The Tick: exclusive interview with Peter Serafinowicz

Image for The Tick: exclusive interview with Peter Serafinowicz

This may be the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, but it’s time to give some props to Ben Edlund’s the Tick, which itself is celebrating three decades of existence!

Created by Edlund in 1986 as a mascot for the New England Comics stores, this star of comics, 1994-96 animated series and 2001 live action incarnation is back in a new Amazon pilot that is currently vying for the opportunity to become a continuing series. Describes Amazon, “In a world where superheroes have been real for decades, an accountant with mental health issues and zero powers comes to realize his city is owned by a global super villain long-thought dead. As he struggles to uncover this conspiracy, he falls in league with a strange blue superhero.”


The accountant with mental issues is Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman), while that strange blue superhero is the Tick, portrayed by Peter Serafinowicz. The actor is best known as Pete in Shaun Of The Dead, the voice of Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, Garthan Saal in Guardians Of The Galaxy and a wide variety of British TV comedies.

Speaking to Empire, Serafinowicz reflects on getting the part, wearing his first superhero costume, working with Edlund’s unique style of writing and, a bit surprisingly, the things he actually has in common with the Tick.

How much knowledge did you have of the Tick prior to being cast?

When I found about this job, I had to do a little bit of research because I knew of the Tick and I think years ago I had a couple of the comics. I was also aware of the cartoon series and the live action series, but I've never seen either of them. It was like a weird hole in my pop culture life. Once I did find out about it, I realized it’s something that’s tailor-made for my particular sensibilities. I think what I like about it the most is that it's got this unique style and vision and sense of humor that Ben Edlund doesn't compromise on at all. It's his strange, beautiful, elliptical, poetic voice. It was hugely funny as well and it really appeals to me on so many different levels.

When I finally saw the pilot in a form that wasn't some kind of degraded low res file with watermarks all over it that you can only watch once and then it will delete every file on your computer — when I’d seen it in all its glory and with all post-production done — I loved it, because it was made. Finished. Then I could step back from it and the first thing I noticed was the beauty of Ben’s writing. There really is no one that I can think of that writes like him. I'm a big fan of wordplay and Ben is, too. He takes them, stretches them and puts them through different dimensions. It’s like he's written them on a Mobius strip.


So when you were first approached, did you dive right in or was there any trepidation?

Not knowing much about the Tick, when I found out about the part my initial reaction was that this is a superhero parody and pop culture is so over-saturated with superhero stuff, as you know. All of them, but Marvel especially, have a self-deprecating sense of irony while still staying true to their world. So my first thought was, what is there to kind of make fun of? Is it really necessary, since they kind of do it to themselves? Even the front page of the script reads, “The Tick…A Parody.” But once I read it, or as I became more involved in it, I realized that it’s kind of a joke that he calls it a parody. If anything, it’s an existential parody of superheroes. It’s a parody of the essence of what it is to be a superhero and what it is to live in a world that has superheroes in it, real or imagined. I still don’t think parody is the correct word.

Usually parodies are joke machines more concerned with how many jokes can be crammed in per minute without much concern with story or character. This Tick seems more rooted than a parody, a lot of which has to do with his sidekick, Arthur, who has all the problems.

Definitely, and in my opinion that’s what makes the show work. It’s like you have this kind of real drama going on with this damaged, broken guy [Arthur], and then this huge blue lunatic turns up in his life who he’s not sure actually exists, and invites him to enter his world of adventure. Which is what he’s always wanted to do, but at the same time it’s the last thing he wants to do or should be doing. I love that it takes place in what feels like the real world. In particular I love that my character, who is an utter basket case, enters his world, just smashing it up. It’s great for me as a performer to do that.

It reminds me of being in a video game. Maybe playing Grand Theft Auto or something. I don’t ever like doing the missions in those games. What I like to do is go into the world and then just get into a lot of trouble and mess around with stuff. You know, drive cars off cliffs, shoot helicopters out of the sky and do all those things that you wouldn’t do in real life. To an extent that's how I feel about playing the Tick, because he’s in this real world. He’s just operating under his own rules, doing what he wants and nobody can stop him. After the first few days after getting the job, I was, like, “This could be the best role I’ve ever been given.” It’s hard to imagine a role more suited to me….You know, I’m not sure what all of that rambling was in response to your question, but I’ve come to the end now.


