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.

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