Five Favorite Films with Kevin Clash

Plus, the man behind Elmo talks about working with Jim Henson and bringing his characters to life.

It's hard not to envy Kevin Clash's day job: he gets to build puppets, perform silly voices and create characters for the entertainment of millions of kids around the world. The subject of Constance Marks' acclaimed documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, Clash is a key player in the Jim Henson team, serving as a perforrmer, producer and creative consultant on the Muppets and Sesame Street, where his impossibly popular little red avatar continues to enthrall young audiences. But he's more than just Elmo's engine. As the documentary reveals, Clash's career as a puppeteer goes way back to his childhood, when he was entertaining neighborhood kids as a peer and later scouted to perform on national TV shows while still in his teens. A mentorship with his idol, the late Jim Henson, would follow, with Clash performing characters in Henson productions like Labyrinth and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while developing Sesame Street's Elmo -- a second-string fuzzball who would soon, to everyone's surprise, became a superstar. We spoke with Clash recently as he was en route to New York's Muppet workshop, where he reflected on his experience working with Henson, how he creates his characters, and that time Elmo testified before Congress. But first, we asked him to name his five favorite films...


The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg, 1985; 88% Tomatometer)

I think I would say The Color Purple. It pulls you in. When the characters are written and directed so well that your heart goes out to all of them, even the ones that are supposed to be the villains, that's a good movie to me. I really connected to Steven [Spielberg] in that movie, having the kids, you know, play it out with the whole frog scene -- that was wonderful. I mean, just so clever. There was even a little clip of Sesame Street in it. [Laughs]




E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982; 98% Tomatometer)

Man... just magic. I remember a friend coming back from seeing it and him saying, "You know, E.T. could have been built out of a sock, the story was so good." It just had the heart, and the excitement, from beginning to end; it's something that you wanna go to the movies for.

As a puppeteer, what did you think of the way they created and performed E.T.?

Beautifully. I mean, I knew the ins and outs of what they were doing and I thought it was beautiful. It was just enough to believe, you know. Just enough to believe. I know that Spielberg and Lucas, you know... you look back at stuff that you've done and you say, "Wow, wouldn't it have been great to have that technology that we have now to make it work," but you know what? It worked in the way they wanted it to in that movie and they did a beautiful job, with just enough movement and just enough expression to believe that character.




Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011; 93% Tomatometer)

Midnight in Paris, wow. A very imaginative film. Woody Allen at his best. Just wonderful. I wanna go and really get caught up in a movie when I go, and that one definitely did it for me.




The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991; 96% Tomatometer)

The Silence of the Lambs... You know, I never thought I would like a thriller but it was so phenomenally directed, and just suspenseful.




Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010; 99% Tomatometer)

I'd have to pick Toy Story 3. It hit the heart, the way it should, that movie -- reminiscing about the transition from child to kind of a man. That transition, with toys and stuff, that was wonderful. When he's saying goodbye to his toys for the last time, that was wonderful.



Next, Clash talks about his experience working with Jim Henson, how he creates characters, and the cultural phenomenon of Elmo.

Comments

Dave J

Dave J

It feels quite strange to have the voice of Elmo being asked about his top 5 since he makes a living entirely from doing the voice doing nothing else!

Nov 3 - 04:53 PM

filmdick

Dick Face

He's been in the business since 1981, and has done a lot besides the Elmo voice. Why so naive Dave?

Nov 3 - 06:12 PM

paul o.

paul oh

lolz

Nov 3 - 09:38 PM

CFM

'schak Attack

Please Dave forgive me for jumping on you, but that was some kind of bullshit statement. You're minimizing his accomplishments, when in fact you have no idea what he's accomplished. C'mon Man! You're better than that dude.

Nov 7 - 08:44 AM

jvcarroll

James C.

I guess most people are used to CG characters and phoned-in performances, but puppeteers are also actors and special effects artists. Watch an interview with a Muppet and see how they well they improv and own the room. What they do is much more than a voice. Kevin Clash also has worked with more talented people than the average actor. He's more than earned the right to have a 5-fave list on RT.

Nov 4 - 12:43 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

In fairness, they also gave Puss in Boots a Fave 5. :)

Nov 4 - 05:38 AM

Manuel G.

Manuel Granados

Would have been absolutely and completely awesome if he had picked Cabin Fever, Saw, Hostel, Human Centipede and another one of those movies just to be able to imagine Elmo saying "I like torture porn, nothing better to start your day than with someone strapped in a basement being degraded and slowly killed!"

Nov 3 - 05:05 PM

Movie Monster

Bentley Lyles

LOL! Best comment I read today.

Nov 3 - 05:30 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Especially if he ended that statement with Elmo's laugh.

Nov 4 - 10:58 AM

Bye bye

Steven Bailey

I wish there were a "like" button.

