With a resume whose films run the gamut from Wild Hogs, Beauty Shop and Beverly Hills Chihuahua to Traitor and The Fighter, Todd Lieberman would either seem unlikely or ideal to produce The Muppets, opening Wednesday (11/23/11).
"Yeah, well, I used to describe my taste as Memento to American Pie - and everything in between," Lieberman, 38, says, sitting in Gordon Ramsay's toney restaurant in Manhattan's London hotel. As if to prove the point, he mentions that his next two productions are "a hard-R college drinking movie" and "a zombie movie told through the eyes of a zombie."
And ... The Muppets.
"Look, I've been a lifelong fan," says Lieberman, a Cleveland native. "I enjoyed them as a child. And now I can appreciate them in a different way as an adult."
Lieberman is one-time actor whose career high points were playing Ronald Goldman in an O.J. Simpson-case episode of Unsolved Mysteries, and playing an illiterate high-school basketball star in an episode of Sweet Valley High ("But I looked like everybody's uncle").
Putting acting aside, he got a job as a receptionist at a company distributing soaps abroad, then graduated to buying films for foreign markets. He used that job to "hone my taste and figure out what I liked. Eventually I convinced myself that my taste translated to broad appeal, when a producer asked me if I'd help pick scripts and create projects. I think I'm able to spot talent. I could spot the lack of talent in myself as an actor. And I can spot talent in other people."
Lieberman, who is partners with David Hoberman in Mandeville Films, says the pair became involved in the new The Muppets because of his and Hoberman's strong relationship with Disney (where Hoberman was once chief executive of motion picture production). They had close ties to the executive who was handling actor-writer Jason Segel's script for a new Muppets movie - and who was looking for producers to take the project on.
The film imagines a world that has forgotten the Muppets - until a fan convinces them to come out of retirement to save their historic studio. The reality is not quite that drastic, but the feelings aren't far off.
This interview continues on my website.