Ten Minutes with Peter Linz
By Jennifer Moore Stahlkrantz Photography by Tiff Gravel
Peter Linz’s passion for puppetry started in pre-school when he put a squirrel puppet on his hand and discovered he could make people laugh. His commitment to a career “playing with puppets” never waned, and he eventually earned roles on PBS’s “Sesame Street” and “Bear in the Big Blue House” and on Broadway’s Avenue Q. But his dream job—a Muppet character to call his own—seemed elusive, until he met Walter. I spoke with Linz at Perks, near his home in Katonah.
Who is Walter?
Walter is a Muppet character created specifically for The Muppets, a new Walt Disney movie. He’s a really nice guy who grew up in a small town. He’s naive and never quite fit in. He’s also the world’s biggest Muppet fan.
How did you two meet?
After an initial table-read, I was invited to an audition where I saw the Walter prototype for the first time. We read some scenes and did some improv, and then I didn’t hear anything for two weeks. Eventually, I was invited to a callback in L.A.
What was the Hollywood callback like?
I was competing against three other professionals who are my heroes and friends, and we each auditioned separately. The first 20 minutes was improv with Jason Segal who co-wrote the movie and stars as Walter’s brother Gary. Jason is an improv master, and it was a great warm up and helped me relax and have fun.
How did you come up with Walter’s voice?
After the first audition, I was told that if a human actor was cast as Walter, it would be Michael Cera. So I watched and listed to everything I could by Michael—practically becoming Michael Cera for the callback. Ironically, once I was cast, Bill Barretta, the “puppet captain,” suggested using my own voice, so Walter wouldn’t sound so young. James Bobin, the director, agreed it was better.
What was it like when Disney called to offer you the role?
It was a dream come true and a lifesaver. As I told James Bobin, in some ways I am Walter. I am a huge Muppets fan, and growing up, I was a bit naive and never quite fit in. James said, “Brilliant, I love casting close to the bone.”
How was it a lifesaver?
Well, most of my principal character puppeteering roles are on public television, which was hit hard by the recent economic changes. So, I was thrilled and relieved.
What can you tell us about the movie?
Well, it’s a love letter to the Muppets, in the mold of the original Muppet movies that were written for everybody—not just for children. Walter is a catalyst for telling the story. Initially, he just wants to meet the Muppets and travels to L.A. with his brother, Gary, and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary. But, then he overhears an evil plot and decides he has to save the Muppets. There is a lot of great singing and dancing. It’s very funny and clever, and I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll just have to go see it.