himself.

"It is a little dirty. It is not all happy go lucky," Constantine says of Gervais' 2001 UK comedy TV series.

Gervais, as executive producer of the nine season award-winning US sitcom based on the UK series, disagrees. "I like the American version," he says, rubbing his fingers together to demonstrate he made millions and millions of dollars from the long-running US update.

"I like the American version because Ricky get paid more. It is his vision. He make vision in brain and vomit it out," Constantine says.

"Exactly. Because I'm human I have a huge brain," Gervais says.

There's tension in the room.

It could get ugly.

"You are making fun of my brain size? I was supporting you. You are saying my brain is small," an irate Constantine, ready to launch a karate kick at Gervais, responds.

"No, I'm not saying that," Gervais, holding his ground, says. "Your brain is small, but that is not a bad thing."

Constantine is furious.

"You are saying I can't make worldwide phenomenon television shows in multiple countries?" Constantine asks.

"No, I'm saying we are all different and, viva difference," Gervais says.

Constantine is confused by "viva".

"That's French," Gervais, losing patience, explains.

The end of the interview is near and I try to bring them back together.

"No, we are so tight, man," says Gervais, nodding to Constantine.

"We are as thick as thieves."

"I like what you say Ricky Gervais," Constantine says warmly, admiring the comic's reference to the roles they play in the movie.

The interview comes to an end, no blood is spilt.

Gervais gets up out of his seat, shakes my hand and walks away.

"I just have to go to the loo," he says.

Vogel and Constantine remain on the floor.

Movie profile

Who: Ricky Gervais and Kermit doppelganger, Constantine
What: Muppets Most Wanted
When: Opens in New Zealand on April 10

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