Original-Cin Q&A: The 'next Henson' goes rogue w/Happytime Murders - 'My dad's up there thinking I'm crazy.'

By Bonnie Laufer

Some very naughty puppets, with a very sweet pedigree, are starring in their very own, raunchy, feature film. Bring smelling salts.

The Happytime Murders is brought to you by Brian Henson, son of the legendary puppet-master Jim Henson of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show fame

Read our review of the Happytime Murders

Brian spent many years bringing The Happytime Murders to the big screen and, although there are a total of a 125 puppets in the film, it is in NO way a movie for children!!! 

Along with the miscreant puppets from Henson Alternative, are a number of A-list humans! 

The film is set In a world where puppets coexist with humans but are reviled by society and considered inferior to humans. The plot has puppet private investigator, Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta), reuniting with his ex-partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to find a serial killer who murdered Phil's brother and is now targeting the cast members of the 1980s television series The Happytime Gang. 

 Director Henson tries to coax a great performance out of whole cloth in The Happytime Murders

Director Henson tries to coax a great performance out of whole cloth in The Happytime Murders

To make matters worse, Phil's former flame, Jenny (Elizabeth Banks) is next on the list. Now he and his partner are running out of time as they try to solve "The Happytime Murders."

There are a total of 125 puppets in the film, with 40 specifically created for it.  To accommodate the puppeteers, all of the sets were built up, so that the puppeteers could stand on the floor "beneath" the human one, because their optimum way to operate is standing with straight arms. The human actors had a two-foot margin to stay on their path of "their" floor.

Original-Cin's Bonnie Laufer spoke with Director Brian Henson about bringing his vision to the big screen and what he thinks his father would have thought about it. 

ORIGINAL-CIN: The Happytime Murders was a long time coming. I understand it’s been 15 years from the first time you actually saw the script to getting it made?

BRIAN HENSON: “Yes, more or less. It’s taken that long to get it where I wanted it to go. “

OC: So what was it about the script and bringing us R-Rated puppets that made you keep pushing ahead? 

BH:  “When I initially saw the script it was the first draft that Todd Berger had done, and it was not what I was looking for at the time. It was unwieldy, it was R-rated and it just didn’t feel right.  But then, not long after that, I started doing improv comedy workshops with my puppeteers, because I was trying to find a new tone of comedy for puppets.  

“I had been trying to do it through the writers and that wasn't really working, so I tried to do it through the performers.  I got together with Patrick Bristow who is a very famous improv comedian, and director and we started working with the puppeteers  and found that we were on to something really funny.”

 Henson Street Blues: Melissa McCarthy and her partner unravel murder most foul

Henson Street Blues: Melissa McCarthy and her partner unravel murder most foul

OC: So did you immediately try it out in front of an audience? 

BH: “Exactly. We performed  it in front of it friends and family just to start getting feedback and everybody loved it. Then it just started getting booked in places, and so it organically became a show.  

“I was trying to find what's the funniest that puppets can be in front of today's audience. And in that show, the suggestions were always very blue, very adult. We were constantly getting suggestions of raunchy material we could do with puppets. And as long as we did it right, it was hilariously funny. 

“Of course, if we did it wrong, then it became gross and stupid. But we figured it out and it was great for us as performers doing it and the audience really appreciated it.”

OC: Which then obviously rekindled your idea of trying something scripted for the big screen.

 BH:  “We kind of had a  handle on it, so I decided I wanted to do something scripted in this tone. And then I started looking for scripts.  That made me look back at Todd's script and  I started working with Todd to rewrite the script.  

“It was always called Happytime Murders, but we wrote about 15 drafts. We had been ready to make the movie for probably six years, but didn’t have the funding to do it right. And that's why I kept saying no to a number of offers until STX came along and said, ‘We will give you the money. but it has to have the right human casting.’”

OC: You did cast a pretty impressive roster of humans including Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks and Joel McHale

BH:“Yes, we lucked out with the humans and we were thrilled when Melissa got excited about it and that's basically when we went into production.”

OC: I would think that making an R-rated movie like this gives you complete freedom, but was there ever a time when you felt it was way over the top and you had to dial back the raunch? 

BH: “You have complete freedom, you can do pretty much anything. You dial it back when it's just bad. So if it's good, it's organic to the moment. And if it's organic in such a way that somebody would really say that, or make that comment or do that outrageous thing, and you believe that potentially that could have happened, then it’s good.  I say, go for it.  

“However, if for no reason at all, someone is saying something really dirty just to say something really dirty, then that's bad comedy and not funny at all.”  

OC: Is it difficult to shoot puppet sex scenes? 

BH: “ Yes! It takes a lot more planning than real sex!” (Big laugh)

OC: Congratulations on the film, and I just have to tell you Brian that I am quite sure your dad is looking down at you with a huge smile on his face. 

BH: “Maybe - I certainly would like to think so. He’s probably thinking, ‘You’re crazy, but it's kind of fun.’ “

OC: I think he would have taken it to this level. Don’t you think he was almost there? 

BH:” I think that he would be a little jealous. My dad had an amazing sense of humour and I think he probably would have thought, ‘I can’t, but boy do I wish I could.’”  

Click HERE for Bonnie Laufer's video chat with puppet scene-stealer Goofer about porn and maple syrup.