So we'll move on. I'm just trying to understand: why do you feel such a connection to the Tick?

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I mentioned existentialism earlier, which I don’t know a lot about.

But it's a great word.

It is. I think it's got six or seven syllables. I think in a way he doesn't know fully why he exists. His surface purpose is to fight crime, but beyond that he doesn't know what the fuck he's doing. He doesn't know why he's there, where he came from. That's kind of like every person ever. You are just there. I'm an actor and I'm a writer as well and I do lots of things, but why am I actually here? Why is the postman here, what is he thinking? “I deliver people's letters, but why am I really here?”

The Tick will never ask that question. He's not self-aware enough to ask, is he?

Underneath it, I think he is and I think…boy, this is getting so ridiculously pretentious. Another thing I liked is this thing of him being huge and Arthur is smaller than him, and weaker in his personality and he’s broken as well. He’s, like, one episode away from being locked up in a hospital and the Tick comes into this vulnerable guy’s life. Arthur is a bit intimidated by him, as anybody would be, but he accepts him in the pilot. I remember reading the script and thinking, “Is the Tick just desperate for Arthur to be his friend?” That’s what I loved; he just seemed quite needy. Why is he so needy? This big powerful guy that is impervious to bullets and can jump a hundred and fifty feet in the air, and is, like Mr. Confidence, but what is he scared of? Why does he want Arthur to be his friend? I just found that so touching and really interesting, whilst at the same time being kind of outrageous in terms of TV shows. Like having a flavor of the old Batman 1966 series. All those different juxtapositions.


What was amusing was the Tick standing on that rooftop at the end, delivering this outrageous soliloquy to the world about destiny and fighting crime. He keeps talking and talking and is exuding pure confidence, but the minute he runs out of words he seems to be filled with a sense of doubt. Kind of, like, “What’s next?”

I suppose a lot of people feel like that when they are not talking and it’s when you can see that vulnerability. It actually reminds me of Donald Trump, because when he's talking, because he's such a master bullshitter, he's kind of invincible. Unless he's in a real corner. When he stops talking is when you can see his real vulnerabilities, because he's such an extreme character.

You’d mentioned the way Ben Edlund writes the character. As an actor, is it tough wrapping your mouth around the Tick’s lines of dialogue?

On the whole, no, because I think generally you can tell how well written something is by how easy it is to perform. That phrase “it just trips off the tongue” is applicable. Although he does write quite complex sentences, they are a joy to read and perform.

How about the costume? What was the experience of wearing that thing?

It was great at first and because it was a pilot, it was a work in progress and it had to be refined and finessed every day. I think if we go to a series we might change the costume a little bit. I don't know how much visually it would change, but you are inside this rubber suit, a bit like if you were a scuba diver. It kind of feels like a wet suit. And it's a slimy suit when you first put it on, because you have to put KY jelly inside the legs and arms to let your limbs slide in. But it's molded to my body, so it fits great. The head is glued on to my face and around my eyes and nose. It was quite… I was going to say claustrophobic, but that's not really the word. It feels a little bit isolating, because you can't really hear anything in it. It's just super fun to be striding and bounding around in that thing. To be honest, I can't wait to get back into it.


So you’d consider it all a good experience?

I loved it. I said to Ben as well that I was so flattered and honored that he had entrusted his big blue baby to me. It’s quite an honor and it was a big responsibility. When we announced it on Twitter, I retweeted a Hollywood Reporter tweet, which was the first article about it. I couldn't believe how many people responded to this thing and I was, like, "Oh shit, there are so many fans of this character. I better be good." I was a bit overwhelmed, actually, and then I got a lovely message from Patrick Warburton as well, who was very supportive. That was really important, because for many people he defined the character.

But you hadn’t seen him performing the part?

I'd only seen a little clip of him, but I didn't want to watch it because I didn't want it to influence my own performance. Like if Patrick Warburton had done some kind of cool little vocal cadence or phrased something in such a way or whatever, if I'd even just unconsciously copied that, it just would have been wrong. So I just got the character through Ben's explanation and reading the comics and figuring him out. Also part of me as well, which surprised me more than anything.


Ben Edlund discusses The Tick in an exclusive interview