Credit Disney Enterprises

When Disney revitalized the “Muppets” movie franchise in 2011, it added a new member  to the family, a somewhat clueless puppet named Walter. Now “Muppets Most Wanted,” scheduled for release on March 21, also introduces a fresh character.

But this new Muppet looks a lot like an old one. With a signature mole and a sinister smirk, the Russian villain Constantine uses his Kermit-like looks to infiltrate the Muppet clan. Neither a lover nor a dreamer, Constantine is described in the movie as the “world’s No. 1 criminal” and is more dangerous than viewers might think. The film’s director James Bobin said that Constantine grew out of his admiration for both 1960s caper flicks and ’80s Russian movie bad guys. In writing the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, Mr. Bobin wanted to incorporate each element.

“The most obvious idea we had was: What if Kermit, the most beloved Muppet character to many, had an evil doppelgänger?” he said, speaking by phone from Burbank, Calif. “We thought it was a funny premise.” What followed was a story that involved Constantine hatching a plan with his partner, Dominic Badguy (pronounced bad-GEE and played by Ricky Gervais) to switch places with Kermit and to steal the Crown Jewels. The filmmakers and puppeteers discussed what should be the fundamental differences and similarities between the two frogs. Here, Mr. Bobin and Matt Vogel, Constantine’s puppeteer, comment on those facets.


Clip: 'Muppets Most Wanted'

A scene featuring the character Constantine, the evil Kermit look-a-like.

By Disney Enterprises on Publish Date March 14, 2014. Photo by Disney Enterprises. Watch in Times Video »

Such Green Innocence

Because the other Muppets often think that Constantine is Kermit, it was crucial that he strongly resemble Kermit, with only small differences.

“Initially, we were going to have him be a different color green, a slightly faded-out green color,” Mr. Bobin said. “But we started doing camera tests, and it became obvious that he wasn’t Kermit.” The filmmakers decided on the same color and same materials as Kermit, but Constantine’s collar is shorter with wider spikes. And their eyes are different.

“Kermit’s eyes are very smiley. Constantine’s eyes are more flat and slightly bending in to create a sort of a frown.” Kermit’s head, without a hand in it, has a more smiling natural position. Constantine’s mouth falls into a natural grimace. The final difference was the mole. “It’s a classic movie trope. Two guys look exactly the same apart from one birthmark or mole. We love working these tropes into Muppet movies, because they play so well.” When Constantine switches with Kermit, he uses green makeup to hide the mole.

Fingertips Are the Tell

In performing Constantine, Mr. Vogel got one important piece of direction from Mr. Bobin: Watch “Octopussy.” That 1983 James Bond film includes General Orlov, considered by Mr. Bobin a quintessential Russian villain. Mr. Vogel embraced that advice in creating Constantine’s thick Russian accent, but sought to build other dimensions.

“I wanted to create a full-fledged character rather than just a goofy impersonation of Kermit,” he said by phone. He worked on Constantine’s accent with a dialect coach. In working the puppet, Mr. Vogel avoided Kermit’s light, airy moves. “We found a way to make him look heavier and more deliberate. He even sits differently than Kermit, more closed off,” he said. In operating Constantine’s hands, he would either have the fingertips steeple in an evil way or drop the arms and move the puppet from side to side, as if he had shoulders, when he walked. For the face, Mr. Vogel noticed that if he wrinkled Constantine into more of a frown, he made him look menacing.

Continue reading the main story