Actor Ty Burrell who’s best known for his role as Phil Dunphy on the ABC hit sit-com, Modern Family, stars with Kermit and the Gang in Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted! Under the direction of James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords), who also co-wrote the Muppet caper with Nicholas Stoller (The Muppets), Burrell plays “a very Frenchy French” (his words) Interpol agent, Jean Pierre Napoleon. Napoleon reluctantly teams up with CIA agent Sam Eagle to track down the evil frog Constantine (Kermit’s doppelgänger) and his number two, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who are intent on stealing England’s Crown Jewels.
The unlikely detective duo sing some catchy tunes including the “Interrogation Song” – written by Bret McKenzie (who won an Oscar for best original song with “Man or Muppet”). The film also stars Tina Fey as Nadya, a feisty Russian prison guard, along with guest appearances from Celine Dion, Salma Hayek, Sean Combs, and Christoph Waltz.
Burrell recently voiced Mr. Peabody in the DreamWorks Animation 3D feature Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and he will be the voice of Bailey the Beluga whale in the long awaited Pixar Animation, Finding Dory, the sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo. He also stars in the indie drama, The Skeleton Twins, with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, slated for release later this year
In our interview, Screen Rant learns that Burrell acted like a giddy schoolgirl when he was offered the role in a Muppet movie.
Screen Rant: That moment you received the call from Disney asking if you’d like to work with The Muppets, how did your inner and outer self react?
Ty Burrell: Well unfortunately they were kind of one in the same, a giddy schoolgirl or a seven year old with turrets or something. I was blurting out all of my joy, which didn’t give me a ton of negotiating power. Yeah, I was just super excited to be a part of it and didn’t really believe it at first. I just had a really hard time believing that I was being offered a part in a Muppet movie, I’m still sort of pinching myself.
SR: You play Jean Pierre Napoleon, which is a fantastic name. Tell me about developing your character and his role in the film?
Ty Burrell: Well the name is pretty indicative. If we could have, we would have added another French word in there. Basically, just try to find the funniest Frenchiest, Frenchest name! He’s essentially an amalgam of every French character you’ve ever seen and also intended to be the most European person essentially alive – so he could stand in contrast to Sam Eagle who is so American. And they spend the whole time just fighting about which culture is better basically.
SR: Hollywood magic aside, in between takes with Sam Eagle, you’ll never hear him say, I’m popping to the loo. Does quashing the sense of disbelief feel a bit weird?
Ty Burrell: It does take a little bit of time. It’s funny what happens as you do find yourself talking to the Muppet. If it’s a short stretch between takes you will actually be conversing with the Muppet, which is disturbing. If it’s longer, then you end up talking to the puppeteer and in my case I spent a lot of time with Eric Jacobson. I have an incredible amount of admiration for those guys, men and women.
SR: You’re doing the voice over for Bailey in Finding Dory, which is the follow up to Finding Nemo. Can you tell us what we can expect from that film?
Ty Burrell: To be totally honest, I don’t know a lot of what to expect from that because we’re at the very very beginning and it’s almost a three year process. I know Bailey is a Beluga whale and he will be using his sonar abilities which beluga whales have. But I really don’t know much about the plot yet. I’m sorry.
SR: After working so intensely with the Muppets, did you develop a favorite?
Ty Burrell: Sam Eagle. I really became…
SR: Emotionally attached?
Ty Burrell: Yes I did! There was something about the rough sarcastic exterior and his soft spot. And Eric is so good in terms of improvising as the character of Sam Eagle. He was my favorite.
SR: Did you have to audition for Kermit as he has the final word?
Ty Burrell: I’m sure my tape got passed to Kermit. I must have got the green thumbs up at some point.
SR: What can audiences expect from this film – because it has every genre?
Ty Burrell: Yeah that’s kind of the thing isn’t it? The Muppets can hold everything. It’s the craziest movie. You can’t even call it a style because you can do everything in a Muppets movie. It’s a lot of everything. It’s big, broad, humor and it has these hilarious songs and sometimes it’s really subtle and sometimes really sweet, I don’t know how they do all of that in one movie, but they seem to.
Muppets Most Wanted opens in theaters on March 21.