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. You can read Part 1 of our interview here.
The Muppet Mindset: Was your first project Muppet Treasure Island? What do you remember from that time?
Andrew: I was so young. I’d just finished a winter tour of Romeo and Juliet when I got the call. It was a T.I.E (Theater In Education) production touring Schools in North Wales. Although it was a fun job, it was cold and wet and I was living in a rented room in a village called Mold. MOLD for heavens sake!
I was ecstatic to be asked! I finished the tour on a Friday, drove home, got my act together and reported for duty at Shepperton Studios on the following Monday. I remember driving through the front gates in my little battered Peugeot (Nick named “Starbug” Red Dwarf fans!) and my heart was pounding. I’d never been in a big studio complex before and it was a dream come true. The main car-park had the remains of a massive Sci Fi street in it because they had filmed the Stallone Judge Dredd movie there the previous year. I was in seventh heaven.
That first week we shot all the stuff on the main Harbor set. The Hispaniola leaving, Kermit arriving in his coach, all the characters boarding the boat. It was huge! I’m WAY at the back in those shots. If you look at those scenes on the DVD there is a character in an archway…… Actually. Let me show you.
I spent a week up there in that archway. I loved it because I could just sit there and watch what was going on. Such an education in the process of making a movie this size. And, of course, there was the day a chicken escaped off the main set and was being chased around the stage by the handlers and some of the crew. Brilliant.
At the end of the week I thought that was it. I was so happy to have been involved. Then, as I was heading home, the production manager took me to one side and asked if he could have a word. Now, my usual reaction to that kind of thing is to think “Yikes! What did I do?” However this time he said to me, and I remember this sooo clearly, “We think we can offer you about 10 weeks work if you’re interested.” IF I’M INTERESTED! I tried to look cool but almost barked out “YES” immediately.
It’s hard to describe that period. It was transformative for me. I realized that this really was what I wanted to do, and that I seemed to be good enough at it to be taken seriously. During the shoot I was given the task of assisting Frank Oz for the time he was on the project. As far as I can recall he was with us for three weeks and I was next to him every day. Baptism by fire! Too many stories to be honest.
Right at the end of the shoot Jerry Nelson had to go back to the US and I was asked to take over his character Mad Monty for one scene. It’s the sequence where they have Gonzo and Rizzo in the hold of the ship and they’re stretching Gonzo out on a rack.
It was the very last day of shooting and to be asked to do it was a real honour. Very intimidating. In fact, to this day I’m sure that when Monty says “In your dreams!” in this scene it’s actually my voice. They said they would loop it afterwards. They looped his laugh but I’m convinced it’s my voice saying the line. I had a mic on so it’s possible. I did a pretty good Mad Monty impression!
Mindset: What was Brian Henson like as a director?
Andrew: Very calm, very in control. I’ve worked on plenty of sets where it felt like the Director was ranting by lunchtime on day 1! Brian simply wasn’t like that. He seemed completely measured and in control of the situation. I don’t think I heard him loose his temper once. It was a real pleasure work on Muppet Treasure Island. One of the happiest and most relaxed sets I’ve ever been on.
After we wrapped I went on holiday for a couple of weeks. Somewhere sunny! I’d been locked in sound stages for 10 weeks! On my return I went back to the production office to pick up my crew jacket and Brian was just leaving to have lunch. He asked if I wanted to join him and his companion. I had to say no!! I was expected elsewhere. His companion? Oh yes. That was Hans Zimmer.
I turned down lunch with Brian Henson and Hans Zimmer. That keeps me awake at night sometimes.
Mindset: That film has a plethora of amazing background characters. Were there any in particular that you gravitated to?
Andrew: They were handed to us on a daily basis. The ones I seemed to get a lot were these guys.
But honestly I’m all over the place in that movie. However, I did quite a lot of second unit stuff which provided me the chance to play Gonzo, Rizzo, Fozzie, Animal, Beaker, Kermit and others in short non speaking shots. Animal. He’ll always be my favorite. Such a gorgeous puppet to operate.
Mindset: The fact that you puppeteered Angel Marie has just elevated you way up in my books, because he’s my favorite obscure character! What was it like performing such iconic characters, even just for a small shot? Can you recall a shot where you’re playing, for example, Kermit?
Andrew: Oh gosh, let me see. There was some second unit stuff on the island where I played Kermit. Mostly cutaways and over the shoulder shots. The same goes for some shots on the ship. I’d have to go back and watch the whole movie to figure it out. It was 20 years ago!
Mindset: I visited the set of The Muppets about last year, and it was so hard having these iconic characters in front of me but not being able to slide my hand inside one. I have to imagine that desire, or that novelty, wore off fairly quickly?
Andrew: Oh no! It NEVER wore off. Ever. Even now, I get a little tingle of excitement If I have the chance to perform one of those characters. I grew up with them, so I don’t think it will ever be anything other than a thrill and an honor.
Check back next week for the final installment of our interview with Andrew Spooner.