The wonderful new big-screen revival of The Muppets makes it easy to believe in a number of far-fetched notions — chief among them, that a romance between a felt pig and a felt frog can be among cinema’s most enduring — but if there’s any plot point that remains hard to buy, it’s that Jason Segel would be so busy with brand-new Muppet Walter that he wouldn’t make time for someone like Amy Adams. In real life, Adams has a career streak that’s hard to ignore, and after her Muppet stint, she’ll be seen in highly anticipated movies like On the Road, Man of Steel, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled religious drama, where she co-stars with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. Recently, the three-time Oscar nominee chatted with Vulture about growing up with the Muppets, her enviable new roles, and the terror of singing by yourself at the Oscars.
What is it like to act opposite puppets? Is it an easy thing to ignore the puppeteers and focus totally on the character in the scene with you?
It is so easy, it’s surprising. It surprised me! You just totally accept these characters, and it’s surreal at first to be working with Kermit and Miss Piggy and Fozzie and the gang, but you completely accept that they’re just another actor in the scene.
But what is it like when the Muppets aren’t acting? I seem to remember a story about Drew Barrymore bawling when E.T. would go into freeze mode between takes.
It is a very weird thing to see them when they’re not actually being puppeted. With Walter sometimes, they did remote-control, which is a very old-fashioned Muppeting technique, and they’ve been doing it for as long as the Muppets have been around. But when we were working with remote-control Walter, I didn’t like it at all! [Laughs.] I developed a very bad relationship with remote-control Walter. He never talked back to me, he was very aloof. I’d say, “Walter, how are you doing today?” and he wouldn’t answer. So mercurial.
Jason Segel said he cried the first time he saw Kermit delivering lines. Are you that same sort of Muppet fan?
I think Jason out-Muppet-fans me by just a little bit, but there’s one scene where Kermit delivers a long monologue, and when we filmed that scene, I was really moved. And then, watching the movie? When Kermit sings “Pictures in My Head,” I just lost it. I lost it! I was like, “Really, Amy? Really.” The first ten minutes of the film … I haven’t cried during the first ten minutes of a film since Up. Learning about Walter and how he felt about growing up with the Muppets … I was like, “Wait a minute, that’s my story. I felt like that, too.”
I’m going to ask you to explain who your favorite Muppet is, and just to take the obvious answer off the table, you can’t say Beaker. Everyone always says Beaker.
Do they really?
Yes, because Beaker is the best.
Interesting. Well, I have an answer for before I worked on The Muppets and after. Before, when I was growing up, my favorite Muppet was Fozzie. Growing up, “wocka wocka” was like my thing — I would tell a joke and then go, “Wocka wocka!” I was a bit of a nerd.
I know it sounds silly, but after working on the film, you suddenly kind of get to know the characters in a different way, and me and Rowlf ended up next to each other a lot. I was petting Rowlf often. But it would be hard to claim a favorite Muppet now, because I’ve had moments with all the Muppets. It’s like asking an actor in an ensemble cast who your favorite actor was. You can’t answer that question!
Would you be willing to get up there on the Oscar stage again and sing one of the songs from this movie, if need be?
As long as I wasn’t doing it by myself, yes.
What do you remember about the first time you did that, for Enchanted? You were up there going solo in front of millions of people.
It’s almost like I can’t talk about it again. [Laughs.] I don’t know how I did that. It’s the thing that was the most terrifying that I’ve ever done, and the thing I’m most proud of in my career.
Have you ever called it up on YouTube, or was it so pressure-filled that you’ve never actually watched it again?
No, I watched it back once, but a lot later, because otherwise I would sort of relive the experience — which was great, but at the same time, I was really nervous. I would do it again, though, if we could get Jason Segel up there dancing in a blue tuxedo.
How has Man of Steel been going? Everyone wants to know what your Lois Lane is going to be like.
I am a huge movie fan, so I’ve been living out some major childhood fantasies between the Muppets and Superman, trust me. Next thing you know, I’m gonna be Scarlett O’Hara, and it’s just going to be a trifecta of fantasy. [Laughs.] And then they’ll do a stage musical of Twilight, and I’ll get to play Bella. Just kidding!
I have to say, though, the film I’m most excited for is the one you just made with Paul Thomas Anderson …
… which was an incredible experience.
He directs so rarely … what was that set like?
It’s hard to talk about right now, because it was such a surreal experience. I had so many great moments on that set, working with Philip and Joaquin, who are so committed that they just pull you right in. It almost doesn’t feel real. It feels like it was a dream, like it didn’t really happen. But Paul’s a lot funnier than I expected. He is! And I don’t know what I expected, but it was a remarkable experience for me. It’s my third film with Philip, so it’s no secret that I totally love him and would do anything with him, but to get to work with him in this way was really a dream.