Friday, August 10, 2007

A Chat with Frank Oz

Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster and of course Yoda are just three of the voices that Frank Oz is famous for creating, but since the days of "The Muppet Show," he's established himself as one of the top comedy directors with movies like In and Out, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bowfinger.
For the radio dramatizations of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Yoda was voiced by John Lithgow, while Tom Kane voiced him in the Clone Wars animated series and several video games. had a chance to sit down with Oz to talk about the origins of the latest project Death at a Funeral, and a few of the other things he's done.

CS: Your most famous character besides the Muppets is Yoda, which began as a puppeteering job and has now become more of a voice-over gig.
Oz: Just a voice, easy.

CS: How was that transition?
Oz: It was fine. For me, it's easy. I did the first three, I think it was, it was very tough work, very sweaty and hard work, but then George went to CG, which is exactly what he should have done. He could not have done anything else, then I get all the credit and these two dozen people who've worked for a year of their lives at ILM, they don't get any credit at all. And they're the ones who work, I don't.

CS: That's funny because in both cases, George has pushed for you to get a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the role.
Oz: You know who did that? George. He was the one who pushed and it was very nice of him. I know that George was the one who instigated that and it was very nice of him to do that.

CS: How do you tend to work with him on that? Do you do all of the lines before they animate or do you go in and do some afterwards?
Oz: With CGI? Or as opposed to the puppet? With CGI, and I don't do it anymore, what we used to do is George would give me a script and we'd lay down a scratch track and we'd work with that scratch track for about a year and then they'll come back to me and I'll fly somewhere and loop it and correct the scratch track, and that's pretty much how it is. For me, it's a few hours of work, it's nothing. At the end, for these two dozen people who work their ass off, and they don't get any recognition at all, it's odd.

CS: Do you keep in touch with George, especially now that he's doing his animated TV show, which presumably will include the Yoda character?
Oz: We're very, very friendly, but I haven't talked to George for a long time, but I have no idea. I have no involvement at all with it that I know of.

CS: Do you feel proprietary about the voice and playing the character if there is an opportunity?
Oz: I feel proprietary to the character that's in my heart. I don't feel proprietary. It's just in my heart. The actual Yoda character is owned by George, so he can do what he wants with it and whatever he does is probably not the same as what's in my heart, but nevertheless, it's close.

CS: Hopefully you'll get a chance to reprise the role for the series.
Oz: Well, I don't care. Actually, I think George Lucas did Yoda once years and years ago on a recording. That's what happened, but Yoda is a dear and powerful character, but it's really George's.

[read the full interview]

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