A rubbery face. Physical grace. Comedy gold all over the place.
That’s Stefan Karl, the gifted actor who plays Robbie Rotten in the global hit series LazyTown. Stefan is a classically trained actor who has appeared on stage in dozens of serious roles, as well as performing the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in sold-out theatres all over the United States.
But he’s best known for his antics as the lovable villain, Robbie Rotten, whose only goal is to return LazyTown back to its formerly lazy ways. To accomplish this, Robbie employs a menu of outrageous, Snidely Whiplash, bad guy behavior – from sending his nemesis, Sportacus, into outer space in a rocket, to hauling the town’s apple supply away in the belly of a flying dragon.
But Robbie must never be seen as evil. Toddlers watch the show, and so whatever trouble he causes, it must be comedic, first and foremost. In lesser acting hands, that could easily produce cliched mugging to the camera and repetitive (and boring) faux-menace. But Stefan possesses an extraordinary capacity to find those details that transform a silly monologue into a thing of beauty.
As head writer for LazyTown, I’ve been lucky to create many fun disguises for Robbie. And the real satisfaction comes from knowing that, whatever I come up with, Stefan will bring it to life with panache.
One role in particular is a good illustration of his talent: in 2004, we produced over 30 episodes of LazyTown. Each show contained choreographed action sequences, a music video, dance numbers, special effects and puppets mingling with live actors. There was barely time to breathe or think straight. Our schedule was brutal, and the actors were asked to learn scripts that were constantly being revised – often at the last minute.
We found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to cancel a planned shoot for the following week. After spending the entire weekend attempting to solve our problem, we realized that we had no material to shoot on Monday morning. An entire crew, assembled and waiting, would have nothing to do. That’s an expensive dilemma.
I came up with a quick solution – one that could only be realized with Stefan Karl on the team. I stayed up all Sunday night writing a new script called Miss Roberta. By 7 a.m. on Monday, the script was copied and distributed. The costume department designed a fast – and brilliant – disguise, transforming Robbie into the very proper and very funny Miss Roberta.
Stefan quickly digested the script, found its core, and proceed to play the hell out of that part. If you ever get a chance to watch the show, you may have a greater appreciation for his skills, knowing how little time he had to prepare. It’s a delightful, hilarious turn, and it’s a role I hope we can one day revisit.
Here are some classic images of Robbie Rotten in his various disguises, as portrayed by Stefan Karl: