INTERVIEW: Griffin Newman on The Return of The Tick

Griffin Newman as Arthur Everest in The Tick

Amazon Video’s The Tick is returning on the 23rd of February, and we recently talked with Griffin Newman about his role as The Tick’s Arthur Everest, and how the accountant-turned-superhero is going to be developing and changing throughout the rest of the season:

Having seen the whole of season one now, the two halves feel quite different to me as a viewer, especially when compared to the pilot episode–do you feel the same way about this, as an actor?
Something that’s really fun but also challenging–which is good, I like a challenge!–about [The Tick] is that it’s a show that’s constantly evolving in terms of tone, in terms of stakes…Ben [Edlund, The Tick’s creator] and the rest of the writing staff knew that this was how the first season would be done, that we’d shoot them all together and then they’d be split up. So, they really tried to think of it as two different acts in a story, knowing what it would be. So I feel like the first six episodes are really laying out all the track work…trying to earn those emotional pay-offs that haven’t been there in previous versions of The Tick. I don’t say that as any kind of sleight to the previous versions–I’m an absolutely fanatical nerd for the old Tick, but Ben himself said that he didn’t want to do a new version unless he felt like he could do something different with it. And the thing he wanted to do this time, you know, as the guy who worked on things like Angel and Firefly and Supernatural…he wanted to see if he could have higher stakes, higher emotions. So the first six episodes are much darker in tone, but that was done for us to be like “Can we do a Tick that starts like a Sundance movie and that, by episode twelve, feels like The Tick?”

It was scary doing that in the pilot–when we didn’t know if we’d get to do more–and we knew that some people would be upset that the show wasn’t as absurd and as bright and colourful as they wanted, but it was all part of the plan to get to [that point] eventually. So for me as an actor it was really fun to play more of a “classic” Arthur in the second half of the season. I really liked the thematic challenge of the Arthur I played in the first six episodes, but then to be able to build the classic behavioural things that the fans know, as well as playing off of The Tick and working together with him and bringing in things like Midnight the talking dog…that’s really exciting.

Occasionally, when watching the show, I’m not sure whether I’m meant to be laughing or crying. For example, when we see Arthur’s Dad die at the beginning of the first season, that’s obviously meant to be traumatic and harrowing, but the circumstances around it are pretty surreal and bizarre to the point of being comical. Do you always try to play those sorts of scenes straight, or is a part of you thinking “hey, this is actually pretty funny”?
I come mostly from a comedy background, but I find myself trying to take this show as dramatically as possible, just because I think that’s Arthur’s function. I often get caught up in Arthur’s negative emotions: the anxiety, the terror–not The Terror–that I often forget how funny the scenes are. When I’m doing a dialogue scene with Midnight the talking dog, I’m so invested in trying to take it as seriously as [Arthur] would that I have to remind myself that it’s a comedy! I think Arthur is the tonal dial for the show, and it’s really this weird balance of playing the superhero scenes as seriously as possible, while playing the office or family scenes as more of a comedy scene. In those situations, I’m kind of the funny one, whereas in the superhero scenes, I’m the straight man.

I was dating someone when the pilot came out, and I described everything about it to her. But when it came out, she was like: “Why didn’t you tell me it was a comedy?” And I was confused, thinking I did, but she was saying that I told her all about [Arthur]’s father dying, the mental health stuff…she said she didn’t know if she should feel comfortable laughing at it! I think I just end up so preoccupied with the prism of tragedy that Arthur is going through most of the time, I forget that it’s also funny.

One of the themes that run through The Tick is the idea of destiny versus free will. How do you feel about the concept of destiny?
I never really did believe in destiny, but the circumstances through which I got the part [of Arthur] were so unbelievable, and required a lot of very small coincidences lining up perfectly in order to convince everyone to let me do this show. I don’t think anyone involved in casting the show initially intended to hire someone as not-famous as me. Things kept lining up perfectly, and I was very convinced throughout the entire process that I was going to end up being the guy in a bar who could brag about how I came this close to playing Arthur. I’ve been through that process a bunch of times, where I get really close and then they say the network or the investors or whatever want to go in a different direction.

I was in a position where I was thinking about taking a long break from acting. I was feeling very worn down by the hustle of it all, and I had an e-mail drafted to my agent saying I didn’t want to go out on any more auditions for a year, and The Tick was like the last audition I got. You know, it just seemed like an unattainable dream, getting to play a superhero.

