We visited the set of The Happytime Murders — Here’s everything we learned
Last year, ComingSoon.net got a chance to visit the set of the upcoming comedy The Happytime Murders. In the film, Melissa McCarthy is a police officer who teams up with a muppet to solve a murder. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a comedy/crime drama set in a world where muppets and humans live side by side. We got a chance to chat with the cast and director Brian Henson and we’re here to tell you all about what we learned on the Los Angeles set. You can also check out some new pics in the gallery below.
First off, here is some info on the film: “No Sesame. All Street. The Happytime Murders is a filthy comedy set in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles where puppets and humans coexist. Two clashing detectives with a shared secret, one human (Melissa McCarthy) and one puppet, are forced to work together again to solve the brutal murders of the former cast of a beloved classic puppet television show.”
If that doesn’t give you enough description, we were greeted at the monitor by a number of small mirrors with sugar powder standing in for cocaine and red licorice whips for a straw. In the world of The Happytime Murders, sugar addiction is a thing. In fact, McCarthy’s Connie Edwards is addicted to both sugar and maple syrup. She’s a tough cop who has fallen on hard times.
“She was a really good cop,” McCarthy tells us. “It was her life. I think it was, instead of a relationship, instead of a family, it was the job and she loved it. And it’s what she kind of geared her whole life for, but she just kind of can’t keep it together… She’s hard boiled for sure. I think she’s been on the job long enough and she’s had a couple of really bad things happen, and you add a really bad sugar and maple syrup—sorry, Canada—addiction. You have this character who is in constant inner turmoil, and yet she still does care about her job and people being murdered, but she’s failing the victims, she failing herself.”
Her partner is Phil Philips, a puppet who’s worked by Bill Barretta.
“Bill Barretta is a dreamboat,” McCarthy adds. “He’s so good. I can’t imagine anybody else—he’ll talk about it, but this is his grandfather Phil. It’s such a personal dreamy character at the heart of it. When Phil’s upset, which doesn’t make any sense because his face can barely move, everybody feels it. That’s Bill Barretta being really kind of this weird wizard at what he does. I mean, there’s really no reason you get all this emotion and humor. You know when he’s hiding something, and you know when he’s stalling and when he’s angry, but I’m like, but nothing’s changed! How do you do it? It’s a great magic trick.”
The scene we saw being filmed was late in the movie, so we can’t spoil it for you. We can tell you that it was between Phil and Elizabeth Bank’s character Jenny, who she describes as a bit of a femme fatale in the end and who was the only human member of The Happytime Gang.
“he was in love with a young Phil when he was just a beat cop, and the first puppet ever be admitted to the LAPD. They had a romantical thing, and then it cuts to 12 years later, The Happytime Gang’s been disbanded. We are being hunted and murdered one by one and no one really knows why.”
Regarding The Happytime Gang, Banks says: “I liken it to like The Electric Company meets like The Simpsons. So it was not animated and it was not The Muppet Show. It was more like it was on five days a week, three times a day. And it was just something people loved like PeeWee’s Playhouse. So it’s like that kind of set like a ridiculous set and human interactions with the puppets all the puppets were amazing, Bumbly Pants is my favorite puppet.”
Of course, we had to ask about “puppet love.” Banks said, “It’s very soft and tender. Tender love. Soft sensual felt like love. Feels a lot like this tablecloth it’s velvety.”
For the record, there is a puppet strip club, and we got to see one of the older puppet strippers. It’s, well…. terrifying.
“I just really love this character I play,” Banks said when asked what drew her to the project.
“She’s like stripper with a heart of gold. I love that we are playing with noir and the whole sensibility of these (movies) like Chinatown, and yet with puppets. I just felt like this was a great twist on classic storytelling, and this character has some great twists. I’m not actually interested in playing a stripper in real life or even maybe like a real movie because then I would have to take it really seriously and it’s really hard. Pole dancing is real hard and my body is still very sore, and I did a bad job at it in this movie. That might be why I’m sore.”
Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s real-life husband) is producing the film, and he spoke about why he wanted to do it.
“Melissa read the script and she read it really quickly and said she thought it was great….So I read it and I also thought it was really great. I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but I feel like I read it in 30 minutes. It was just a really clean and really funny and I thought it had some good points to make. So I was into it from the start.”
Falcone told us that the world of The Happytime Murders definitely shows that the puppets are second class citizens. He said, “I think it’s just the world that’s set up that Brian is setting up really well. So when you see a ‘Walk’ sign, there’s a human one and then there’s a puppet one at their level because generally they’re a little bit smaller. The way that he’s got it set up is that puppets are sort of ostracized and they’re a little bit less than and they’re not taken care of entirely by the law. It’s a really interesting kind of world that he’s just setting up and he’s just saying this is how it is.”
We also got to speak to Maya Rudolph who told us about her human character.
“Bubbles is Phil’s secretary. Devoted, hardworking. She is a human in a human/puppet world. But I think that she feels more comfortable and identifies more on the puppet side. I think she’s disappointed in the human department. She comes with some baggage and she and Phil really seem to have a very wonderful relationship. It’s that good old fashioned secretary detective relationship, but obviously with a twist because he’s a puppet.”
Director Brian Henson, the mastermind behind the puppetry (and there are about 125 of them), spoke to us about how the project came about.
“It was Todd Berger wrote the very first draft of the script probably 14 years ago or something like that and he had sent it over to us. I had read it back then and it’s quite different now ’cause this is a long, long time later. I said, it’s too R rated. It’s just not what we do, but I said, good luck. Then I started the show Puppet Up and we started doing improv comedy with puppets and we do a live show that’s very R rated, that’s improv comedy. Then I thought this is really good, we found a new voice for puppets. It’s really funny, it’s kind of viciously funny and it’s a contemporary funny. And I thought, this is a good next place to take Henson style hand puppetry. So then I thought we should do something scripted, something long form in this tone. And then we remembered this script that we had passed on. And so it came back around and I met with Todd and I said, let’s develop it.”
We asked about the R-rating and if they’d shot anything that couldn’t be used yet. Henson said, “I may have shot stuff that goes over the line too. We’ve not been censoring ourselves. We did have a bar scene with a bartender puppet that had a singing penis, which was a very funny joke that we decided not to do. So that one won’t make it in the movie…We probably have stepped over in a couple of places that I’ll learn as I get it all cut together and then maybe pull it back a little bit. But the idea is it really is uncensored. It is quite dirty, but it’s mostly language and implied sexuality. There’s some pretty graphic, ridiculous ideas that are in there. But it’s there’s also a little bit of an innocence to the characters and the story, but it’s in a gritty, tough world.”
Henson also spoke about modern puppetry, saying that CG versions of physical puppets are no more likely to replace the artform than CG characters are to replace actors.
“I don’t think puppets will ever change in their essence. Which I think is why people say, well isn’t CGI gonna take over puppetry? Isn’t computer animation gonna take over? Maybe, but only in as much as CGI is gonna take over acting and actors. Puppetry is kind of a different, it’s the art of infusing a personality and a life and a sense of background and everything…, when we do CGI puppetry and what we call digital puppetry, we are delivering a computer animated product that looks like a computer animated show, but it’s fully puppetry in the approach. So I think in that sense, puppetry sort of evolves, but at the essence of what puppetry is I think it has always been what it is.”
For the record, Henson does appear in the film as a crab puppet in a garbage can. He actually directed from in there!
The Happytime Murders will hit theaters on August 24, 2018. Are you guys excited for the film? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or tweet them to us @ComingSoonnet!