Tomorrow, Earth to Ned comes to Disney+ for the whole family to enjoy! This morning, we got a chance to interview Paul Rugg (Ned), Colleen Smith (BETI), and Michael Oosterom (Cornelius) and we got to hear some behind the scenes stories! Personally, I loved getting to hear about how puppetry is coming back to popular culture!
When the interview began, each of the performers discussed how they had to freedom to create and play with their own characters! While taking on a legacy character can be so rewarding, part of the thrill is being able to truly discover who the character is. While they were playing characters from outer space, both Oosterom and Rugg found ways to infuse themselves with the characters. You may even see some references to the 60s era television!
Because Earth to Ned is a talk show, Oosterom and Rugg had to find inspirations for their role. They discussed how they were coached by late-night talk show greats! In finding their characters, Paull Rugg noted that he found inspiration for his talk show host from Jiminy Glick, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, and Mike Douglas. Michael Oosterom noted that he worked tirelessly to create his character in a way that played off the late-night talk show producer. In a note Mr. DAPS will love, he also discussed how the way he portrayed Cornelius was a nasal impression of Peter Faulk as Columbo!
I was incredibly interested in how Colleen Smith created her character, because BETI is not how you traditionally imagine a puppet. BETI is the AI for Ned’s alien ship and has little tolerance for the foolishness Ned and Cornelius get into. Smith noted that in her puppeteering past, he has liked to play small characters that can get in, deliver a punchline or quip quickly, and get out. Because of the grand scale of BETI, she had to completely reimagine how to play a character. As most people know, the first rule of improv is to always say “yes and.” Smith noted the extra challenge of playing the unamused BETI was how to make a scene interesting when her character’s first instinct is to shut things down and to not play along.
When they were presented with the question on if puppetry is making a comeback, they each answered with a resounding “yes!” They noted that many consumers of entertainment have become burnt out on CGI in movies and that the move to practical puppetry is based on what audiences want to see. They noted when they were growing up, it was so incredible to see the puppets on Sesame Street because they looked like regular toys who could breathe and sing and dance and create magic! This is something that CG isn’t able to capture because it doesn’t have the same heart as a physical puppet.
The trio also gave advice to aspiring puppeteers or anyone who wants to get better at the craft. While there was a bit of debate on whether it was more important to be a great technical puppeteer or a great improviser, Smith came through with a piece of wisdom I think anyone can take with them through life. Anyone who becomes a great puppeteer can be a great improviser or a talented technical puppeteer, but they always have a desire to become better at both of those things. She has said that some of the most talented people she’s ever worked with have always been striving to become better at every aspect of their craft and they never settle for thinking they have maxed out on any skill.
I had a chance to ask them about the most rewarding part of their entire experience creating Earth to Ned and Michael Oosterom gave an answer that really hit my heart. He noted that every day as he drove to work, he practiced gratitude for the work that he got to do. He really felt lucky that he got to play around at work and have fun with other actors and puppeteers that he genuinely enjoys being around. Paul Rugg added on that the set felt amazing to be on because from the moment you stepped in, you knew that everyone there had each other’s back and was rooting for everyone else’s success. He also noted that when they were in the swing of a scene, he, Oosterom, and Smith would be giggling nonstop because of how much they were able to enjoy everyone’s work
When the trio was asked about any dream celebrity guests they had for the future, they noted that they want to see anyone who has a desire to play and interact with the puppets. They said that the most successful and most fun episodes came from when a guest came ready to play and really let loose on the set.
On a silly note, the trio started to talk about their dream episode at Disneyland or Walt Disney World and what they think their character would like to take part in most. Oosterom thinks that Cornelius would love Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge because of the character’s love for Star Wars, but he also noted that Cornelius would love to people watch on the monorail! Collen Smith noted that BETI would love to hack into the programming of the Hall of Presidents so she could share some of the ridiculous, but true, facts that the Walt Disney World attraction fails to present. Paul Rugg noted that Ned would just like to enjoy a day relaxing at Tom Sawyer Island.
I am so excited to watch Earth to Ned when it debuts on the Disney+ streaming service tomorrow! What are you most excited to see when you watch the series? Be sure to. connect with us on Twitter and Facebook to let us know what you think!