Alumnus brings a new character to life in “The Muppets”
Peter Linz’s earliest memory is of a squirrel puppet he discovered in preschool.
“I just loved being able to make the other kids laugh with this little puppet,” he says.
And with the debut of “The Muppet Show” in 1976, his fate was sealed. At the age of 10, Linz (AB ’89) knew he wanted to be a puppeteer.
At UGA he majored in psychology, planning to use puppets in practice as a counseling psychologist or family therapist. But during his junior year, he had an epiphany that he says sounded something like this: “No, I don’t want to do that. I would just much rather play with dolls on television.”
After graduation he returned to his native Atlanta and worked at the Center for Puppetry Arts, where he was an intern, an usher, assistant to the museum director, a docent and a performing puppeteer. He used the Center’s library and museum to study different forms of puppetry from around the world. And he watched films of Muppet creator Jim Henson’s work.
A couple of years later, Linz was hired for his first season on “Sesame Street.”
“I was surrounded by people who were just masters at their craft,” he says. “My early days at ‘Sesame Street’ kind of felt like graduate school to me.”
Twenty years later Linz lives in New York state with his wife, Marlene, and their three children. He still puts in at least one day of work every season at “Sesame Street,” but he left the regular ensemble years ago to create his own characters. Tutter, an “apoplectic and neurotic” mouse, was created for the Disney Channel’s “Bear in the Big Blue House.” And Theo, a father lion he describes as “a kid at heart,” came to life on PBS’s “Between the Lions.” Tutter and Theo have long been Linz’s favorites among the characters he’s performed—but then Walter came along.
Walter is a new Muppet born in the script for “The Muppets,” a film that brought the puppets’ special brand of musical comedy back to the big screen for the first time since 1999. Released in November and available on DVD March 20, “The Muppets” tells the story of how Walter, his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) reunite the Muppet gang to try and save the original Muppet theater. After his first audition, Linz was sure he didn’t get the part. But after a second audition, Linz was visiting relatives in Georgia when he got the call.
“I was sitting on their sofa, and I got the phone call, and I remember just kicking my legs in the air and screaming like a little girl,” he says. “It’s just an absolute dream come true.”
To prepare for shooting “The Muppets,” Linz studied the script for clues to Walter’s personality. And he experimented with different voices—actor Michael Cera’s was an early model—but ended up using his own. His method is the same as any actor’s, Linz says.
“It’s the same process except instead of acting through my body and facial expressions, I have to channel all of that energy through my hand.”
“If people are really huge fans of the Muppets, they’re actually huge fans of the Muppet performers,” Linz says. “Part of our job is to be invisible… but I think it’s important for people to know that behind these characters are some really amazingly talented actors.”
Linz says it’s “mind blowing” to be part of a cultural icon like the Muppets. And though he’s now part of the Muppet universe, Linz himself remains a fan—of the Muppets, of the performers who bring them to life and especially of the newest Muppet.
“I love Walter,” he says. “I’ve just absolutely fallen in love with that character, and I’m really looking forward to the next time I get to perform him.”