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Meet the Sidekick Who’s the Real Star of “The Tick”

A conversation with Griffin Newman, the actor playing Arthur on the newest Amazon pilot

Today, an old hero re-rises on the internet. The first episode of a new TV show about the beloved, blue-suited superhero the Tick is now streaming on Amazon Video as part of their latest slate of experimental pilots.

For those unfamiliar with the cult classic, it follows the adventures of The Tick, an indestructible, oblivious, and potentially unhinged crime fighter, and his sidekick, a schlubby accountant in a weird moth suit named Arthur Everest. The Tick was first created as a comic book by a writer and artist named Ben Edlund, who’s gone on to turn The Tick into an animated series (in 1994), a live-action show starring Patrick Warburton (in 2001), and now, another live-action show — which will be turned into a full-fledged series if Amazon thinks that enough people like the pilot episode.

In this newest version, Peter Serafinowicz, the smooth-voiced British comedian from movies like Shaun of the Dead and deadpan TV shows like Look Around You, plays the big, blue title character.

But it’s fair to say that The Tick actually stars Griffin Newman, the NYC-based comedian (who you might recognize as Casper from HBO’s Vinyl) playing Arthur. In past versions of The Tick, Arthur had always remained a sidekick—but in the Amazon pilot, it’s clear that that dynamic has changed: the Tick acts more like a force of nature, arriving at random to stir the pot, while Arthur is the real center of the show.

Newman might also be the first lead actor in a major superhero production who is not already famous, not a magazine-cover hunk, and who is actually a pop culture and comic book nerd (he also co-hosts a podcast called Blank Check with Griffin and David that is exclusively about bloated Hollywood passion projects). He’s the closest thing we’ve got to a bonafide fanboy turned on-screen object of fanboy attention. And based on the pilot, he’s pulled it off.

How does it feel to be playing Arthur?
When I got the email saying they wanted me to audition, which is step one on a million step process, I immediately got chills.

I saw the subject heading, “Tick Audition,” and thought, it’s probably going to be to play the fucking pizza guy. And then to open the email to see you have an infinitesimal chance to play Arthur, that meant a lot to me.

Arthur is a nerdy, obsessive guy — a guy that no one believes in — who gets picked almost at random to become a superhero. Was that easy to identify with?
One hundred percent, I feel like that’s the arc of my life. Like when I dropped out of college to try to be an actor and a comedian, everyone was telling me I was crazy, or I was just a coward and couldn’t deal with school, when I was just very single-mindedly convinced that I could do this.

And as a Tick fan, reading the script for the first time, I remember thinking that this role relates to me more than any protagonist I’ve seen in a superhero thing, and I think it’s going to feel that way for a lot of comic book fans. There’s that obsessiveness, that feeling of caring a lot but not knowing what to do with that energy and enthusiasm — that’s the cornerstone of nerd culture, and I’m someone who’s very much steeped in that culture.

Newman as Arthur in ‘The Tick’

Were you a fan of The Tick as a kid?
Oh yeah, I was a really big fan. I mean, growing up, I always had this real obsession with superheroes without being able to engage with them — my mom was very overprotective, so she wouldn’t let me watch any superhero stuff because she thought it was too violent.

She also wouldn’t let me watch most modern cartoons, because she thought they were too cynical — I wasn’t even allowed to watch Rugrats, she thought Rugrats was cynical.

But the second I got old enough to have autonomy in my media choices, like as soon as I could go to the comic book shop by myself, I just only started dealing with superhero shit.

And what drew you to The Tick in particular?
The Tick always just seemed like the weird one. When the animated show was on the air, the X-Men cartoon was running, Batman: The Animated Series was running, the Spider-Man cartoon was running, but The Tick just seemed more like on my wavelength.

I even had this big plush Tick, which they made as part of a limited merchandizing run the year that the Warburton show came out. I was too old for this, but I brought it with me to summer camp and made it like my sidekick, in a weird inversion, and I tried to make that a bit.

I think people thought it was funny, but no one thought it was cool.

