Andrew Spooner has been a Muppet performer since 1994, performing in various feature films and television series’. Andrew currently plays Elmo’s Uncle Furgus, on The Furchester Hotel. You can read Part 1 of our interview here and Part 2 right here.
The Muppet Mindset: You worked on a few Henson things after Muppet Treasure Island, right? Video games and the like? I assume you were part of The Hoobs in some capacity, and The Animal Show.
Andrew: Yes. But I was still starting out, so I wasn’t in all the episodes of those shows, and the episodes I was in, I was assisting. TV is a very different medium, you are generating much more material in a day, so it’s fast, fast, fast, with much longer takes. As a result I find it much more tiring physically than film.
Mindset: What ‘Non-Henson’ things were you doing throughout this whole time? I know you’ve done some acting.
Andrew: Well, I trained as an actor so I was always pursuing that. That side of my career has never really taken off but I got enough work to get by. Theater and a bit of TV work. Occasionally I would get a voice over gig as well. It all just trickled in. During most of the late 90’s I was either puppeteering on a show called Brum for Ragdoll Productions (Creators of the Teletubbies) or working with a character called Dog for Sky TV. I played that character on and off for around 8 years. I miss him! He was a great white fluffy dog. Little bit of trivia for your readers, Dog was built by non other than (Muppet performer) Mike Quinn! Lovely puppet. Really simple but just packed with character.
Mindset: You were a part of Henson’s That Puppet Game Show. How did that come about? I always thought that show deserved more recognition.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s funny isn’t it. When I eventually saw the pilot show that they shot for that project, I became aware of just how much of the shows original concept had been smoothed over in order to get it to fit that “Saturday Evening Family Viewing” slot.
We were working on Muppets Most Wanted, I had a couple of days off and I auditioned for another show (didn’t get that one!) The audition was at Elstree Studios. I came out of the audition with that sense that it hadn’t gone my way and was heading home. It just so happened that in the room opposite the audition they were gearing up for That Puppet Game Show! I bumped into Brian Henson and much to my surprise he remembered me from Treasure Island all those years ago. He asked if I was still puppeteering and the next thing I know I’m on the list for assistants on that show. A total fluke! Mind you, I feel that my entire career has been a fluke!
So I arrived on the first day of the Puppet Game Show shoot and Brian was looking for a puppeteer to double one of his characters. Brian had at least 3 characters on that show and at times they would interact, so he needed a puppeteer to double his other characters from time to time. Now, Brian and I are roughly the same height, so he picked me to double in that first scene. Lucky for me he liked what I did, it meant he kept me on board for the whole shoot doubling his characters. He also gave me a little character of my own with few lines. I’ll always be grateful for that. I nicknamed him “Bug Eyed George”.
As far as recognition for the show goes, I feel the same. At the core there was a really neat concept. The pilot was so anarchic and full of energy and craziness. When we shot the series it just seemed that some of that got lost in the mix. There was a supernatural element to the pilot that I thought was hilarious, but when we shot the series it had gone. Shame. I guess that’s the way it goes. There is some great stuff in the finished program, but I think the BBC wanted to concentrate more on the celebrity element at the cost of a lot of backstage puppet stuff we shot.
Mindset: How did your role as Elmo’s uncle Furgus on The Furchester Hotel come about?
Andrew: It’s a convoluted story. I’d not worked for a while and I was just about to move onto other things when I got the call for Muppets Most Wanted. I started hearing rumors about a Sesame Street/Cbeebies co-production. After we wrapped on That Puppet Game Show I did some hunting and found out who the producer on this new show was. I wrote and email and, to be honest, kind of forgot about it. As a freelance puppeteer I’m always contacting producers and production companies. 99% of the time you never hear back, it’s a bit hit and miss to put it mildly. Then I got a call to audition!
This was a general call, we got a few lines of script from past Sesame Street episodes and I guess it was to see who was out there and then choose a core group to go back and audition for the show proper. So I went up to Manchester and did the audition and, to be honest, I thought I blew it. I have a habit of letting my adrenaline get the better of me. I thought I’d gone in there and just gabbled and let the energy control me rather than the other way round. So I went home a little depressed and tried to put it behind me. Nobody was more surprised that I got a recall than I was.
