Meet the New Puppeteer Inside Big Bird – The Hollywood Reporter

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Matt Vogel had just moved from Kansas to New York and was looking for work as an actor when his girlfriend showed him an ad in In the wings magazine. “There was a picture of Kermit the Frog,” he recalls, “and it said, ‘Are you up to being a Muppet? Then he gave all those details about the qualities they were looking for and it turned out I had them all.

And then some. Now, 23 years later, Vogel, now 48, isn’t animating just any Muppet, he’s the man inside the Muppet, reprising the role and voice of Big Bird from longtime puppeteer Caroll Spinney after his retirement last year at the age of 85. yellow avian that’s been a part of every episode since 1969. “I try to honor the original performance and the heart and soul of this character and be the best version of Big Bird I can be.”

When Vogel first auditioned at Jim Henson Productions, he almost played the part of the polar bear in what would become an iconic 1990s Coca Cola commercial (which Henson’s company produced). But then he ran into Spinney, who at the time was looking for an apprentice. “Caroll’s eyes lit up when he heard my name,” Vogel says. “He said, ‘Oh, your name in German means bird. This might be the job for you. And then he shook my hand and we left. That’s how I got a wing in the door.

Playing Big Bird hasn’t changed much over the decades – Vogel dons the same bird costume Spinney wore, using a thumb thread to manipulate facial expressions while watching the bird’s movements on a small monitor video inside – but it takes years to master. “You really feel the weight,” he says. “He’s got something like 4,000 feathers.” As Vogel learned to pilot the puppet, he took on other jobs as well, initially as an assistant puppeteer for Ernie, then taking on the Earl and Kermit. But, of course, on Sesame Street, Big Bird is the great game, arguably the most iconic character in the series. Landing the role, Vogel, who later married the girlfriend who showed him the In the wings ad, a hero for their five children. Type of.

“When they were younger, they thought everyone’s parents worked at Sesame Street, “he said.” But now a few of them are in high school and they’re a little more aware of what I’m doing. They go by and hear people say, ‘Oh, there’s Big’s son. Bird. “

Learn more about Sesame Street:

50 Years of Sunny Days on ‘Sesame Street’: Behind the Scenes of the Most Influential TV Show of All Time

Where ‘Sesame Street’ gets its funding – and how it nearly broke

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: my 50-year friendship with Big Bird and ‘Sesame Street’

Childhood heroes or bad role models? Meet the Muppets kicked out of “Sesame Street”

‘Sesame Street’ writer-director reveals plot details

This story first appeared in the February 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.


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