It sounds like your whole life has been leading up to this role.
I have a terrible tendency to reduce my life into narratives. I’m able to turn anything into a very compact story with a payoff, which my therapist told me was a problem in our first session. It’s impressive, but also problematic.

Arthur seems like the protagonist of the show in this new version, not just a sidekick. What’s the thinking behind that?
Ben [Edlund, creator of The Tick] wanted to make this show have deeper dramatic stakes than the previous two versions, to still make it absurd but have it be a story that you’re emotionally invested in.

But going through a dramatic arc is fundamentally antithetical to what’s great about the Tick, which is that he’s an oblivious, uncontrollable force. So it had to be from Arthur’s perspective. If the Tick is having internal doubts, then you’re already doing it wrong.

Were you expecting that Arthur would have such a big role when you first got the audition call?
No, it was very surprising. And it was simultaneously exciting to me creatively, as a fan of The Tick, and terrifying, as an actor.

Newman as Arthur, suited up

When you quit school to become an actor and comedian, did you ultimately want to go for superhero roles?
In my heart of hearts, yes. But there are only like two superheroes in history that look like me, now that I’m getting too old to play the teen sidekick.

If it was happening, and they were doing the teenage version, I potentially could have played Kid Flash. If I bulked up. And I feel like I’m a Spider-Man type, putting aside the fact that they would never cast me as Spider-Man.

So Arthur felt the only one I could ever realistically do. Well, part of me feels like I could probably play Nightcrawler — it’s really the superheroes who are more like gymnasts than really buff — so I was bummed when they did him in the last movie.

Would it be fair to characterize you, then, as living the dream?
Not only am I living the dream, I’m living specifically my dream. I’m the person who would feel invested in the success of this show regardless of who was playing the part.

I will say — this is a scoop you can have — I was very close to playing Michelangelo in the new Ninja Turtles series, because since it was motion capture, they could make me buff later, and they didn’t need a famous person because it was just my voice. But I didn’t have the same attachment to Ninja Turtles as I do to The Tick, so it was weird to think that I might be defined, as someone who’s almost entirely unknown as an actor right now, as Michelangelo for the rest of my life.

But if I have to live with the responsibility of being Arthur forever, that’s a really lucky responsibility to have, in my eyes.

What did you have to do, physically, to prepare for playing Arthur?
The goal was to look very out of place in a show like this, so I definitely tried to gain a little weight, and certainly not do any physical activity, so I could just be as doughy and soft as possible. That’s the only time you’ll hear an actor playing a superhero say that.

On a TV landscape where everyone looks perfect, five or eight pounds translates to gaining like 20 pounds. I definitely feel self conscious watching it, which to me feels like I did a good job.

And I’m self aware enough to know that I don’t need to do anything to myself to look funny, I just need to look serious, and try to run like Tom Cruise, and hope that it’ll end up being good comedy.

Was it strange being fitted for a superhero suit?
I did have to tell them like, hey you don’t need to put lifts in my shoes — I’m comfortably small, you don’t have to make me look better.

But the first day I put on the suit, and I looked in the mirror, I choked up immediately, like, wow. And the costume designer walked in and was like ugh, it’s awful, we’ll fix it.

Also I discovered that I have inverted knees — my legs bend in a five degree angle in the wrong way. When you have five costume fittings with an Academy Award winner, they let you know what’s wrong with your body.

Arthur’s superhero suit in ‘The Tick’

Is Arthur still an accountant in this version? His profession isn’t mentioned in the pilot.
When I mention having a job [in the show], it’s definitely still an accountant. That’s an exclusive you have right there.

When did you first hear that you’d be working with Peter Serafinowicz as the Tick?
I think he got cast a month after me. When I found out that it was Peter, I felt such an immense sense of relief.

Casting the Tick is a very difficult needle to thread, because you need a guy who’s well over six feet tall and has a certain physical build and a voice of enough resonance, but also has comedic timing, and a sort of sideways brain. There’s a very short list when you look at it.

Newman and Serafinowicz

What’s it like working with him?
Peter went out of his way to make me feel like we were on a team — that meant a lot to me, but it also really strengthened the show. We’re both guys who take acting really seriously but come from a comedy background, and it’s really amazing to have a partner who’s on the same wavelength.

