Jason Segel says a few words to introduce The Muppets at a private screening in New York last night: He’s been working on the movie for years; Kermit and Co. were his first comedic influences; and, in case you hadn’t heard, he loves these guys. Whether his love can conquer the box office remains to be seen (the film is in theaters November 23), but listening to a beanie-wearing, six-foot-four man talk so sincerely about bringing back his felt friends, you can’t help but root for him. We sat down with Segel at the Tribeca Grand Hotel event to talk briefly about his Mup-session (can we make this a thing?), his How I Met Your Mother baby-on-the-way, and wearing a cape until he was 12.
There’s at least one kid running around here tonight, so you can see your mission to introduce a new generation to The Muppets is under way.
It doesn’t take long for a kid to watch the Muppets before they fall in love with them. Because I’ll tell you, there’s a visceral difference with the Muppets and CGI. You could touch Kermit; he exists in our world. You could potentially meet Kermit. But you’ll never meet Shrek; he lives in a computer. I saw a little girl hug Kermit [on set], and then we started filming a minute later and she was sitting behind the monitors, this like 7-year-old girl, and she screamed out, “That’s my friend! I know him.” I think that’s the difference when it comes to Muppets. But the last Muppet movie was twelve years ago. This generation, from zero to 12, they’ve grown up with no Muppet movie in their lives and that just seemed crazy to me, because it really influenced who I wanted to be.
Do you still have Muppets all over your house?
Yeah, my house is packed with puppets. Like, everywhere. Thank God I have a slightly bigger house now, so I have one room that’s sort of dedicated to puppets. But for a long time I lived in a one-bedroom apartment that was just crammed with puppets. It’s why I’m still single.
How are you doing with How I Met Your Mother? Are you sitcomed out yet?
No, I really love being there. It’s a great family and all that. We’re in seven years now and we’re signed through eight years. That’s becoming a long time. I think it’ll be nice to get to the end of that story and meet the mother and all that. But I’m definitely intent on seeing the story through until we meet the mother.
And Marshall, your character, and Lily are going to have a baby.
Terrifying for you as an actor?
I just — babies don’t like me.
I think ‘cause I’m gigantic.
What happens when babies see you?
They just start crying instantly. I don’t know how to hold them or anything. I hold them like the Abominable Snowman from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, like, “I’ll hug you and squeeze you.” I’m like Lenny from Of Mice and Men.
How are you going to work this out on the show?
I’m going to let her [Alyson Hannigan, who plays Lily] hold the baby most of the time. I’m very excited that our hours might be shorter, because you can only work a baby for so long. Because it’s a baby. It doesn’t even know it’s acting.
But shows always drop in a reference to the baby being with “the sitter,” so the parents can still be in scenes. Anyway, what else are you nostalgic for besides the Muppets?
I get nostalgic for things like Labyrinth or The Goonies. I like the kids’ adventure movie. I think that’s a really neat genre. The first movie I ever sold was a kids’ adventure movie; I sold it when I was 19 years old. And I just bought it back. I’d like to make that. I think that genre’s really fun. Those movies make a kid feel like they can accomplish anything. I think that’s kind of neat.
Were you an underdog as a kid?
I think I was always a bit of a weird kid. Like, I wore a Superman cape under my clothes until I was 12. Honestly, I’m not joking.
Yah, a cape. Under my clothes. Until I was 12.
How did it even fit under your clothes?
I would just stuff it down there. Just in case there was danger.
Did you make the cape?
I bought it; it was like a Halloween costume. So those movies — Goonies and things like that — always made me feel like it’s all right to be a little weird; you could find hidden treasure. You know? Even if everyone was making fun of you, there is one small chance you might find One-Eyed Willie’s pirate ship and save your whole community.
Is your movie collection all movies from the eighties?
They’re all a little bit whimsical; that’s what I’m drawn to. I mean, as I grow older it’s things like Amélie and that kind of stuff. And Guillermo del Toro movies. But I’ve always been drawn to fantasy a little bit.
Getting back to The Muppets: There are a ton of cameos in the movie.
Were you in on getting all of those actors onboard?
I was to some extent. We didn’t have to make many outgoing calls. People love the Muppets. And when they saw there was a chance to be a footnote in that legacy, they were coming in droves. It was really cool.
And you’re hosting SNL for the first time next week. Are you going to be rehearsing from now until then?
Yeah. It’s on my list of childhood dreams. Literally, I had a list of three dreams I wanted to accomplish: One was be on David Letterman, which I did a few years ago. The other was work with the Muppets, which I’ve now done, and the third was to host SNL. And that’s not a joke. That’s honestly the truth.
What does somebody do when they accomplish their three big dreams before they’re 32?
Live happily ever after.