Comic book fans have a clearly defined view of what a sidekick is and isn’t. But those notions get tossed out the window when it comes to Arthur (Griffin Newman) on The Tick, a character who has, in past iterations of the concept, fallen in line with the trope more often than not. Season one of the rebooted show, however, has been as much about Arthur’s journey, his grief over his dead father, his quest for revenge, and his rise as a hero in his own right as it has been about the title character’s quest for his origins. More so, probably. It’s an interesting switch that’s given the show soul and allowed it to stand out in a media landscape where superhero worlds are abundant.
In a conversation with Newman, we discussed the evolution of Arthur, what it was like to realize that this sidekick role had a lot more meat to it, his pursuit of an Arthur action figure, and how he deals with his own dual life as a TV star and a podcast host with ample opinions about the industry he’s trying to make his way through.
Did you get the sense that this was going to develop into a lead role for you when you auditioned? Because it really feels like you and Peter [Serafinowicz] share the lead.
When I got the email and saw it was Arthur, I knew it was a big part. And then when I read the script for the pilot… the first draft I read when I started auditioning, the Tick didn’t even enter until page 22, I think. So it was kind of… I just was going page by page, and going, “So, Arthur’s like, the only character in these scenes.” And then they re-wrote it so that Tick enters a little earlier because he is the titular character.
It was less of a thing of it developing into me realizing that I was a lead, and more a thing of… I kept on waiting for them to demote me. [Laughs.] If that makes sense? I was like, “I think this is the lead, but at some point, they’re going to water that down, right?” And just as the season went on, I kept on having that much to do, which is very bizarre.
How does the show stand out from other comic book shows?
The Tick is so unique because Ben [Edlund] has been the guy. He’s retained creative control over it. Through the years, which hasn’t really happened before. Usually, the creator of the source material is forced to let go at some point, or maybe they have an advisory role on something. But he’s always kind of been the guy. I think The Tick‘s main function as a piece of art, if I can say that, is to be a funhouse mirror to whatever’s going on in superhero culture at the time, you know? And maybe even pop culture or Broadway. And so every time Ben has gotten the chance to bring The Tick back to a new era or a new format or whatever it is, he doesn’t just reboot the last thing he did. He kind of holds the mirror up to whatever is going on at that time. And this is just an insanely rich time. It’s more of a question of “How much can you fit into that mirror?
The biggest difference is, when the [Patrick] Warburton version of The Tick happened [in 2001], there weren’t live-action superhero shows. There were barely live-action superhero movies, you know? It was kind of in a period where we had the run of Batman movies that had kind of ended, and the run of Superman movies that had ended, and that was pretty much it. And the Warburton Tick came out in between the first X-Men and the first Spider-Man, and before we had live-action superhero shows before there was a language for how half-hour or hour-long superhero shows looked, and moved, and were written and performed. And so it’s really fertile territory to try to reflect all of that stuff [now].
I’d spoken with Ben prior to the launch of the first half of Season 1, and he wanted Arthur to be a character that felt like he didn’t want to be on the show. But in the second half, Arthur is definitely more accepting of the mantle of hero. How do you think that’s going to be going forward?
I always said that I think the first half of the season is Arthur becoming convinced that he is capable of doing this thing and the second half season is Arthur having to convince everyone else that he can do it. But Arthur never becomes super confident or comfortable within this world. He’s just kind of committed to the fact that he’s going to do it, and he’s going to see it through to the end.
Season 2 is being written right now. I went to the writers’ room and was talking to all of them about the stuff that I felt I enjoyed playing last season, and then the stuff I wanted to do more of. And I said, you know, I just think like the stuff I want to do more of… he’s fully stopped refusing the call. But the call still scares him. He’s never going to be not overwhelmed. He’s never going to feel like he belongs, he’s never going to feel like he is powerful enough to be going toe-to-toe with new people. He’s never even fully going to understand how his suit works. But he’s just decided that this is what he needs to do now, which I think is very heroic.
