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After two decades as a regular — and mostly comedic — face (and voice) in U.K. film and TV (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead), not to mention parts in Guardians of the Galaxy (as the Nova Corps’ distinctly not amused Garthan Saal) and Spy (as handsy Italian spy Aldo), Peter Serafinowicz is finally getting his first major lead role.
In The Tick, the British actor, writer and funnyman — who also famously voiced Darth Maul in the first Star Wars prequel — has squeezed himself into the blue rubber suit of Ben Edlund’s square-jawed superhero for Amazon’s eight-part live-action adaptation, premiering Aug. 25.
But while Serafinowicz may be about to get his first taste of mainstream U.S. fame, he’s already a well-known comic voice on Twitter, most recently for his growing library of ‘Sassy Trump’ videos, in which he takes Donald Trump’s speeches — sometimes just hours after they are made — and rerecords them, using the exact same words but with an extra dose of sass. However, he thinks the president might be on to him (and is deliberately upping the sass himself)
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Serafinowicz talks Tom Hardy’s “beautiful” face, name-drops Mark Hamill (“Mark, MH, The Hamster!”), and describes the night when the POTUS — “possibly the best bullshitter that mankind has created” — woke up his entire family.
Did you know anything about The Tick before?
I knew about him peripherally. I had this impression of it as a very straightforward superhero parody, but didn’t realize that it was this incredibly sophisticated, surreal, beautifully written and drawn thing. I’m not a big superhero nerd. I liked it as a kid, I watched Superman and Batman, I still remain a big fan of the 1966 Batman show. Adam West is a big hero of mine. But I don’t even know the last superhero film I watched at the cinema.
Not even Guardians of the Galaxy?
That’s more a sci-fi, I would say. Even though it contains superheroes. When I auditioned for James Gunn — and I did a terrible audition by the way — I loved how enthusiastic he was about this thing. He had planned the entire thing out, shot by shot. He just said, “I want to make Star Wars, that original Star Wars, but with superheroes.” I thought it was a great film. I was so glad to be just a tiny part of that thing. I’d seen the last Batman, but they kind of get too serious for me. I loved Bane. It’s a testament to Tom Hardy that he can do that performance when you can’t see his face.
Given Batman, Mad Max and now Dunkirk, it seems he only appears in films with his face covered
And it’s such a beautiful face!
What was the audition process for this like? Did you have to jump around in a blue rubber suit?
Errr, the auditioning process was nonexistent. Ben is a singular, unique individual, and he had just got it into his head that he’d seen some of my stuff and decided that he wanted me to play The Tick, which I was extremely flattered by. He wrote me a letter, explaining why and it was such a beautiful, touching letter. I really regret scrunching it up and chucking it away. He sent me this script, which I thought, oh my god, this guy, it’s his baby. He has a daughter, who is his actual baby, his child, she’s not a baby anymore. But this is his beloved character, his alter ego that has lived inside his head and hands for over 30 years. And to be entrusted with that felt like a big responsibility.
What did you first think of the script?
The title page actually says, “The Tick: A Parody, by Ben Edlund,” and that kind of made me think of something that isn’t going to be very sophisticated.
Like, say, Scary Movie?
Scary Movie is actually a good thing in its own right. But imitators of that which came after, ones that were literally taking a scene from another film and making it about penises or something. But when I read the script I thought it was actually incredibly sophisticated and also beautifully written. It’s so surreal and strange and it’s disgraceful that I haven’t known about this. Where has it been all my life?
But it was a big thing for me. I’d never really wanted to do a TV show in the States, because it just means spending a lot of time in America, as I have a wife and family and a mistress! I always said I’d only ever do it if it was something amazing, and when my wife read it she was like, “Look, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that is more you. This is the one we’ve always talked about.”
Given that this is your first major lead role, are you seeing it maybe as your U.S. breakthrough?
I don’t know man. Thinking of things as a breakthrough…. I’m 45. Maybe if it was even 10 years ago I might have been a little starry-eyed. I’ve realized now that my priorities are different. I want to get into politics. No! It’s lovely, but I don’t have a lust for fame and recognition and all that stuff. I perhaps once did when I was younger and more naive and drunker.