The second audition was more focused. By this time I had been sent a copy of the show bible and had a better idea of what it was about and the tone they wanted to hit. We spent 2 days work shopping with one of the directors and the show producers. I went in and out of the audition room reading little parts here and there, mostly hotel guests and smaller roles. By the end of the second day I was thinking that I’d done all I could. Then after lunch on day 2 I was asked read for Furgus. Now, I’d not even considered him as a possibility, and I knew others had gone up for the role. So I walked into the audition room with only a few ideas as to who the character was. He was always supposed to be Scottish, but I said I could try out other accents if they wished. They said that was fine but they wanted to hear Scottish first. So I just followed my gut and went with it. Now, as corny as it sounds, I can’t actually remember to much about the actual audition itself, all I know is that it’s the only time I’ve ever been in that situation and I’ve felt the temperature in the room change. I looked up from the monitor after we finished and (I remember this clearly) the producer Dionne had this HUGE smile on her face. I left the room and thought “Ok, well, that seemed to go down well.”
The day moved on, and we were asked to go back into the room and do a table read of a complete episode. We were all assigned roles and I got, you guessed it, Furgus! The read was being recorded and I think there may have been a live link up to Sesame in New York. And that was it. I started to head home.
On the way out one of the other puppeteers said to me “You got Furgus dude, I’ll bet you have.” I wish I’d had their confidence. Again I went home and tried to put it behind me. To get so close and NOT get it would be awful, but it’s what actors and puppeteers have to face all the time. Then about a month later I got the call “Would I be interested in playing the role of Furgus for them?” Um? Yes!
Mindset: What was it like working so closely with Louise Gold, who is a legend of the trade?
Andrew: Just wonderful. I’d known her a little since we’d done Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets Most Wanted and That Puppet Game Show together. However this was the first time we worked so closely. She’s loud! She’s larger than life! She’s a brilliant actress and it’s fantastic to work off so much energy. Working with her and developing the relationship between Funella and Furgus has been a career highlight. I love her to bits.
Mindset: Furchester has the catchiest theme song ever. My 2 year old niece runs around doing the ‘La la la la la la’ part, and my mother and I can’t help but walk around singing it. Does it get stuck in your head, too?
Andrew: Oh my gosh. I’ve had to sing it and hear it so many times now that I have a bit of a love hate relationship with it! I’m glad your niece enjoys it though!
Mindset: It’s been announced that Big Bird and The Count will be appearing in Season 2. Can we expect Furgus to fly on over to Sesame Street for a visit at some point?
Andrew: Well, as far as I know there are no plans. The Furchester Hotel is now being aired on Sprout in the US so you never know. I’d love to, obviously!
Mindset: Finally, you’ve been working on a secret pilot project for the last few months. Can you give us a sneak peak of what it might be?
Amdrew: Well I’ve done a few things. It’s taken me almost a year to finish all these questions for you (sorry!) so projects have come and gone. Nothing Henson related. I did a pilot for Disney Maker Studios late in 2015 called Captain Travel. It’s about an alien who comes to earth to learn about it’s cultures and history. It was a fun project but I don’t think it’s moving forward as yet.
The big pilot that I did in March/April this year was Gerry Anderson’s Firestorm. Gerry Anderson was, of course, the man behind such classic UK shows as Stingray, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet, and the hugely popular Thunderbirds.
As a kid who grew up on these shows it was a huge honor to be brought on board as puppet coordinator. I assembled a team of puppeteers and we shot an 11 minute “minisode” that we hope will help secure funding for a series. The trailer has been released to the Kickstarter backers and hopefully it will get a wider release soon. It’s a fabulous mix of state of the art rod puppets, animatronics and practical effects. And lots of explosions! The script is based on an original idea that Gerry had in around 2001 I believe, so it’s firmly rooted in all those classic shows while being completely new in it’s approach. I loved every second of that job. I can’t wait to see the full 11 minute episode once all the post production is complete.
Mindset: Thanks so much for doing this, Andrew! It’s been a hectic ride getting it all together, but I think we’ve done well! Can I order you an Uber or something?
Andrew: No thanks, I’ve just eaten.