by Jessica Radloff
CLICK HERE for original article
Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle, Yoda—they all were created by the voice and genius of one man: Frank Oz. The legendary puppeteer (and director, producer, and writer) was responsible for bringing to life the most lovable characters for millions of children and adults. Needless to say, it was a thrill when the 71-year-old English-born Oz made a rare appearance at the Hollywood premiere of Disney/Pixar's newest animated film, Inside Out. It was there that we caught up the late Jim Henson's creative partner to chat Piggy and Kermit, the hardest voices to do, and secrets from The Muppets Take Manhattan.
Glamour: Your name is actually Frank Oznowicz (pronounced Oz-no-witz). Aside from the obvious, what made you shorten it to Oz?
Frank Oz: In 1963, when I came to New York, I was on a show with Jim Henson and it was called The Jimmy Dean Show. I did a little bit of work [on it], so whenever [Jimmy Dean] brought us out, he would massacre the name Oznowicz. A friend of mine said, "Just shorten it to Oz," and I said, "OK, fine." I never changed my name [legally]. Oznowicz is on my passport, my kids' last name is Oznowicz, but the strange thing is, now people don’t understand how to spell Oz because they think it’s too short. I lose both ways!
Glamour: Do you ever wish you hadn’t changed your last name given the success you went on to have?
Frank: Not professionally. I’m very proud of Oznowicz because of my background and my heritage, so it’s there. And my kids are Oznowiczes. I think the names worked out great. When I was high school, my brother would be called Big Oz and I’d be called Little Oz.
Glamour: I spoke with Linda Lavin the other week...
Frank: You did?! She’s great!
Glamour: She’s wonderful. I told her that two of my favorite movies are The Great Muppet Caper, which you produced, and The Muppets Take Manhattan, which you directed, and which Linda is in. She told me a really funny story that you told her to slap Miss Piggy.
Frank: It’s true! It’s good because physical contact with people is important—and physical contact with puppets. Otherwise, they are two separate beings. So it’s important. I remember that [conversation with Linda]! She was terrific, she was great.
Glamour: The Muppets Take Manhattan had two iconic standalone scenes: First, when the Muppet Babies made their debut in that dream sequence while Kermit and Piggy were riding in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park. What was that like?
Frank: Introducing the Muppet Babies was much harder to do [than working with regular-size muppets] because you have to plan very carefully when you’re doing those little muppets or with any muppets. So if you want one muppet on say, stage left, and the other is downstage right, then you have to create a hole [in the floor]—a hole on the left and a hole on the right. If you want the next cut for one of [the muppets] to move, you have to open that hole and make a long track. It’s all very technical.
Glamour: The other epic scene is the wedding montage at the end of The Muppets Take Manhattan with Miss Piggy and Kermit. What secrets can you share about that?
Frank: What I loved about the wedding was when Piggy and Kermit got married, on purpose I hired a real priest (Dr. Cyril Jenkins). I wanted a singing priest. That way Piggy could be honest in saying she was married. Kermit denies it because he says it was a movie, but she said it was a real priest, so that’s why I got a real priest. [Laughs]
Glamour: You haven’t done the voices of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Grover, Cookie Monster in quite a few years. Do you miss doing them now?
Frank: Yeah, I do. I miss them very much. But I can’t do everything. What happened was, I was off directing for six months and I can’t say [to the Henson Company], "You can’t use [those puppets] for six months." So I had to give it up, but I do miss it, yeah.
Glamour: Would you ever go back and do the characters again?
Frank: Well, you know, I’m not asked to go do it [because] they have other people doing [the characters and voices] now, and they’re satisfied. But I would love to go back and do it for a short period of time, yeah.
Glamour: Do you have any of the originals or replicas of the puppets in your house?
Frank: I have no puppets in the house whatsover. I wouldn’t. They are owned by Disney now. So I don’t own any, but I don’t have any puppets around at all. I never have. I had to leave that outside my family, otherwise if I do that, then my kids think I’m the celebrity and I’m the one that’s important, and they’re the ones that are important.
Glamour: Your wife mentioned to me earlier that when people ask you about doing the voices of these iconic characters, you let them know that you don’t "do voices," you "do characters." She said the voices are only 10 percent of the character.
Frank: That’s OK, you can ask about the voices. But, yes, exactly. What happens is, people like Mel Blanc did voices, and they were brilliant. I never think about a voice; I always think about a character. Eventually, by direction with Pete [Docter of Inside Out] or with Jim Henson, then essentially the voices come out because the character is right. If the character is right, the voice is right.
Glamour: With all of the iconic characters that you’ve given life to, how do you keep all their voices straight? From Yoda to Miss Piggy, each one is so different. Have you ever been doing one voice and accidentally started veering into another character’s voice?
Frank: I actually had...when we did The Dark Crystal years and years ago [in 1982], I couldn’t do the voices because they were just too close to my voices. But in Inside Out, I do two lines—if you sneeze you’ll miss me, so it’s ridiculous you’re even interviewing me—but Pete asked me not to do a character and just do my own voice. So that was fine.
Glamour: What character’s voice is the hardest for you to get into? What takes the most warm-up?
Frank: Cookie Monster and Animal are very hard on the throat. I used to do Miss Piggy and those highs were sometime hard to reach. Grover is very easy. Bert is very easy. Fozzie’s very easy. Yoda’s fine. I think it’s mainly Cookie and Animal that kind of tear up the throat.
Glamour: You have four kids (ages 29, 27, 24, and 20), so when they were growing up, did you do the voices and characters for them?
Frank: No, because then it becomes about me, and it should be about the kids. If the spotlight is on me, I’m doing a bad job. The spotlight should be on them. So, I never did that, never. They never watched Sesame Street.
Frank: Oh, yeah, they liked to watch the violent programs.
Glamour: This is mind-boggling!
Glamour: How often do you have people that meet you and say, "Gosh, Frank, I’d love if you could record my voice mail as Grover or as Miss Piggy?"
Frank: I don’t get that request a lot because over the years I think people know I don’t do it. The reason is those characters [then] become party favors. If you’re true to your character, they should be in the world in which they live and they should be pure characters. The easiest thing in the world is to get laughs and do stuff like that, so I don’t do that. I like to keep them as pure as possible.
Glamour: What’s up next for you?
Frank: Oh, you know, all this movie/director stuff, but I’ll sound like every director cliche in Hollywood if I tell you...
Glamour: No, because we love your work!
Frank: Thank you. [Let’s just say] there’s stuff around.
Glamour: Any chance you get to revisit Yoda in the upcoming Star Wars movie?
Frank: Not this one. Yoda died about 300 years prior to this.
Glamour: True, but you never know with Disney and LucasFilm and movie-making magic!
Frank: Well, not that I know of! [Laughs]