Ten Minutes With Matt Vogel
He's the man behind the Muppets
Matt Vogel never believed he could make a living as a puppeteer. As a performer for “Sesame Street” since 1996, and the Disney Muppets since 2008, he is living his dream. We caught up with him to discuss the iconic puppets he performs, his new character from the movie Muppets Most Wanted, and life in Fairfield with his wife and five kids.
How did you get involved with puppeteering? As a child, I was inspired by, and a huge fan of, Jim Henson and “The Muppet Show.” When I was in third grade, I got some books on puppetry and started to make my own puppets out of old tee shirts. I started doing puppet shows around the neighborhood and at local organizations. I never thought in my wildest imagination I could do this as a profession.
Which puppets do you regularly perform? I’m really fortunate to carry on where one of the original performers left off; Jerry Nelson, who passed in 2012. He played The Count on “Sesame Street,” so I’m now carrying that on for him. Also there’s a puppeteer named Caroll Spinney, and I’m really fortunate he has chosen me to be his understudy for Big Bird. For the Disney Muppets I was most recently featured as Constantine, who is Kermit’s evil doppelganger in Muppets Most Wanted.
Do you have a favorite? No, but I loved playing Constantine. It was probably the most fun I’ve had on a job. I created this character, which is really fun. I also love the characters that I play for Jerry because he was so special to me. It is an honor and means a lot to me.
When creating Constantine, where did you get the inspiration for his evil voice? The director wanted him to be an “evil bad guy little frog” and suggested I watch some James Bond villains. I had a voice coach who helped with a Russian accent. It was so much fun to play a bad guy who is not very smart but thinks he’s very smart.
What is the most challenging part about your job? Combining all the elements of doing what we do. We’re manipulating a character while acting, while we’re watching a TV screen that’s telling us what we’re doing, while crammed together with seven other guys lying on the floor. It makes it challenging but is also very rewarding when it looks right.
Aren’t there several other puppeteers living in Fairfield too? There are a lot of us who live in Connecticut just because the proximity to New York where “Sesame Street” is shot. Fairfield is just a very charming town, and that is what drew us here, along with other puppeteers who came before and after us.
What’s next? We’re on a bit of a hiatus with the Muppets, and for “Sesame Street” we’re shooting material for next season this fall. Some we’ll shoot on the streets of New York City, so that’s a lot of fun.