Do you think Arthur’s opinion on destiny and fate is changing as the season progresses?
I think Arthur has lived a life that has been, in many ways, very cruel, and that don’t make any sense. He doesn’t want to believe in destiny because destiny has kind of fucked him over until this point…he wants to think that everything is chaotic and without reason, because if there is reason, the world is just deliberately punishing him. I think his reluctance to believe in destiny and fate kind of come from the idea that he can’t believe that those two things are looking out for him, you know? But at the same time, he’s also this guy who has a poster board filled with clippings about The Terror because he refuses to believe that these things are just coincidences. I think he has a difficult relationship with all of it, and as the season progresses, he realises that things can be, well, good. (laughing)

Griffin Newman as Arthur Everest in The Tick

Your podcast, Blank Check with Griffin & David, focuses on the idea of directors gaining success and then being given a “blank cheque” from Hollywood to make movies. Is there a Blank Check director you’d love to see direct an episode of The Tick?
I have my easy answer for this, it’s a director who we haven’t done on the podcast yet, but one who I’ve always been threatening to do because he’s one of my favourite guys. I’m a huge, huge Joe Dante fan, you know, Gremlins, Small Soldiers, Matinee…I think he has that kind of balance of tone. It’s like what you were talking about, all the tragedy that’s played straight in The Tick. The Santa Claus monologue that Phoebe Cates gives in the first Gremlins movie is such a good example of that, where she’s describing this horrible family tragedy but the scene as a whole becomes a joke because it’s being played that seriously. And then all the chaos that’s in his Looney Tunes work…that would be my dream director for The Tick, yeah.

Where do you hope Arthur’s story goes in the future? How much input do you have on the narrative?
Well, Ben has such a huge vision for this whole thing. I mean, when he went in and pitched to Amazon, he pitched them five seasons. And obviously those five seasons aren’t set in stone, but he knew the story, he said “This is where I want to start, and where I want to end.” The writers’ room are working on season two right now, and I’ve been living with [Arthur] for almost two years now, from when we started the pilot, and I do give them notes on what I found challenging, and what I enjoyed. The thing I really want to see from Arthur in the future–and they’re with me on this–is that he’s done refusing the call now, especially by the end of the second half of this season. I want an Arthur who’s still totally overwhelmed, terrified and still inequipped to deal with the situation put in front of him, but confident in his decision to be there.

I think it was fun for a season, the Arthur who doesn’t really want to be part of the TV show, but I think now that we’ve laid all of that groundwork, we can get to the point of the more classic Arthur and Tick relationship. I think the thing is, whether you were watching the cartoon or the Warburton show or reading the comics, it was always like “If Arthur’s so scared, why is he a superhero?”. I like that we got twelve episodes out where we explained the arc of him getting to the point where he’s like “I know why I’m doing this”, and now we can show him as confident enough to be a superhero, but insecure enough to not be convinced that he’s not gonna die.

Peter Serafinowicz as The Tick and Griffin Newman as Arthur Everest

I have to ask…when are we going to get our Arthur Funko Pop! figure?
I am working so hard on it! Funko have the full licence, and they did a Tick at Comic Con last year that was like an exclusive, limited edition glow in the dark Tick. What I had heard is that at this time, they’d come out with the full main cast…but it’s just the Tick. It’s like a lonely, one character Tick who’s waiting on the rest of them! I keep on nudging them, and I text Sony and Amazon executives late at night bothering them, and they’re like “Who’s this? Why are you texting me?” (laughing) I think it will happen, but I’m just pushing it. There’s a bunch of characters they need to do: they need to do The Terror, they need to do Overkill, they need Miss Lint, Dot and Superion at the very least. But you know, I thought it was going to be The Tick and I together and the rest of those characters later, but now it feels like I have to wait.

I think it’s just frustrating because Funko normally do so many variants too. I mean, you could have Arthur in his suit, not in the suit…
Right, right! Bloody poncho, non-bloody poncho…helmet off, helmet on, with goggles, without goggles, with wings, without wings…so many options!

The second half of season one of Amazon Video original The Tick is set to release this Friday, the 23rd of February. A second season is confirmed to be airing in 2019. Thanks to Griffin Newman for taking the time to talk with us!

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