The problem with a lot of Superman movies is, he’s Superman. Like, he doesn’t really have any risk. When there’s a whole convention of Superman refusing a call and debating whether or not he wants to be Superman, it just feels kind of selfish. Arthur has a lot of reasons to not do this. And the reason for him to go forward with being a superhero is because it’s the right thing to do, and he thinks he might be able to help people. But it’s still a great risk to himself. So I think Arthur is going to always be a character who doesn’t belong on the show. He’s always going to be the audience surrogate because he is the bridge between the kind of insane world — both of the sort of comedy and sort of heightened superhero theatrics — and the normal people. But now he is not trying to get out of that world.
Obviously, fans get dug in on their favorite iterations sometimes. You’re not unfamiliar with that, I’m sure. Have you faced any heat on social media or gotten any blowback from the fan community on the character?
I mean, a little bit. I got a lot less than I was worried I was going to get, A: because I’m a worrywart, and B: because what we were doing was so different, you know? Especially with Arthur. Ben took that character and then built like an attic and a basement on it, you know? And added a lot of new stuff to it that I don’t think negates anything the character was before but expands it. But I definitely felt people going, “Well this isn’t my Arthur.”
The goal was to get to an Arthur that feels exactly like everyone’s Arthur by the end of the first season. Which, I think in terms of how the writers arced that, I think they did it beautifully, I think, by the end of the season, in terms of how Arthur acted individually, in terms of how Arthur and Tick act together. But some people I think were thrown off by how much the Tick and I fight in the first half of the season. How it’s sort of introverted… and it is a very sad character. It takes a while for him to come out of his shell enough to be the kind of vocalized Arthur, the Arthur who was very open and expressing his anxiety as opposed to just sort of sitting quietly by himself.
So, I read that criticism, but it was kind of… I took it all with, “Well, wait until you see the rest of what we’re doing, and then if you still don’t like it, that’s fine.” When I first got cast… I’m a lunatic, so I read literally everything everyone writes online. Which I shouldn’t do because it’s essentially self-harm.
When I first got cast, people didn’t know who I was, so there was just really a photo going out. I definitely saw people online complaining about me getting to play the character because it’s the one superhero in history who isn’t in tremendously good shape. So I tried to gain weight for the show, and I was like, this is so great. Everyone’s going to compliment me and commend me. I’m like Robert De Niro. I gained weight to play a superhero. And no one said anything, ever. I got no recognition for the fact that I gained weight to play the role. And instead, I just felt tired at the end of the first season. So that criticism just kind of went away, but it also wasn’t replaced with any sort of complimentary praise or anything.
I don’t know that praise comes on the internet, I’m not 100% sure.
You’re on The Tick and you’re now, I’m sure, going to be looking for other roles while on hiatus. But you also co-host the Blank Check podcast with David Sims from The Atlantic. Do you get concerned about criticizing filmmakers? Do you ever feel a need to pull back? I mean, I think it’s pretty clear you’re not going to be in The Book of Henry 2.
Is that a concern for you? Or are you just going to let it fly?
The answer that I have landed on recently… and it’s certainly a thing I’m rethinking all the time… is both of what you just said. It’s a concern and I just still let it fly. Which is probably very self-sabotaging.
But you know, it’s been a while now. I mean, I got cast on The Tick two years ago now. To do the pilot, and then the pilot took a while, and Amazon has their voting process. It took a while to get picked up. We started filming the season about a year ago, and then six episodes came out six months ago, and then the other six are coming out now. So I’ve sort of been in this position of… if not increased visibility, anxiety about how my visibility was going to increase after I had already been doing the [podcast] for like a year and a half and had set a standard for myself of being way too open with my opinions about everything.
My agents advised me against doing a movie podcast in the first place because they knew how opinionated I’d be and how much I wouldn’t hold back. But I just kind of felt like, A: I was so proud of what the podcast had become at that point, and how people respond to it. And I think part of that is the honesty to talk about stuff. And I didn’t want to change that. And B: I am just a moron. And I don’t think very strategically about my career.
