Amazon’s revival of The Tick returns for a ten-episode second season today, boasting the charming return of a new take on the eponymous blue hero (played now by Peter Serafinowicz) and his nebbishy sidekick Arthur, played by comedian and actor Griffin Newman. Outside of The Tick, Newman has had small roles in films like Draft Day and the HBO drama Vinyl, but he’s best known to a subset of cinephiles as one of the hosts of the popular podcast Blank Check With Griffin and David, where he and co-host David Sims of The Atlantic talk about various distinctive filmmakers and their filmographies, sharing their thoughts on the industry at large. Slashfilm sat down (via Skype) with Newman to talk about playing a superhero, working in an industry he sometimes criticizes on a podcast, and more. (Full disclosure: Newman has appeared on this interviewer’s podcast before.)

After two seasons, has there been an easiest part of playing a superhero for you?

It doesn’t get easier. Playing a main character on a TV show is an incredible workload, and there are constant challenges. When you add onto it that it’s a superhero show, there are all these technical complications. And…on top of that, it’s a superhero comedy. The comedy of it all and the technical aspects — be it fight choreography or special effects or the costumes — are at odds with each other.

Choreography has to be precise. With special-effects stuff, the entire shot can get messed up if you move your head a quarter-inch the wrong way. And comedy is supposed to be loose and behavioral. So much of comedy is trying to find unexpected moments, the chemistry between you and your scene partner.

I think the only thing that’s gotten easier is putting on the costume and taking it off. Wearing it is still a bit of a challenge. Every day, there’s a new challenge, which also makes it fun. I would get bored if it became routine.

I think you said this on Twitter: are the antennae on the Tick costume a practical effect?

One hundred percent.

That seems insane.

This is our third costume for the Tick. The Tick keeps evolving, literally. It’s the cold open of the season: Tick has molted and shed his old suit like an insect, and now has revealed the new, less detailed suit underneath. The antennae were like the Fitzcarraldo of the season [laughter], getting them to work.

There’s a puppeteer named Lara McLean who does the Tick’s antennae live. She has a remote control, and she is giving a live performance on set in tandem with what Peter is doing. Everyone on set understands this is someone giving a performance. This isn’t some technician. This isn’t a special-effects person.

She’s worked for Sesame [Street] and the Henson Company for years, as a fabricator, as a builder, as a performer. She’s sitting there watching our rehearsals, getting the scripts, coming up with ideas, and then giving a performance that syncs up with what Peter’s doing. But Peter might change the timing, might improvise a line, and she has to improvise with that. He doesn’t know what she’s doing because it’s above his head. So often, I will compliment Peter on something funny he did during a scene with his antennae and have to remember that’s not an organic part of his body. That’s Lara sitting in the corner creating that performance and pushing the Tick character over the edge.

When you got the second-season renewal, did you approach the new episodes with the weight of expectations fans might have either to the previous season or earlier adaptations?

All that pressure is already there being put on myself by myself. I was a huge fan of the [1994] cartoon. I was a huge fan of the [2001] Patrick Warburton show. I didn’t get into the comics until I started auditioning for the role, but then I became a huge fan. By the time we started filming, I had read every issue of every series they’ve ever done.

The curse is, I feel that weight of expectation with everything we do with the show. I don’t want to be the guy who ruined The Tick. The blessing is, I don’t have to put myself in the shoes of “What are fans going to like?” I can’t speak for all fans, but I can speak for the guy who used to go through TV Guide every week to figure out when the Warburton show was airing, because they would move it around timeslots. My brother and I would not miss an episode live. Then, I waited over a decade for…some revival, before I found out the show existed by getting an email saying I could audition for it.

So I’ve tried to make the show that guy would want to see the entire time. I try to stick to those expectations: what would have felt right to me and what would have felt wrong to me.

What else can fans look forward to this season?

Expanding the universe. The first season was the Tick-and-Arthur origin story. In previous versions, they’ve met and quickly teamed up, despite being such an odd couple. In Season 1, Ben [Edlund]’s goal was to create greater narrative and emotional stakes by treating these people with a little more depth. I don’t want to say “more seriously,” because it’s an absurd show and the Tick is always going to be a comedic character.

The term Ben uses is “do the math” to figure out who they are as people. That way, the comedy, action, and emotion get heightened. In Season 1, the universe is pretty small because it’s mostly around us, and the people we directly relate to. At the start of Season 1, superheroes have kind of been outlawed. The agencies have also shut down. In Season 2, it’s the industry revival. AEGIS, which is our equivalent of SHIELD, reopens and there’s going to be a new superhero team. There are five coveted positions everyone’s fighting for and now a bunch of other superheroes come out of the woodwork.

Some are superheroes [Arthur] grew up idolizing, but now Arthur and the Tick are brought into a more legitimate world where they don’t get to be the city’s number-one superheroes by default. They have to fight for that position with other superheroes who have a lot more experience and a lot more conventionally heroic than they are.

You’ve worked on a TV shows, on networks, basic cable, pay cable, and now streaming. Is it different working within each of those arenas?

My experiences are colored by the different roles I had on those shows. Vinyl felt like the biggest production I’ve been on, but I had a very small role. I could see a difference in how HBO runs things on the daily production side, as opposed to how a network runs things. But on networks, I’ve only done pilots and guest spots where you’re just sort of visiting that world.

The Tick is different, because…I’m there every episode. There’s a throughline. What’s fun with Amazon is, they’re not as beholden to the traditional notions of what a TV show needs to be. There’s a lot of latitude. They know what show it is. [We don’t have] to fit into a timeslot. [We don’t] compete in the ratings with other shows live. They want us to make the best version of The Tick that people who liked The Tick will like the most.

Ben tells stories about working on the Warburton show, and there were all these pressures of what it needed to be. Fox wanted them to have a home base that was a restaurant. A lot of that show takes place in a Chinese restaurant, because they said, “That’s like Seinfeld.” It didn’t matter that it was a superhero show. I think [the 2001 show] executed all those things very well. But Amazon isn’t throwing requests out like that. They’re not saying “This is like The Walking Dead. So you need to kill a character every four episodes.” They’re saying, “Make the best Tick,” which is exciting.

Aside from other versions of Arthur, what other actors were you inspired by?

I looked at Gene Wilder a lot. When I met with Ben, he was direct about what the challenge was with this character: “I want to make Arthur a proper emotional protagonist rather than just being a comic device.” Arthur used to be, even if he was sympathetic, comic relief. Why would a guy who’s this neurotic become a superhero? Ben wanted to keep that, but make him a guy you could invest in and root for.

The trick to that is, you want to make sure the guy doesn’t become a joke. It’s the difference between the audience laughing at a character or laughing with a character. Even when Arthur fails, you want to make sure you’re not putting him down, because it becomes hard to invest.

Gene Wilder was a very unconventional leading man, which is something I try to do with Arthur, to make a leading man who doesn’t have the standard machismo that I feel seeps into any lead male character. He’s incredibly vulnerable and emotional and empathetic, but can be the hero of the story and can get the laughs. You can find those jokes. A lot of those laugh lines come out of not what’s being said, but how it’s being said.

Gene Wilder was so good at the emotional oscillation of getting stressed out. When he’s stressed out, he’s really stressed out. When he’s angry, he’s really angry. When he’s sad, he’s really sad. Like his blanket breakdown in The Producers or his tirades in Young Frankenstein. He’s the North Star I look towards. I have a long, long way to go, but that’s what I try my hardest to emulate.

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