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Brett Gelman Took Inspiration From Fran Lebowitz for ‘Lyle, Lyle Crocodile’ Villain Mr. Grumps

“I really related to his anger and grumpiness coming from his failure, and his failure as a performer,” Gelman said of his character

Brett Gelman’s favorite childhood film was the first “Muppets” movie, but it took him a second to narrow down his selection when TheWrap asked the “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile” star what film he was obsessed with as a kid.

Let me pick one. Well, let me pick a children’s movie. I mean, the first Muppet movie really just is like everything to me,” he said. “It filled me with so much joy and I was really obsessed with Jim Henson as a kid as a lot of people who have grown up with his work are, but that first moment of Kermit being in the canoe with Dom DeLuise — It was just like this total joy that that came over with it. I really love the way in which the Muppets are with some of my favorite performers of all time, and the Muppets are some of my favorite performers of all time, but like to be coupled with Steve Martin and Mel Brooks, it’s just such a magical movie.”

“Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile,” in which Gelman stars as the villainous neighbor Mr. Grumps, falls into this category according to Gelman, who plays the role of the main antagonist in Lyle the singing crocodile’s path to greatness. The film watches the vocally talented reptile get adopted by showman Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) only to be left behind in the magician’s family brownstone when he gets stage fright and can’t perform the routine that Valenti choreographs for them to perform.

“I think it’s a really elevated film. It’s a very artistic film. You have incredible music done by some of the best composers and lyricists out there right now you know, and I think Will Speck and Josh Gordon, the directors have created a really new world, a very real world for this fantastical character like Lyle to exist in,” he said. “And then you fill it with really nuanced, complex, interesting, singular actors like Javier and Constance [Wu] and Scoot [McNairy] and Brett Gelman, that really elevates it to a whole different level, and bring a lot of pain to the characters.”

Constance Wu and Scoot McNairy play the parents of Josh Primm, who eventually discovers and befriends Lyle the singing crocodile (voiced by Shawn Mendes) in the attic of Valenti’s brownstone, which the Primm family moves into for Mr. Primm’s new math teacher job in New York City.

“We all took it very seriously while we were making it,” Gelman said. “I mean, we had fun but it was very much focusing on what the characters are going through, what they’re up against all of that and what they’re trying to achieve.”

Alistair Grumps lives below Valenti’s childhood home, and he makes sure to introduce himself to his new neighbors in a blunt manner, making sure they know all the ins and outs of being considerate neighbors. He also warns them not to feed his most prized possession — his cat Loretta.

“I really related to his anger and grumpiness coming from his failure, and his failure as a performer,” Gelman said. “I think he had a deep connection to Javier’s character, and I think that there’s this sense of betrayal and brokenheartedness there that stays with him, that he finds in Loretta, but because Loretta is an animal, it still almost magnifies his hostility and distrust of people, too.”

Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon brainstormed an elaborate backstory for Hector and Alistair, tracing back to their childhood friendship, which then led to their partnership in performing together before Lyle came along. At some point along the way, it seems Hector may have ditched Mr. Grumps for bigger and brighter opportunities.

Gelman also used “classic New York misanthropes like Fran Lebowitz” as a guide to his role. 

“Getting into that mode was really fun,” he said. “Those are some of my heroes, those New York misanthropes. So having that positive Northstar and then this negative but more heartbreaking Northstar to follow was really my entry points into him.”

Gelman is also known for playing roles like Murray Bauman in Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things,” for which he has become a series regular after first appearing in season 2. He does not think Murray and Mr. Grumps would get along.

“I think that they would not. They would not like each other, they would not like what they had in common, I don’t know if they would even be able to see it,” he said. “Maybe they wouldn’t be able to see it. They’re just built to be misanthropic. Murray got brought out of his shell. It would take a lot to bring Mr. Grumps out and it’s not going to take another grump to bring out a grump. That’s not how that works. Grumps don’t mix well together.”

“Lyle, Lyle Crocodile” is now playing in theaters.