Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman on Acting with Narration and the Language of Antennae ("The Tick" Interview)


Amazon's newest series, "The Tick", is a fresh new take on superhero television programming. It combines Peter Serafinowicz's powerhouse comedic abilities with some truly heartfelt content on the feelings and aftermath of loss and family drama. The series also merges a more classic style of superheroes that toes the line of being cheesy in the best way, with all the necessary adaptations to make the series feel grounded for a modern setting and audience. One such example of the more classic elements is the use of narration by Serafinowicz.

"It is the funny thing though cause Peter's always the one doing the narration but often times it will be narration over a scene that both of us are in," says Griffin Newman. "So sometimes it's Peter and I in a scene doing physical stuff that they need to time out to make sure there's enough physical stuff that the narration has stuff to fit over it. So our first assistant director will be reading Peter's lines while Peter's next to me so you hear someone else going 'Aah! It's me! The Tick!' Then once he's done talking, then the real Tick gets to talk."

Serafinowicz put in a fair share of preparation to develop the distinct voice of the titular character, which further makes him stand out in addition to his running around in a bright blue suit. "The voice, Ben described it to me as a kind of American radio announced for the 1970's," says Serafinowicz. "That's a voice that I always loved doing since I was a kid watching Sesame Street. That's a thing that me and Griffin share, actually. We love that side of American culture. We're both big fans of Mad Men and a lot of shows from [Hanna Barbera, shows from the 1960s and 1970s]. For different reasons, we've got a lot of very similar frames of reference. Ben had seen some stuff that I'd done in my sketch shows, things like that where he thought, 'You sound kind of like The Tick, you know?'"

The suit worn by The Tick also comes with a unique set of antennae that further enhance the character portrayal and visual narrative. They even move while Serafinowicz is acting in it. "The antennae, the guy who designed them referred to them as antlers. They are attached to my head underneath the already quite bulky helmet piece of the costume. [There's] another hard plastic skullcap which is clamped to my skull, tightened, and contains these metal things that can move in 360 degrees. Her name is Lars, she is a Jim Henson puppeteer, and she also talks like she's a muppet. When she was a kid, she's exactly the same age as me and was in love with Sesame Street and knew that's what she wanted to do and that's what she became. So I've got Sesame Street going on, on my head."

The antennae also play into how Newman portrays Arthur Everest, who is most frequently in scenes opposite The Tick. "I can see what she is doing but Peter can't. The antennas are doing things. The thing I said to Lars a week or two in was, 'It's almost like you're the punctuation on every one of his lines. You get to choose whether it's an exclamation point or a question mark or an ellipses or whatever it is.' But you're entrusting a lot of your performance, it's like you're letting someone control one of your limbs."

The mechanisms and precision of how the antennae move are highly precise. "The way they had it set up, there were like ten levers and each one said 'Sad', 'Happy', 'Angry', 'Confused', whatever it was, and the way they established all of those was they went to Lars and Lars had the vocabulary," shares Newman. "She had figured out over the course of months of working on it, cause I think there was a lot of improv for the first whatever, but she started to decide. Peter might change what he's doing in a scene. They can't rehearse it out, we want to be free to go where the thing follows. But she started to come up with almost like a mood ring of 'This is kind of how Tick leans in when he's trying to figure something out, he moves back when he's alarmed.' I didn't know this either, Barry told me and she had it. She had it all figured out. She said, 'These are the angles and this is the expression,' and they're very specific emotional states, not just good [or] bad."

As The Tick not only originates from a comic book series, but other television adaptations, the material has had plenty of opportunities to gain a passionate fan-following, including Newman himself. "I was a big fan. I got in through the Warburton show. My mother was very overprotective growing up so I wasn't allowed to watch the cartoon show at the time. She also wouldn't let me watch Rugrats cause she thought it was too sarcastic. That's how low the bar was. It's a big reason Peter and I have so many common reference points for pop culture is that I couldn't watch pretty much anything made after 1976. So I was very out of lockstep with my generation growing up. But I always loved superheroes from afar. They were like the forbidden fruit that I wasn't allowed to engage in. It was when I became maybe nine or ten and I could walk to a comic book store by myself or watch TV when my mom wasn't home, I got really really into superhero culture and that's about the time when the Warburton show was on and it was one of the first live-action superhero things of that generation. The first Spiderman movie hadn't even come out yet so it was a big touchstone for me and I always had been drawn to comedy. So to see a superhero mixed with a kind of satirical take was huge for me. When that ended I went back and watched the cartoon. I had never really read the comics but I was a big fan of the two shows and so when I got the audition it was just, 'Well I wanna play this because this is Arthur. Are you kidding me? It's The Tick!' I'd play the delivery guy which is what I thought they would let me do at most. I just immediately had a sense of affinity for the world, the characters, the property. I knew what I wanted to do with it. I just am surprised that my feeling of what Arthur should be kept on syncing up with what everyone who pays for the show wanted Arthur to be."

"Griffin, you know that all that was a total lie," deadpans Serafinowicz. The entire gathering of reporters present for this interview erupts into laughter as Serafinowicz continues his bit. "What a bullshitter! What a load of bullshit!"

The Tick will be aired in a somewhat unconventional airing schedule for online programming, as the first six episodes of the season will be released on August 25, with the rest of the season yet to be locked into an air date, though the general consensus seems to be that it will be some time early next calendar year. Many viewers of today are inclined towards binge-watching, though there are some that still hold onto preferences for the more traditional method of episodic airing found on network-television.

"Most people that I know are [binge-watchers], whether it's the extreme of it [which] is watching Breaking Bad over a weekend, which somebody did, which I can understand as well," says Serafinowicz. "If I had the time, I've often thought, if I ever break my leg or something, I'd like to rewatch them from the beginning. People watch television a lot differently generally these days. You will watch two or three at your leisure, to fit into your busy lives. You know what I would like? I would kind of like that they would come out weekly. By the end, you've got all six. So you're effectively delaying the full thing by six weeks. But you still have that excitement of people talking about, 'Did you see The Tick?'"

"I love that," cosigns Newman. "I'm a very episodic-based guy. Even when streaming shows come out, I'm not very good at binging. Weirdly, [Unbreakable] Kimmy Schmidt is the one show whenever a season comes out I'll do that in one or two sittings. I find that show very watchable. But I like the process of digesting episodes. I guess the idea with streaming is you give people the choice. They can do it however they want. But I think back to when Lost was on. I had a group of like twenty people I watched Lost with. We would be there for an hour prepping for what we thought was gonna happen. In the end, we spent an hour coming down from what happened, and breaking down what was gonna happen next. Hopefully this model gives you a little of the best of both worlds. I think the first six episodes really set up the world and it leaves you at a really interesting place with a lot of questions about what's gonna happen next and hopefully for months, people only talk about that, exclusively talk about their predictions of what's gonna happen on The Tick!"

"It's got so many things that are set-ups for things later on that you think are just little, maybe gags or background gags," alludes Serafinowicz. "Pretty much everything pays off."

"Nothing's incidental," adds Newman.

The first six episode of The Tick will be available for streaming on Amazon on August 25.

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