'The Tick': Peter Serafinowicz talks costume woes, antenna acting, and not spoiling your memories

Peter Serafinowicz as the Tick (Photo: Amazon)

Peter Serafinowicz is very aware that he’s walking on hallowed ground. He knows that you loved the ’90s cartoon The Tick and that the short-lived live-action version from 2001 is a cult classic. And most intensely, he’s conscious of the fact that many fans of the quirky superhero franchise, a new version of which returns Friday on Amazon Prime, only have eyes for Patrick Warburton, the last man to don the blue bug suit and scream, “Spoon!”

“When we are filming on the streets of New York, I get recognized in the costume quite often. People say, ‘Hey, it’s the Tick.’ I am quite surprised at the constant recognition. It seems to be a really well-loved character,” the actor, previously known for Guardians of the Galaxy, Sing, and Parks and Recreation, told Yahoo TV in a telephone interview from the set. “There is a bit of pressure there for me. I don’t want to spoil people’s fond memories of their beloved Tick. So I just have to do what I do and hope people dig it.”

The revival does have a lot going for it that might win over the diehards on paper alone. For one, Warburton himself has given it a thumbs-up, even signing on as a producer. Also, nothing happens on this set that is not guided by character creator and executive producer Ben Edlund. His vision is executed by executive producer David Fury (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and director/executive producer/four-time cinematography Oscar nominee and onetime winner Wally Pfister (Inception). And, oh yeah, it also happens to be smart, silly, and satirical.

“There are changes here and there, but it shares a mythology and an aesthetic with all of the other incarnations,” Serafinowicz says. “It is hard work but it is really good fun. It is exhausting for everyone involved, but we are also making a fun show.”

Yahoo TV: This character has had a comic, a cartoon, and a live-action show already. How is this installment fresh and bringing something new to the table?
Peter Serafinowicz: I can’t answer that accurately, because I missed the cartoon series and the live-action series. And once I got the script and the part, I didn’t want to watch either of them. I didn’t want them, in particular Patrick Warburton’s performance, to influence my own. I lied. I did see a little clip of it on YouTube and it was very funny — that’s why I could not watch any more. It makes one worry that they will not be as good or that they will copy without being aware of it. But it is a new version of it. It is still Ben Edlund. It is still his vision. It is his baby almost literally.

Without much knowledge of the character or the plot, what made you feel like this was something you wanted to take on and that you would sacrifice your social life for?
Honestly, I did not think it through as clearly as that. Maybe if I had, we would not be having this conversation. However, I think really what it was was the quality of Ben’s writing and the passion, care, and love he puts into it. His talent is staggering, really. That was the big thing for me. I thought, “Wow. This guy wants me to portray this character that is his life’s work and something that he has a deep connection to.” He’s entrusting it to me, so I better take this seriously. I still don’t take it too seriously, but I am flattered every day. It is such a pleasure to read his words and then speak them. As an actor, when you are having trouble learning and saying the lines, it is often because the lines are not well written. These weird and strange lines meander off into a poetic flow mixed with upside-down words and a reference to classical myth or bits of history, and then they throw in a pun. Somehow this complex sentence that looks torturous on the page flows out like a beautiful mouth sculpture. That’s what he does. It’s incredible. The Tick will confuse people.

How would you explain the show to someone who has never seen any version of The Tick?
It is about a guy who is quite psychologically damaged by the death of his father at the hands of a supervillain when he was 10 years old, and he has been plagued by it his whole life. He thinks he is having psychotic episodes, and one day this big blue guy called the Tick turns up with no memory or idea where he came from. The Tick is the embodiment of what a superhero ought to be and ought to aspire to. In that realm, he is quite successful and sophisticated. But anything outside of that or in the human world, he doesn’t understand. He’s like a toddler in that sense. He is quite vulnerable and lonely even though he is indestructible. All he wants is for Arthur to be his friend and companion. In a way, the Tick is Arthur’s sidekick, at least in this version. Really the show should be called Arthur. But there was already a movie, a very different movie, called that.

How have you found the process of becoming a superhero? To be the guy in almost every scene — the titular character, if you will?
I don’t have much of a life these days. This phone call will probably be the highlight of my day. 

Is it weird to slip into a big, tight blue costume every day?
What’s weird for me is that wearing a big blue suit has become an ordinary day at work. It was a really strange thing to put on at first, and this is now normal for me. That’s a strange feeling. It’s similar to saying “President Trump” — at first, those words sounded so bizarre coming out of my mouth, like it could not be true, and then you just have to accept it as normal. 

Obviously, the superhero suit/costume is one of the most important elements when making a show.
I think one thing all superhero costumes have in common is that all actors who have to wear the superhero costumes hate wearing them. It looks good, so I suppose that is the important thing.

What is yours made of?
I think it’s some sort of special spandex, like three-ply. It is nonbreathable, and it doesn’t have much give in it. It is a bit of a struggle to move sometimes. If I get it in the right position, I can bound around and stuff. Once everything is all working, it is pretty good fun to bounce around in it. But it is a physically demanding part, more than I have previously been called on to do.

Is it comfortable? Hot? Cold? Can you breathe?
The strange thing about the costume is that it mimics whatever temperature it is outside. So if it is cold out, I’m cold in it. If it is hot, it gets quite hot in there and I am sweating. It is kind of terrible in any weather. Like today — I was pretty slimy by the end of the day. 

What was the process of getting it made and testing it out? Were there many incarnations of the suit before you settled on one?
You have to be scanned and measured and parts of your body cast. It’s quite a long process, and I’ve had it all done many times now, which makes me think, “Why doesn’t this thing fit me any better?” They have made a lot of improvements to it as we’ve been shooting. It could be a lot worse. I get in and out of it pretty quickly now.

Once I get in, I am pretty locked in. The antennae move independently of me. They are controlled by this incredibly talented puppeteer from the Jim Henson workshop. She stands off in the corner with a little screen and controller and emotes with them. The producer was watching some playback one day and he said, “Wow, it looks like Sesame Street on top of your head.” The great thing is that it patches up any holes in my acting. I haven’t seen any of this, so what is happening on my head will all be a surprise to me when I watch the show.

Dangerous. She could be doing all kinds of things on your head and you’d have no idea.
She sometimes makes them move when I am talking to someone and we aren’t even filming, just to get a laugh.

I imagine, due to cost, there aren’t a whole lot of extra costumes lying around. Do you have to be very careful with your diet and not eat any extra-big meals over the weekend, or skip dessert?
That hasn’t come up yet, but no, I definitely can’t gain any weight. My body has started to form to the shape of the costume. But I don’t have the energy for any fun right now anyway. As soon as I am done for the day, I am spent, a wreck, a husk of a man. I am basically a puddle at the end of the day. I have no social life. I don’t want to do anything. In fact, this 10 minutes with you is as social as it gets for me these days.

One of the things that I have always liked about The Tick is the relationship between Arthur and the Tick. It is clearly the most important relationship in the show, especially in your version, where we learn a lot more about Arthur. How have things been going with your Arthur?
With Griffin [Newman]? It couldn’t be better. He is such a great friend and a brilliant guy and such a good actor. Luckily, we hit it off immediately. It was a big sigh of relief when I did the read-through with Griffin. We’ve got very similar senses of humor. The same kind of things make us laugh, and he is hilarious. He makes me laugh all the time. We are very complementary to each other. And not in the way where we are just telling each other nice things; I mean that our acting styles complement each other. We give each other notes and suggestions, and that is something you often never get with someone or you don’t get until you have known them a long time. It is pretty special. I love working with him.

The Tick premieres Aug. 25 on Amazon Prime.

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