Andrew Spooner has been a Muppet performer since 1994, performing in various feature films and television series’. Andrew currently plays Elmo’s Uncle Furgus, on The Furchester Hotel. The following interview has taken over a year to organize and complete, but it was entirely worth it.
The Muppet Mindset: Hi Andrew, welcome to The Muppet Mindset! Can I get you anything? I make a mean Eggs Benedict.
Andrew Spooner: It’s a real honor. I’m a huge fan of The Muppet Mindset. You’ve really helped me get my name out there on the Twittersphere recently, I appreciate it hugely. As for the eggs, doesn’t Benedict want them?
Mindset: How did you get in to puppetry? Was it something you always wanted to do as a child?
Andrew: It was a long process of discovery for me. I grew up in the 1970’s and was obsessed with Doctor Who, Star Wars and The Muppets. It was a wonderful time to grow up because all of this stuff was new, not a reboot or a sequel or a revival, new! Before The Muppets and Star Wars came along there had been nothing like them, nothing. It was a complete revolution! Star Wars represented this quantum leap in entertainment for family audiences and I remember it being all consuming for me. Toys, comics, trading cards (which I still have actually). I remember being almost overcome with excitement when the BBC broadcast the radio version of Star Wars. I still have the on air recording I made of it on my little cassette deck, a treasured item.
The Muppets was the same. There was simply nothing else like it anywhere. It was one of the few times we all sat around the television as a family and just laughed and laughed. It was such powerful explosion of colour, music and anarchy. I loved it.
I got a Rowlf puppet for Christmas one year and to this day I regret that somewhere along the line it got lost. I’d love to have him back. That puppet was my introduction to puppetry. I was too young to have any comprehension that people did this as a job but I loved playing with it. It was also the start of the home video revolution and my father bought a Betamax (a much better system than VHS!) video camera. I’ve no idea how he afforded it, we didn’t have much money and it must have really cost. So I had a puppet, a tv and a video camera. I was set to go! I spent hours just trying to copy what I had seen on the television.
Time moved on and movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth came out. I saw The Dark Crystal and I’m not sure I could quite process what I had seen. It was just completely otherworldly. By this time they had started broadcasting “Making Of” documentaries on TVtand whenever they came on I would record them on my Dad’s (now VHS) video recorder. I would watch them over and over again just try and figure out how things were done.
It wasn’t until Labyrinth came out that I started to realize that people did this for a living. But I had no idea how you could get into it. I lived in a small village in the English countryside and it all seemed a million miles away, so I never really thought about it as an option. I left school and was looking for a way to get into Radio, TV or film. So I decided to study drama and film at college, I was fascinated by all aspects of the industry.
But I had no idea how to get in! I was interested in so many things that my lecturers would keep telling me I had to pick one skill to focus on. So I chose acting. I enjoyed it and it seemed to be the only way into that world. In retrospect I think I should have gone to film school instead. But I had no idea they even existed!
Mindset: After you graduated from the Guildford School of Acting you attended a workshop that Henson was running. Who ran the class, and what do you remember from that time?
Andrew: Well I was actually still there! I studied at Guildford for three years, it’s one of the best drama schools in the country, and I was in my final year when it dawned on me that I wasn’t really enjoying it. Well that’s not entirely true, I loved performing but just wasn’t comfortable being on stage where everyone could see me. I couldn’t relax. It was at this point the idea of puppetry popped back into my head. Performing, but out of the limelight! So I got hold of the London Creature Shop address and wrote a letter to them.
Then everything changed.
I didn’t know it, but Henson’s were just starting to put there feelers out to see what talent was available in the UK, they were gearing up for Muppet Treasure Island. This would have been about the middle of 1994. So I send the letter and then a few weeks later I get a phone call inviting me to audition. As I said, I was still at drama school at the time and they refused to give me the time off to go and audition. So I phoned in saying I was ill and went anyway!
I traveled to London and get to the Creature Shop and the first thing I saw when they let me in the building is a Skesis from the Dark Crystal. It was like walking into wonderland. They had stuff just lying around! You would walk around a corner and come face to face with a Garthim or Ludo or a Fraggle would be sitting on a window ledge. It was amazing.
The audition that day was brief but they called me back. And that’s how it went for the first week, you would get through the workshop and then if they called your name out you would be coming back the next day. Nerve-wracking to say the least.
On the Friday they announced that they would be keeping around 10 of us do an intensive workshop the following week. Same drill, reading names out from a list. I waited and waited, and finally mine was the last name they called out. I almost fainted! So the following week we did this amazing workshop with Kevin Clash and I knew this was what I wanted to do forever.
In that second week we did a lot of the real nitty gritty stuff, eye focus was the big thing to nail on the first day. Not sinking in the frame, making sure the puppet is still alive when it’s not talking, that kind of thing. We then moved on to more complicated choreographed sequences. I remember we were rehearsing a musical number one afternoon when word came down that Brian Henson would be popping in because he was showing someone around the Creature Shop. So we carried on working on the sequence and then suddenly Brian pops his head round the door. I remember clearly him saying ” Hi guys, can we come in?” He then walks in with this guy he’s showing around and I’m thinking “Hmmmm I know that face. Dammit! Who is that?” So we do a performance of the sequence for Brian and this guy and JUST before my character enters I realize who the mystery guest is!
Oh my God! It’s Francis Ford Coppola!!
Mindset: Wow! I know that feeling well – I was once next to Geoffrey Rush on the train for 10 minutes before I realized it was him! How did you respond?
Andrew: I didn’t for a moment or two! I was kinda dum struck. He’s a huge influence on me. Although (and this is probably going to get me hate mail) I never rated the Godfather movies very highly, I was such a huge fan of Apocalypse Now and The Conversation. Indeed I believe that The Conversation is his masterpiece. I’ll argue that point until the cows come home. At the time he was planning a live action version of Pinocchio. So I think I was hoping he would point at me and go “Hey whose that guy! I want him in my movie!” Didn’t happen of course. Neither did his version of Pinocchio! Although Henson was involved in another iteration of the same project.
Come back next week for Part 2, where we talk Angel Marie, Kermit the Frog, and some non-Henson puppets!