This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the cult classic from the Henson Company: Labyrinth. To celebrate the occasion, we sat down and spoke with Brian Henson, current chairman of the Jim Henson Company who also holds the roles of director, producer, technician and perhaps most importantly, puppeteer. In the interview, we discuss the lasting effect of the film, David Bowie’s performance, the recent opening of the Labyrinth exhibit in the Center for Puppetry Arts, and learn more about the Henson Company’s upcoming project: The Happytime Murders (a “hard R” film that blends puppets with human actors in a detective noir setting).
Collider: So 30 Years of Labyrinth, are you happy with the fact that the movie still resonates the way it does to this day?
Brian Henson: I’m very pleased. I don’t necessarily know if I’m excited. 30 years of excitement would be extremely tough to maintain. For me, I lived an entire life making Labyrinth. It was a very long commitment, a very deep commitment for everyone involved. It’s cool to walk around and talk about it, it’s wonderful, like talking about my past life. It’s all so real and so meaningful to me. It’s absolutely lovely to see the way people are still inspired on so many different levels by the characters and the storytelling. The fact that people see all this on the screen and it inspires them, seeing what all those involved with the movie’s production did and how that helps people is amazing.
Was there a particular part of the recently opened Labyrinth Museum Exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts that took you back to that time?
Henson: It’s tough to say as it’s all so immediate to me. I see everything and I’m right back to casting puppeteers and casting actors. If anything, I look at the exhibit and I say “there isn’t much here” which isn’t a negative at all as when we were making the movie, there were just walls and walls of goblins and costumes. There was so much!
Do you feel that the movie has a stronger effect on viewers now, since it is so different from everything else released in the present, or when the movie was first released?
Henson: Now that we’re in this world where we don’t have just 3 television channels and now that we’re in a world of a Multiplex having 15 theaters in it, movie theaters don’t necessarily need a movie to be huge now like in the 80s. Movies don’t need to be as big when we made Labyrinth. Right now, there’s so many options and choices with television and movies that audiences, I feel, are more open to weirder and more unique productions. The industry is only just sort of figuring this out. Ultimately, I don’t believe Labyrinth is as unique today as it was back then. The movie continues to find new audiences and be successful though, I’m happy to say.
Moving along to the performances of the film, how much of David Bowie’s performance was in the script originally and how much was interpreted by him?
Henson: Interestingly enough, my dad (Jim Henson) wasn’t as much of an ad libber. Back then, the script and the blocking was pretty much locked, and then you acted around them if that makes sense. David himself, while not necessarily creating new dialogue, was constantly creating new interpretations of himself in his life and he brought that to the character of the Goblin King. He was just one of the best, a particularly strong performer who, working within certain situations, just shined. David was a glam rock star and he was able to find himself in his own career, which helped his portrayal immensely.
Henson: I’ve been working on this for too many years to recall, I’ve had a great script for all this time…
From what we’ve read, it sounds amazing.
Henson: The script has only gotten better and better. Its very very funny and we’ve been working really hard on it. It’s not like any other movie and with Hollywood, if a movie comes in under 10 million dollars, then there are a lot more people who are willing to take a chance. So if I could make the movie for 10 million dollars, it would be much easier. Right now, we plan on making it for a mid-sized budget and make it look like a big budget movie. I now have everything set in place, the right studio, the right financiers, and right now we’re getting agreements on who everyone wants for the human actors in the film.
Very interesting that you’re that far along!
It’s really interesting! *Laughs* Everything that’s “hard” about getting the movie greenlit has all been solved. The only thing holding up the production is getting everyone on the same page regarding the human actors in the movie to act alongside the puppets. I’ve been ready to make the movie for a year and have been working on it for seven so I’m happy to see that we’re wrapping everything up.
The Labyrinth exhibit is currently open at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts. You can find out more about it and the programs being offered here.
Labyrinth 30th Anniversary is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.