As the child of Wendy and Brian Froud, Toby Froud was raised in a lavishly creative world. While best known as the baby stolen away on Labyrinth he is in fact a very accomplished sculptor and puppeteer. Most recently he directed the highly praised film Lessons Learned.
What was it like growing up in the Froud household? Do you think you would be doing what you are today if not for the influence and encouragement found there?
I grew up in magic. My parents created an environment for me that let me believe and create anything I could imagine. I was also included in everything, there was no children’s table separate from adults. I don’t know that I would be doing exactly what I am doing now focusing on Froud creatures, puppets, and film but I do believe no matter what I would be an artist. It’s in my blood and bones.
What would you say is the most important thing you learned from your parents?
I would have to say, to be true to one’s self. Integrity in your art has incredible worth to my family. We may not make the millions but being happy with what we send out to the world is most important.
What were you like as a child?
It was very normal to find me running around the yard in a super hero cap,one either my mother or I had made, making forts or building puppets around a table with my mum. My energy and passions have always driven me but because I was included at the adult dinner table I was also quite mature for my age (at all ages).
Did you always want to be a puppeteer yourself or did you originally dream of other things?
It’s always been the dream to do something with film. Being a puppeteer was a passion as I grew up but directing has been a dream since college.
Do you ever get tired of people mentioning your role in Labyrinth? Why do you think people ask you about something you were likely too young to remember much of?
(Laughs) I don’t get tired of people asking because I am honored by it every time. It was a great honor to be a part (even a little part) of such a phenomenal production. There really hasn’t been anything like the Labyrinth since, so people still ask. My family jokes that Labyrinth is like a home movie because it does capture me as a baby, so when people see me grown up they feel connected as if they had sat down in our living room and watched a home movie with my parents.
What is it like to be able to look back at that film and see your baby self surrounded by such fabulously crafted creatures?
It’s strangely comforting. It wasn’t just the movie that surrounded me with Goblins and Faeries, it has been my entire life. Another way of putting it, Sarah never actually saved me, I’m still with the goblins.
Did you ever believe in any mythical creatures as a child?
Yes, all of them. I still do. I feel it’s very possible to someday have tea with a Minotaur or dance with a pixie.
How has becoming a father yourself changed your outlook on life in general? What do you love most about being a parent?
I realized that I was now responsible to not just introduce my son to the world but also to the magic I grew up with. The love you feel for a child is so incredible, it guides my every day choices and dreams. What do I love most about being a parent, apart for making him smile, or hugs when he needs his dad, it’s really that I get to buy TOYS again!
Does your son enjoy getting to see your work up close?
My son, Sebastian from a very young age LOVED my father’s work. We say goodnight to the Faeries on the walls of our home as we head to bed; they often stopped or calmed some rough nights as we paced the halls. I don’t know if I made the BEST movie ever or if my son just loves his daddy, but every time he hearing the starting tunes for Lessons Learned he is fixed on the screen and sits there focused for the entire time. He’s had to have seen it at least 100 times now after all the editing! It’s been more recent that Sebastian has enjoyed my puppets in front of him but now he really interacts with them. He has even started putting puppets on his own hands.
What advice would you offer to someone who wishes to pursue a career in puppetry? Where should one start?
Most places have some kind of puppet theatre or groups, finding other puppet people to connect with is a good place to start. Actually puppeteering, I guess all you need is a sock, two eyes and a mirror. It is pretty common to see my puppet hand flapping to Lady Gaga on the radio while driving, I can’t help myself.
What does it take to make a truly interesting puppet?
I would certainly say the eyes. We all relate to each other and communicate with our eyes, so starting with a puppet whose eye can connect is a big part of it. Also, you need to believe that it has lived, it’s either been somewhere or is going somewhere.
How did Lessons Learned come into being? What is the main theme of the film?
I connected with Heather Henson and we chatted about her Handmade Puppet Dream series. Before I knew it I was writing my story. As I mentioned earlier I had to be true to my heart which meant I wanted to make hand puppets with a Froudy feel. This meant I would need more funds to make the film how I imagined it. I ran a kickstarter campaign which was greatly supported raising double my goal and we started making puppets! The main theme is about the things we learn as we grow up and how our experiences stay with us. My wife was well pregnant when the planning started and that was one of my biggest concerns/thoughts, how do you impart wisdom or learn through experience.
Are you surprised at how well received it has been so far?
I am surprised and honored by how it has been received. I probably shouldn’t be surprised because I know people miss puppets, they miss that connection but as an artist you always worry about how people will receive your work.
Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into existence?
Yes, I have a few. I hope I get the chance to share them with the world but for now they’re developing in my head and slowly getting to paper.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working for Laika Entertainment on their next film but I can’t share anything more. I am still working on wrapping up Lessons Learned, getting it to festivals and filling my kickstarter gifts.
What do you think is the key to a life well lived?
A piece of stinky cheese and a bottle of red wine, oh and staying true to yourself. If you can look back and know you’ve learned from your life then that’s been a life worth living.
What are your own personal feelings on life, death, and what comes after? How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?
I hope that I don’t die alone and that I’m remembered with kindness. When all is said and done, I’m running through the woods with the faeries.
Is there anything you’d like to say before you go?
I guess all I could add is this…I do want to continue making puppets and films with puppets. I certainly think it is not a lost art and hope that the support for them continues.