How do you think of the relationship between the Tick and Arthur? It’s such a funny dynamic.
Ben would always say: remember that you’re an old married couple, from the moment you meet. You can’t stop fighting with each other, but you intrinsically need each other.

The only pop culture reference point was Woody and Buzz [from Toy Story], which I was very excited to hear — Toy Story is my favorite movie of all time. Buzz Lightyear is a very Tick-like character. And, I mean, The Tick predated Toy Story. Though I’m not implying anything.

After the first teaser photos went out, people were a little worried that The Tick was going in a dark, un-funny direction.

Besides putting Arthur in the spotlight, how is this version of The Tick different?
The overarching joke of the new show is: what if you put the Tick in a more realistic world?

In the cartoon show and the Warburton show, everything in the universe was on the same level as The Tick — even if he was crazier or more reckless than everyone else, the world of the show in terms of aesthetics and energy and tone was always on his level.

Those more realistic teaser photos kind of freaked people out at first.
Yeah, they thought, Are they gonna do a Zack Snyder grim dark Tick?

But the bigger joke we’re trying to get at is, if you ground the world around the Tick but keep the Tick the same the Tick, he becomes funnier, and also becomes a little scary. The comics really did that, too, he was like this Beetlejuice force, where there was always this fear of what he’s gonna do next.

And another big joke is, can you make something that feels like a very epic, dramatic Netflix-style Marvel show with someone who looks like me?

How does it feel to have your career depend on the whims of the internet?
As someone who comments on all of these film nerd blogs, I have been on the other side. It’s scary that I’m about to face that.

But the response has been really good so far, and I keep telling myself that, if we get picked up, it’s gonna feel even better that it happened this way, because people wanted to see it.

Newman, as Arthur, scrutinizing himself

Is it strange to be subjected to that kind of mass scrutiny?
My advice to any actor is to surround yourself with the meanest people possible, you’ll be ready for anything.

I have a sketch group here in New York City called Nipsey, we perform at UCB, and we have a group text that we all post in. And when I got the picture of me wearing the costume for the first time, looking awesome, with the light hitting me just right, immediately they all just zoomed in on my crotch, and started commenting on the lack of definition. So I’ve already been dealing with memes about my lack of a codpiece for the past three months.

You’ve been petitioning to be cast in the Fast and Furious series for some time now. How has being cast in The Tick impacted your chances of success?
That’s a great question. I started my petition to join the cast of Fast and Furious 8 when I heard that the new film was going to be set in New York, where I live. I was banking on them casting locally, and thought I could get a day player part as like the sniveling security guard who tries to stop them, and then they take a gun out, and then I say “that’s fine, that’s fine, go ahead.”

But once it was clear they were filming in Cleveland, and that I was playing a superhero in this show, I started thinking strategically: even if I called in all my favors, it would still be hard to get a small part, because they don’t want to fly anyone out, and the bigger parts are already cast.

So I’ve put my Fast and Furious 8 petition on the back burner, and — this is an exclusive — in preparation for my Fast and Furious 9 petition. They have a date set, but no script written yet, so if anyone involved sees The Tick pilot, I can plant myself in their brains.

Would you be interested in a crossover Fast and Furious and The Tick project?
If The Tick gets picked up, I want to promise that I will use any momentum I have to make this happen. I would love nothing more than to appear in Fast and Furious 9, establish a character, then have season two of The Tick overlap with Fast and Furious 10, and have my characters meet each other.

Is this about collaborating with Vin Diesel, or the Fast franchise in particular?
It’s about Vin and the Fast family equally. If I were to get a part in a Fast movie but didn’t share a scene with Vin, I would feel only half fulfilled, and if I were in a scene with Vin in different project, I would feel only half fulfilled.

My goal is to be in a scene, in a canonical Fast and Furious entry, with Dominic Toretto.

You can watch The Tick here on Amazon Video through September 19th (and on Twitch starting August 31), and then review it on Amazon, take the Pilot Season survey, tweet about it, or otherwise social media about it if you want it to go to series—according to Newman, “Amazon sees everything.”