When you think of the Muppets, the first name that springs to mind is Oscar winner Chris Cooper. His cheerful demeanor lights up any film that he's a part of. Wait, no; that's not right. Actually, I meant to write the opposite of all of that. Actually, Cooper is the first to admit that he's known for his darker and heavy roles, which is precisely why he's in 'The Muppets.' Cooper actually told his agent to find him something light and 'The Muppets' can certainly be defined as light. He's still playing the bad guy -- let's not get crazy here -- but Cooper does bring a contagious joy to his character, ingeniously named "Tex Richman." At one point, he even breaks into a hip-hop dance number, something I've never before seen from, well, any character that Cooper has ever played.

Moviefone spoke to Cooper who explained just how much fun he was having -- thanks in part to Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie -- and why Frank Oz and the other disgruntled Muppeteers just might have fun, too, once they see the film.

You look like you're having a lot of fun in this movie.
Yeah, I had a wonderful time. You know, my agent working with me sent this script over and it's quite a departure from what I usually play -- more heavy characters. But it came at a good time because I had been putting out the word, so to speak, that I was looking for some light comedy or light material. Though Tex Richman, the character I play, is a pretty tough customer, it was a lot of fun to work with the Muppet company. It was just terrific fun. I get to do a little hip-hop number.

I was not expecting that.
I have a newfound respect for that, man.

Were you nervous about that when you first saw your dance number in the script? Again, you look like you're having a good time.
Yeah, I worked with Bret McKenzie -- people probably know him better from 'Flight of the Conchords' -- and he wrote most of the lyrics and music. I went to L.A. a couple of weeks early just to work with him at a studio on Sunset. We worked together for about three hours and, not so much improvised, but Bret would make a suggestion like, "Throw in a James Brown sort of grunt, see if you can do that," -- little textures here and there. That was the piece we could use when we were filming the dance number and I could lip-sync to it. And it worked out very well.

There is quite a 'Flight of the Conchords' feel to that whole number.
James Bobin, the director of this film, had worked with Bret. I think he directed several episodes of 'Flight of the Conchords,' so, they certainly knew what they were doing. It was pretty wonderful ... and quite a departure.

So you put it out there that you wanted to do something lighter. Did that news get to Jason Segel and he sent the script over?
Boy, I suppose the people I work with sent my name and picture in and said, "Chris might be real interested in doing this," to the people at Disney and I think that's usually how it comes about.

I like how you say, "sent my name and picture in." I bet they also may have mentioned, "Oh, he's also won an Oscar." I have a sneaking suspicion that was brought up, too.
[Laughing] I keep forgetting about that. Yeah.

I think it may be impossible to walk out of this movie not in a good mood.
Well, good. I hope people come to it. Folks that were brought up on the Muppets in the '70s are now parents, you know. I hope with all of this technology that the kids have, I hope they'll be able to relate to the Muppet characters. We'll see.

Had you seen the prior movies?
I'll tell you ... in the '70s I was at university [the University of Missouri] and the second half of the '70s I was in New York and just barely getting by, so I did not have a television. I missed the whole Muppets for the '70s, but, of course, I went back on YouTube and looked some of the older movies. And I was conferring with the director, James, and he said, "Don't pay any attention to those. Take a look at Michael Caine in the 'The Muppets Christmas Carol.'" And that set a standard for me, it was a very, very touching 'Christmas Carol' with the Muppets and he just dealt with them as if they were human beings -- very sensitive to them. You know, he kind of dealt with them realistically. Not much tongue-in-cheek.

Yeah, I was wondering if you looked at Charles Durning or Charles Grodin, but that's interesting you looked at Caine.
That's one of the first Muppet movies I took a look at, and that led me to talk with James. And when James straightened me out on how we want to approach this, that really clarified it.

You mentioned treating the Muppets as human, but what is really the most difficult part about working with things that aren't human?
Well, you know, a couple of weeks before we shot this, I'm at home wondering how I'm going to relate to this. How am I going to relate to these little beings? And, you know, imagination got the best of me. Once I got there, it took about a half hour to realize that, "OK, am I talking to the Muppets? Am I talking to the Muppeteer?" Over the years I think that it's become understood that once these handlers put their hands into the different figures of the Muppets, then they turn into the Muppet characters. And that, simply, just clarified it for me. That's whom I'm dealing with.

Jason Segel gets really, really excited about the Muppets. Was there anytime on set that you just looked at him and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about"?
Well ... we had out trailers together, so I could step out of mine and go over to his. Where he had a nice little patio set up with easy chairs and I just go over to say hello. But didn't get into any depth about his involvement with the Muppets. You could certainly see his enthusiasm. I mean, he was on top of the world for this shoot and I'm so happy for him because, you know, this whole project, he presented it to Disney and it took about three years to get off of the ground. He was just totally enthusiastic, over the moon about the whole project.

And then Frank Oz and some undisclosed former Muppet personnel publically voiced their displeasure without seeing the film.
Yeah, I've heard little tidbits about it. And I hope for those purists that we haven't gone over the line. Boy, judging from the script, I think we were pretty sensitive to that. And, as you say, once the film comes out, I'd be very interested to hear their response. But I can understand the sensitivity. I think it has been ten years or so since the Muppets have done a feature film. And the way of the world becomes a little more, gosh, aggressive. But these characters, I think, have, for the most part, stayed pretty true to form. I hope we'll get a good response.

And the points they harp on -- Kermit's mansion and Fozzie's fart shoes -- are, what three minutes of an entire film?
Yeah, and, like I say, I'm sure we'll get a response from them once they get a look at the full length of it. And I just hope that they will enjoy it and see that we had our best intentions.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.



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