The newest Muppet is Russian, prefers to go shirtless and is intent on evil domination. Sound familiar?
They call him Constantine, the World's Most Dangerous Frog. His striking resemblance to the beloved and perpetually positive Kermit the Frogcauses the appropriate confusion that fuels the plot in Muppets Most Wanted, out Friday.
"It's time for the bad guys to take the spotlight," says Constantine (through puppeteer Matt Vogel).
The Muppet interloper's greatest criminal feat might be making Kermit the Frog appear to be evil and imprisoned in a Russian gulag. Meanwhile, doppelganger Constantine blows up stuff indiscriminately and woos Kermit's precious Miss Piggy.
"It's just so funny that this frog would be bad," says director James Bobin. "And there's his evil, '80s-style Russian accent. He's the opposite of Kermit. He's just mean."
Bobin says there were in-depth discussions about making Constantine strikingly different from Kermit — even a lighter shade of green. But in the end, the two frogs are twins, except for a few slight physical differences — Constantine has a mole and a slight perma-grimace on his face.
Another key was going over-the-top in every other personality aspect, mining the humor for the adults and making sure kids don't confuse Kermit with his evil impersonator. Bobin instructed Vogel to amplify his Russian accent to reach levels akin to those of 1983's Octopussy villain Gen. Orlov.
Producer Todd Lieberman says the executives at Disney, which owns the Muppets, didn't blink an eye at the idea of allowing the centerpiece of their franchise to appear to be bad.
"We all wanted to move forward with it," he says. "The only person who had issues with it was Kermit himself. We had to talk him out of playing both characters."
Dave Karger, chief correspondent for the movie website Fandango.com, says a fresh angle was needed for the franchise, which dates to 1955.
"There have been so many Muppet shows and movies," Karger says. "The filmmakers had to come up with a completely bonkers idea. Constantine is that idea."
Nick Stoller, who wrote the screenplay with Bobin, says there is no limit to Constantine's badness — the worse the deed, the better the comedy. "The fun thing about Constantine is to go as far as you can go. He's just that ridiculous," Stoller says.
The only concession to the kids: Constantine's pistol was removed from the grand finale at the Tower of London. Instead, Bobin had the nefarious frog grab an outrageous flintlock musket off the wall to keep his caper alive.
"We steered away from the actual pistol," Stoller says. "You don't want that kind of stuff in a Muppet movie."
While Constantine's evil plotting doesn't always achieve the results desired by his twisted heart, Bobin hopes there's room for the character to stay onboard the Muppet franchise, just as the sunny-natured Walter continues after his introduction in 2011'sThe Muppets.
Constantine has other ideas, eyeing an acting career alongside Daniel Day-Lewis orMeryl Streep, or perhaps a future Bond villain role.
"I could have a little pet guinea pig and evilly plot about things," he says. "Maybe get the girl. Stuff like that."
Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) with evil Muppet mastermind Constantine, a Kermit the Frog look-alike, in 'Muppets Most Wanted.'(Photo: Jay Maidment, Disney Enterprises)
Constantine, "the World's Most Dangerous Frog,'' has exchanged prison spotlights for the bright lights of Hollywood with his role in Muppets Most Wanted. Here's what is known about him from his top-secret crime file:
Height: 24 inches
Defining marks: Mole on right cheek, permanent scowl
Nationality: Russian. "We are so enigmatic to watch on film, and we have funny way of talking," he says.
Aliases: The World's Most Dangerous Frog, World's No. 1 Criminal
Associates: Close ties to suspected criminal Dominic Badguy, aka No. 2.
Weapons: Skilled in explosives and martial arts. "Kung fu, and I know beef with broccoli," he says.
Nastiest deed: Left "really horrible" comment on a YouTube video of a hamster playing the piano.
Prison advice: "Try to run the show. Find the biggest guy, knock him down, and hope for the best."
Resemblance to Kermit the Frog: "I see no resemblance. We have very different looking faces."