No strings attached to this puppeteer
Nathan Danforth revels in breathing life into the inanimate.
The 25-year-old graduate of CSU Monterey Bay had a chance to do just that when he worked on "The Muppets," the latest film featuring everyone's favorite characters. Walt Disney Pictures will release it on Nov. 23, just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend.
Danforth, a native of New Orleans who grew up in Rocklin, has been acting since he was 6 years old. Monterey County audiences might remember him from his role as Sir Lancelot in the Forest Theater Guild’s production of Camelot in 2008.
He didn’t start puppeteering professionally until he moved to Los Angeles after graduating from CSUMB in 2009, but the inanimate characters always fascinated him.
“I grew up watching “The Muppet Show,” “Fraggle Rock,” “Eureka’s Castle” and all the Muppet movies. I loved the imagination and fantasy that surrounded the whole concept of these characters. They were fun and adventurous, and to me they were real people,” he said.
“In the Teledramatic Arts and Technology Department, I mostly focused on acting and some technical work, not puppeteering. TAT gave me a great education,” he said.
That education has proven useful. “As a puppeteer, you are always acting. You have to be able to show all your emotion and decisions as an actor, and transfer that into your hand,” he said.
He still does “fleshy” acting – non-puppet acting roles – mostly in independent films, but his main focus is on puppeteering.
To perfect his craft, he worked with the Glendale-based company Swazzle, performing at birthday parties and in libraries. Between gigs, he’d practice at home, spending four hours a day working in front of a monitor.
A big break came in 2010 when he worked with Jason Segel on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. The duo sang and puppeteered a version of “Dracula’s Lament” from Segel’s hit film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
That led to an offer to build a puppet segment for the television series “How I Met Your Mother.”
Then, he got a call from Segel asking if he was free to work on the latest Muppet movie.
“As any puppeteer will tell you, that’s a dream call. I was so excited, I couldn’t speak or breathe for 15 seconds.” He even remembers what he was doing when the phone rang – eating pasta and playing Xbox 360.
“My first day was like a dream. I walked onto the set and Jason gave me a hug and said, ‘Welcome to the dream, buddy.’ I saw Kermit and Fozzie, and started to tear up. These are my childhood and adult idols, and here they were in front of me.”
What started out as a one-day job lasted five months. “After the first day, the producer asked me if I would like to come on full-time and assist the puppet workshop when I wasn’t puppeteering.
“It was heaven . . . pure heaven. I feel very lucky to have been given such an opportunity."
Since his stint with the Muppets wrapped up, he’s been looking forward to the next opportunity. Perhaps the lovable creations will play a part in his future.
“I could not imagine a world without Kermit the Frog or Fraggle Rock or Labyrinth. Those productions so heavily influenced my childhood, my imagination, and my career.”