But I did have a thing recently where I, in one episode, talked a lot of shit about a movie, and then I think the day after we recorded, I got a very big audition for that director’s movie. And it was a part I really wanted. Despite what I said about that director’s last film, I respect them enough and liked the part and the material and everything. I really wanted it. And I kept on going, “Is this somehow going to come back to haunt me?” I was freaking out about it, I was like, “Should I cut it out? So only the people listening to it at first will have heard it and now it will just disappear from the episode?” All this sort of stuff and I was kind of freaking out about it. And I just sort of decided — and I sort of applied this to all of it — if I really hate someone’s work, I won’t be that upset about not getting the chance to work with them, you know?
That’s a good point.
It would be hypocritical for me to be upset about missing out on the opportunity to be in a movie because of that. Because it’s not like I would like working on that movie. And with people where I’ve said a critical thing in the past, but I genuinely respect them, I would tell them that. I’d go, “Look, I was less crazy about this thing, but here are the three things you’ve done that I love.” And the movie that I was worried about ended up being canceled. So I didn’t have to really address any of that. It got canceled before I could get close to getting it.
But yeah, I don’t know. It’s something I think about a lot, but I just so far try to, not double down on criticism, but maybe hold back when there’s something that is unnecessarily mean to say while otherwise just trying to be honest and hoping it doesn’t ruin my ability to do other things.
That definitely makes sense. It’s always interesting, you never really know how someone’s going to react to being criticized. I always would assume people would just kind of shrug it off, but sometimes that’s really not the case at all.
Right, it’s interesting. Certain people… like where you work, you’re in a position where that’s your job to do that, you know? So you’re getting paid to write about entertainment, to share those opinions. And then I’m an actor now with a platform that I’ve created to do that. But a platform that’s become a little larger, and usually actors don’t bite the hands that feed them. But I also care about the podcast as its own thing. I’m proud of the show, and I think if I suddenly went about walking on eggshells in every episode, the quality would diminish.
Isn’t it funny that we all have to think about the things that we say, but obviously, your friend the President doesn’t have to? I follow you on Twitter and I see your… is it a daily message?
It’s daily. I’d say out of the last 365 days, I want to say I’ve done it 342. I’ve maybe missed 13, but I try to do it every day.
I know you’ve been kind of driven to try and get an action figure for Arthur. Any updates on that?
I have to answer as vaguely as possible. I have been very vocal online about my desperate attempts to make it happen. And literally 12 hours ago, I got an exciting update. I don’t know if it’s going to make it to the finish line, but I’m more encouraged speaking to you right now than I have been before.
I mean, the key is to get in series one. Because you know, these lines get killed every… you know, it’s like, “Oh, we’re going to do this.” And then series two never happens, and you’re left waiting forever. So as long as you’re in series one, I think you’ve got a good shot.
You know, Funko has the license for this show. And they made a Tick for San Diego Comic-Con last year, like an exclusively limited glow in the dark one. And they said, “but then when the show comes out later, we’re going to release the whole main cast.” And so I was waiting months and months and months for them to come out with a regular Tick, but then also Arthur and the Terror, whoever else they chose. And then the regular Tick just came out by himself. They made it a one-character series one. So now, I’m in that series two waiting [game], so I’m hoping they commit to making Dot and Overkill… everyone else.
I haven’t seen them. Are they full-on six-inch figures, or are they like the retro ReAction figures?
It’s the Pop. I would love a ReAction figure. I’m such a nerd for like, vintage, retro toys like that. The ReAction figures, which for the millions of people who have no idea what we’re talking about right now are like, modern action figures designed to look like ’70s Star Wars figures. That would be a personal nerd itch that I would love to have scratched.
I selfishly would love to have a mantle of Arthur in different styles. As many different… a ReAction, a Pop, a Beanie Baby. I have my Arthur shelf of all the stuff from the cartoon. So I have the water gun from Jack-in-the-Box, there’s an Arthur water gun. There’s Taco Bell … not a paper airplane, but like a foam glider. So I will someday have a shelf of similarly bizarre warped interpretations of Arthur into different forms.
6 new episodes of The Tick are available to stream on Amazon Prime right now.