Frank Oz: 'I still lie when cab drivers ask me what I do'

Click to follow

You can't understand what makes a cult phenomenon or someone would bottle it I have no idea how I got involved with all these things – Sesame Street, Saturday Night Live, Star Wars, The Muppet Show – which people see as cult classics. All I know is that I did my work and enjoyed it.

The planets must have lined up for me the day Jim Henson asked me to come and work for him I never had any intention of being a professional puppeteer. I'd become interested in it because it was a hobby of my parents and, looking back, because I was a shy child and it was a way to express myself and hide at the same time.

When I began directing my own films, without puppets, I was shocked I was in the South of France making Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and I'd watch the daily rushes thinking, "This is just people talking – it's going to be boring!" I was so used to these colourful, crazy puppets that it took me a while to see it could be interesting without that.

I never get asked to do the voice of Yoda or Fozzie Bear now It's because I've said "no" for so many years. I had to distance myself from them because I wanted to grow in other directions. Now I embrace it – though I still lie when cab drivers ask me what I do.

I have extraordinary admiration for my parents I grew up in the US, but my mother was Flemish and my father was Dutch and they had to escape the Nazis by fleeing through Europe all the way to Africa. It's probably too much for any child to understand, but as you get older you realise what amazing people they were.

People love stories about the ventriloquist's dummy taking over or puppets coming to life I don't know what that's about. Those characters are in my heart, but there's a clear line between where I end and the puppet begins; I'd be having some kind of psychotic adventure if I felt otherwise.

I'm not a foodie, but I love food Ice-cream is my vice. It's dangerous – I have to watch myself or soon I won't be able to get out of my chair.

Frank Oz directs 'Terrible Advice' at London's Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1, from 22 September to 12 November,