Muppeteer and producer Bill Barretta is the man behind Dr. Teeth, Swedish Chef, Rowlf and my favorite of the new Muppets, Pepe the King Prawn. Nerdist spoke with Barretta at the premiere of Muppets Most Wanted, in theaters today, about bringing the Muppets back to the big screen and Pepe’s origin story.
Since the Muppets have had a resurgence in theaters as of late, what has the experience been like for Barretta? “It’s always fun,” he said, “it’s a great ride. We always get to work with great people. This movie was a great crew in England, I just had a blast. It’s always hard, it’s a lot of logistical things that happen that we have to do but it’s always a fun experience. It’s just fun.”
And how was it for Barretta working with screenwriter Nick Stoller and director James Bobin on the last two movies? “Nick, you know, he’s a nice guy… Nick’s great. He’s a great director too. James, he’s sweet. He and I work very closely together because I do the coordinating and I also produced this time, the movie. He and I spent a lot of time together and we had fun. We have the same sense of humor, which was good.”
Of the new members of the Muppets, Pepe the King Prawn is my favorite. Where does the idea for a character like that come from? “[H]e’s based on my wife’s aunt who’s from Madrid, Spain, and when I met her for the first time, it was this woman who just spoke in statements. She would say things like (as Pepe), ‘You have beautiful hair, okay.'” Barretta continued, “Well, we were workshopping for a new show at the time called Muppets Tonight back in ’96 and we were just playing around, and I just started messing around with this little puppet and it wasn’t Pepe yet, it was just a wire frame mouth and we were just playing around and it caught on and we collaborated with other people to figure out what he might be and I said, ‘You know, my wife’s aunt, she’s a little shellfish – selfish!’ And somebody said, ‘Oh! Maybe it should be like a crab or a shrimp or something like that.'”
Muppets Most Wanted opens everywhere today.