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Emilio Delgado recalls his sunny days as Luis on ‘Sesame Street’

Emilio Delgado (left) and the rest of the cast from the fifth season of "Sesame Street."Sesame Workshop

Emilio Delgado is in cheerful spirits for somebody who spent more than 40 years hanging out with an abnormally large bird, a grouch who lives in a trash can, and a monster (albeit one that eats cookies). Portraying Luis, the fix-it shop owner, he became an indelible part of the “Sesame Street” experience for generations of families who followed his adventures with Big Bird and all the rest of Jim Henson’s Muppets. “Sesame Street” celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Luis was one of three original-generation human characters who were cut from the cast after HBO began showing first-run episodes of “Sesame Street” in 2016. (Those episodes still migrate to PBS later.) But Delgado, 79, remains an enthusiastic ambassador for the show, happily strolling down memory lane — or street — in a phone call with the Globe while he is in town to perform the lead role in “Quixote Nuevo” at Huntington Theatre Company.


Q. As a young actor hired on "Sesame Street," did you think this was going to be a long-term gig?

A. It was a job. If you’re an actor and you're looking at your last unemployment check, you take it. We had no idea it would go on for 50 years like that, but we were very much enthused with everything we were doing and the reception we were getting.

It was very much an experiment. We knew we were just making it up as we went along. It was very much a concerted effort, with people advising it who were in education and child psychology. The research people.

Q. Was that aspect problematic, creatively? As an actor, you’re not trying to fulfill a curriculum, you’re trying to have some real, human interactions onscreen.

A. It was not a problem at all. Once the research people handed that stuff to the writers, the writers turned it into comedic bits and interesting stories. They would fit it into whatever they were teaching the kids — whether it was about numbers or letters or interactions with other people, or families and how other people lived and how other people looked and what they ate and languages they spoke, and all that. So it became a kind of window to the world for the kids.


To me that was always the idealized shape or form of what America could be.

Q. What was the “Sesame Street” workplace like?

A. It was fantastic. The people that I was working with were all incredibly talented. We still get along so marvelously. We created another family for ourselves. We all stay in touch all the time. We have lunch together, we have dinner together, we go to functions together. We take vacations together sometimes. So we’re very much a part of each others’ lives to this day.

Q. Given the truism that acting is reacting, and listening, how does that translate to a scene with a puppet?

A. I always like to say I had a very easy time of suspending disbelief and working with puppets. I think my inner child came out. Each one of these puppeteers in their own right are such talented people. They’re all stand-up comedians and musicians and filmmakers, in addition to being puppeteers.

These people were absolutely, amazingly creative — just in the moment, in terms of comedy and doing funny things and saying funny things. So there were a lot of times where you really had to be in the moment with them and have real reactions to what they’re saying — which makes the bit even better, right?


Q. Were there Muppets you particularly enjoyed working with?

A. I had my favorite Muppet and it was Big Bird, through the magnificent talents of Caroll Spinney. I always enjoyed doing bits with Big Bird. I always saw Big Bird as that essential child we were trying to reach with everything we were doing, through the medium of television. I had a real soft spot in my heart for him.

Q. Over your decades on the show, did it ever change in a way that you aren’t comfortable with?

A. Well, not uncomfortable. I would say that probably by the late ’90s, we saw that it was changing because the times were changing. The technology was changing. [Earlier on] we did a lot of musical numbers on the show. Those were magnificent for an actor because it was like doing a Broadway show. We rehearsed these things for weeks, with the music and choreography and everything. We did that stuff a lot in the early years. By the late ’90s, we weren’t doing as much of that. I missed that.

Q. And Luis did not make the transition to the HBO era.

A. That was just the way it goes. Things change. The world changes. Fifty years is a magnificent thing to look back on, in terms of being out there for children and families, not only in the US but all over the world. I think “Sesame Street” has been a magnificent thing for the world, something very much to be proud of.


Interview was edited and condensed. Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.