Nov 7 - 10:16 AM

Movie Monster

Bentley Lyles

LOL! Best comment I read today.

Nov 3 - 05:30 PM

Movie Monster

Bentley Lyles

I <3 Elmo! He was my childhood. This guy has good taste. He likes heavy serious stuff like The Color Purple ans Silence of the Lambs but has room in his heart for tenderhearted kid flicks like E.T. and Toy Story 3.

Nov 3 - 05:33 PM

THEREWOLF

Markus Arbutina

Cookie Monster is still the man.

Nov 3 - 05:48 PM

Cold P.

Cold Pillow

I'm more of a Grover kind of guy.

Nov 3 - 07:11 PM

CFM

'schak Attack

Animal 'd kick his cookie eatin' ass.

Nov 7 - 08:46 AM

CFM

'schak Attack

Ernie 'd laugh them all out of the room.

Nov 7 - 08:49 AM

filmdick

Dick Face

He's been in the business since 1981, and has done a lot besides the Elmo voice. Why so naive Dave?

Nov 3 - 06:12 PM

paul o.

paul oh

lolz

Nov 3 - 09:38 PM

CFM

'schak Attack

Please Dave forgive me for jumping on you, but that was some kind of bullshit statement. You're minimizing his accomplishments, when in fact you have no idea what he's accomplished. C'mon Man! You're better than that dude.

Nov 7 - 08:44 AM

JC Martel

JC Martel

E.T. looked like sh*t in CGI.

Nov 3 - 07:05 PM

Cold P.

Cold Pillow

I'm more of a Grover kind of guy.

Nov 3 - 07:11 PM

2d colorblind

2d Colorblind

Who loves ET and Hannibal Lecter equally? - The puppeteer! - Save it for the quiz.

Nov 3 - 09:14 PM

paul o.

paul oh

lolz

Nov 3 - 09:38 PM

Mr. Dufresne

Chip McNair

Wow, I had no idea Elmo was black! Anyway, I haven't seen The Silence of the Lambs (I will) or Midnight in Paris, and it's been some years since I've seen The Color Purple, but E.T. and Toy Story 3 are definitely among my favorite films of all time. Both are emotionally powerful, and both contain some of my favorite endings of all movies.

Nov 3 - 11:49 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I honestly thought Elmo was voiced by a woman until about two years ago when I saw Mr. Clash in an interview. It amazes me that a man can consistently, and convincingly, do a voice that high.

Nov 4 - 05:10 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

Don't forget Howie Mandell as Gizmo! "Mogwai! Bright light!"

Nov 4 - 05:40 AM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Wasn't it "light bright"?

Nov 4 - 10:59 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

Hmm, not sure. I had a Light Brite as a kid, though.

Nov 4 - 11:45 AM

Mr. Dufresne

Chip McNair

LOL, yeah seriously.

Nov 4 - 07:38 PM

Premo Beat

John Noto

See Silence of the Lambs immediately and report back, soldier.

Nov 5 - 09:37 AM

jvcarroll

James C.

I guess most people are used to CG characters and phoned-in performances, but puppeteers are also actors and special effects artists. Watch an interview with a Muppet and see how they well they improv and own the room. What they do is much more than a voice. Kevin Clash also has worked with more talented people than the average actor. He's more than earned the right to have a 5-fave list on RT.

Nov 4 - 12:43 AM

Reza T.

Reza Trikurnia

finally there is also like silence of the lamb....
what else from the man behind elmo....
amazing....
i like E.T....classic entertaining sci fi....
i love elmo.....but ernie and bert of the best in sesame street....

Nov 4 - 03:47 AM

David L.

David Long

I love his descriptions, Oh wow, ohhh, awesome, woah, mhhh, yep, wonderful.

I'm being legit, you could tell he actually SAW these movies.

Nov 5 - 05:54 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Elmo has one of the best and most diverse lists in quite a while!

Nov 4 - 05:08 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I honestly thought Elmo was voiced by a woman until about two years ago when I saw Mr. Clash in an interview. It amazes me that a man can consistently, and convincingly, do a voice that high.

Nov 4 - 05:10 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

Don't forget Howie Mandell as Gizmo! "Mogwai! Bright light!"

Nov 4 - 05:40 AM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Wasn't it "light bright"?

Nov 4 - 10:59 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

Hmm, not sure. I had a Light Brite as a kid, though.

Nov 4 - 11:45 AM

Mr. Dufresne

Chip McNair

LOL, yeah seriously.

Nov 4 - 07:38 PM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

In fairness, they also gave Puss in Boots a Fave 5. :)

Nov 4 - 05:38 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

Don't forget Howie Mandell as Gizmo! "Mogwai! Bright light!"

Nov 4 - 05:40 AM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Wasn't it "light bright"?

Nov 4 - 10:59 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

Hmm, not sure. I had a Light Brite as a kid, though.

Nov 4 - 11:45 AM

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