Are you prepared to be recognized by Americans, and for them to assume you are American?
They’ll probably automatically assume I’m English, because practically everyone on TV with an American accent is English.
You’re been pretty prolific recently with your Sassy Trump videos on Twitter. Now you’re effectively working for one of the biggest corporations on the planet in Amazon, has there been any call to tone them down?
No, there hasn’t. No! Sassy Trump, that’s my own little thing.
Shit, that’s Donald Trump.
Aside from being hilarious, was there any reasoning behind making the videos?
Well, Donald Trump…in a way he’s like a supervillain whose superpower is bullshit. I really mean that. I know it’s a jokey thing to say, but it’s definitely a thing. He is an expert…possibly the best bullshitter that mankind has created.
To anybody who is in comedy, they say, well you’ve got four more years of great material. And every comic I know, every comedy writer is like, fuck, no, you don’t understand. It’s like he’s nigh-invulnerable, like The Tick. He’s beyond parody because he’s so exaggerated. That’s a major way that people make fun of somebody — taking a trait of theirs and exaggerate it to an absurd level. But with Trump, every trait of his is exaggerated to 100. And the things he does are so out of the realms of reality that even in a comedy they would be like, OK guys, come on, you’ve got to rewrite this, nobody is going to believe it.
So with Sassy Trump, and it certainly wasn’t the intention at the start, I realized as I went on that by adding this layer of a silly voice over this man’s actual real words, it strips away a layer, weirdly. The words are concealed by his bullshit. By adding this layer it reveals them. And you realize, shit, he is the president of the USA and these are the actual words he is saying.
Have you had any reaction from the US?
Lots. Privately, I’ve had people from various news networks who tell me we all watch them. They have to remain anonymous because of journalistic integrity and also I will not reveal my sources. I don’t know if Trump has seen any of them. Is he on Twitter? But I just worry that he’s going to make it more impossible for me to do the simple thing that I do by out-sassying me. It’s like, OK, you win.
Is he getting sassier in real life?
There was one time, during the White House Correspondents Dinner. He’s so petty and petulant…he decided instead to go to this self-congratulatory rally that he’d arranged in his honor where he crowed about his victory and how he beat Hillary Clinton. It was the same night as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And there was this chilling moment where he said, “So in Washington I don’t know if anybody of you know, but people are all at the White House for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and they’re there and I’m here, and they’re there…[exceptionally sassy voice] without the president.”
And he looks into camera as he says it and I was like, he is looking at me, he has seen my videos and he is saying, “I can be as sassy as you.”
I was going to get this clip and put it out as a Sassy Trump and say, I have not even altered this.
There was another weird thing when I was filming The Tick in New York. It was 6 o’clock and I had a call from my wife — it was about 11 p.m. at home. And she said, “Peter Peter, I’ve got Donald Trump blaring from your office at home. I was like, “What, Donald Trump?” And she said, He’s super loud.”
“Ok, where’s it coming from?”
“I think your big computer.”
“Ok, pull out the plug, pull out all the plugs, just pull it out!”
Everyone had woken up, the children had woken up, my wife had just got to sleep. Anyway, she managed to pull out the plug. I don’t know what had happened. But I thought again, is that a message?
Now that you’re at Amazon, have you been pitching any of your own ideas?
I hadn’t thought about that actually. I would like to edit all the Sassy Trumps together, sort of like a documentary. But I have got a couple of other ideas. I’d like to do something with Rob Delaney — I’m great friends with him and would love to do something. I did actually text this idea to him and didn’t hear back. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Having famously voiced Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, did you not attempt to find a way into the new Star Wars films?
No, but I did become friends with Mark Hamill. And I still can’t believe that I name-drop that. So Mark…Mark! MH! The Hamster. He’s a big The Tick fan and was in the animated series. But he’s also the sweetest man ever and he recommended me for a part in the next, Star Wars, The Last Jedi. So, you know, fingers crossed! Hahaha. But apparently they might be doing another Obi-Wan and Darth Maul might be in it, so I’d love to do that again.
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