In Venom: Let There Be Carnage, there’s a scene about midway through where Venom (Tom Hardy), without his host Eddie Brock (also Tom Hardy) attends a rave. At this rave Venom gives a (surprisingly) heartfelt speech to everyone in attendance and then goes off on a tangent about how much he misses Eddie, because the two just had a bad argument and have, well, broken up. I asked director Andy Serkis about this scene and I was surprised how forthcoming he was that the party in question was based on a LGBTIA festival. And Serkis is a smart guy and wouldn’t, right after saying that, use the wording, “this was Venom’s coming out party,“ without knowing exactly what that implies. (To make sure, I followed up. Serkis then goes on to describe Eddie and Venom’s relationship as a “love affair.” He’s not wrong. It very obviously is.)
Serkis takes over the direction of the Venom franchise from Ruben Fleischer. And it wasn’t entirely a secret that Fleischer and star Tom Hardy didn’t see eye to eye on the movie they were making. And what resulted was chaos, but very entertaining chaos. So how does Serkis keep that onscreen chaos and keep things calmer when the camera isn’t on? And, now, he’s got (his former War for the Planet of the Apes co-star) Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage, and Naomie Harris as Shriek on board to give Eddie and Venom some trouble. But, in the end, we know this movie is about (as Serkis says) the “love affair” between Eddie and Venom. And, ahead, he explains…
So I’m trying to get into your mindset a little bit. Because, the first film, I don’t think it’s a secret that Ruben and Tom didn’t always see eye to eye on how the movie should be. But it also strangely created this chaos that worked. So entering this, how do you create a dynamic where on-screen it’s still chaos, but behind the scenes it’s not?
That’s a very diplomatic way of putting it.
Thank you. I tried my best to be diplomatic.
No, no. It’s great. No, it’s great. So, look, the thing is Tom and I knew each other a bit – have known each other for years and years and years and have wanted to work together for quite some time. And whether it be as actors or whether it was me directing. In fact, he called me before the first Venom and said, “Andy, I’m going to be doing this character and it’s going to be a digital character, and I wondered if I could come down to the Imaginarium,” which is a performance-capture studio, “and do some sort of practice with performance capture.” And at that time he was thinking of using it. But then I never heard from him again for a while. And then Venom 1 came out and I thought, “Oh, that was the character he was talking about.”
Well, I’m curious, when you saw the first Venom, what was your reaction? It is very unique.
It is. Absolutely. And I think that’s the thing. Tom and I have quite similar sensibilities in a way – definitely swimming in the darker end of the swimming pool. Sort of grungy kind of sort of dysfunctional characters that are outsiders. The fact that, I mean, his Eddie Brock is such a confused, mucked up guy, fraud guy…
He also has an alien living in him who calls him a loser.
Right. Exactly that. Exactly. In many ways, I think that’s why he wanted me to get involved. He phoned me up and he said, “Look, we’d really love you to throw your hat in the mix for directing this.“ Of course, everybody loved the lobster tank moment. That’s the touchstone moment. That’s the sort of the starting point for this next film and I knew that things had been rocky on the movie. He told me the whole story of differences of opinion and all of that. I knew it all. And I know Tom’s a very strong-willed actor…
Speaking of diplomatic, there you go. “Strong-willed,” that’s a good way to put it.
Yeah. He is. And of course, look, and I am too. But there are different ways of skinning a cat. Put it that way. But, look, the fact is also, we had some other great forces on set this time, one of which was Woody Harrelson, and one of which was [Cinematographer] Bob Richardson. And also, the way I wanted to take this story on, apart from the fact that I inherited it at a really interesting moment – which is this The Seven Year Itch, The Odd Couple phase of Eddie and Venom’s relationship – I get the opportunity to introduce one of the greatest Venomverse villains, Carnage, and design that and create that, and a palette for that. Just I knew it was going to be a shot of red through the entire movie.
And so in terms of visualizing it, the first film is very monotone and dark, and I wanted this to be really controlled by the color of Carnage and the saturation of that. And then with Bob, we talked a lot about shooting the CG characters as shallow-focused as possible so that they always felt part of the environment and integrated, not overly celebrating them as CG characters, because they’re quite unforgiving. Their designs are very unforgiving.
Well, it’s interesting you said the jumping-off point was the lobster tank scene because that was a point of contention for Ruben and Tom. I don’t think Ruben was a fan of that scene.
For me, that was the moment the film kind of took off.
Yes, I agree.
So that was like, wow, if we’ve got that, and then you’ve got the introduction of Carnage? And you’ve got death by lethal injection one minute, and then Carnage coming into being out of that – that kind of level of surreality for me was really, really interesting, fertile material, you know?
So I do want to ask too, you toned down Cletus’s haircut a bit from what we saw in the first movie.
So what happened?
That was quite a major discussion actually, but it was really about it being too kind of distracting in a way. And there were so many comments about it not feeling believable. And so we wanted to find a look for him that felt like that, logically, he could have had that all cut off and that we didn’t want to make a big deal about the hair that it would become a thing.
So it was a big discussion.
It was a discussion for sure, because it could have been very distracting. And although there are images of Cletus Kasady in the comics where he has kind of wild hair, we felt it would have just become a thing. And that was something that we didn’t want to dwell on, particularly when there were so many other real issues to deal with.
I am curious how it works with an actor like Woody, who obviously he’d done Zombieland with Ruben, and when he signed on it was with Ruben. How does that discussion work?
Well, the fact of the matter is I’ve worked closely with Woody Harrelson…
I mean, yes, obviously you worked with him on War for the Planet of the Apes…
Yeah, so we were good buddies and he was thrilled that I was directing it. I mean, he really was. He was really happy and we got on like a house on fire. And then he was so willing to be directed and to try different things. And, of course, he’s exceptional as an actor and comes up with… he’s just so inventive. But, equally, he’s very open to pushing things in different directions, which is joyful.
There’s no fat in this movie. Was that a conscious decision? And there’s very little exposition.
We always wanted to make this a real thrill ride, but a ride that… Sometimes when you’re on a rollercoaster ride movie, it sort of doesn’t stop for the character moments and it just becomes exhausting. We wanted to create the moments where it really we really earned our character moments and character stories and backstories…
Well yes, because most of the movie is Venom and Eddie arguing. So it definitely has its character moments, but it’s always entertaining.
Sure, sure. Well, good. But even things like, for example, when Cletus’ backstory is told it’s through cartoons that he would have drawn – that, you know, the logic is always there that’s got to underpin the whole story, the whole way of storytelling. So, yes, I mean, we really wanted to make it a thrill ride and get to the moment where Carnage is unleashed without too much exposition. So that was certainly always on the cards. I mean, in the director’s cut there was probably about, I don’t know, 10 or 15 minutes more, but that’s not much.
I’m curious why you wanted to play Alfred in The Batman movie coming up? I assume working with Matt Reeves again is a big reason.
It was definitely to work with Matt. I’d love to be able to talk about it, but I can’t talk anything about it. I’ve been forbidden to talk about Alfred!
Oh, I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position. I didn’t know it was secret to talk about Alfred.
Well, no, only that I can’t really talk about The Batman.
So during this movie Venom goes to the rave. That’s a very interesting scene.
It was originally going to be a carnival of the damned and it ended up being Tom had got to know Little Simz, who’s a brilliant rapper and also stars in the movie. And she actually had made a song, unbeknownst to her, called “Venom” that connected very much with the first movie. And so Tom got in touch with her and that song became sort of the focus. Well, Tom and [co-writer] Kelly [Marcel] were always about Venom coming out and going to a party that was a very sort of an LGBTQIA kind of festival, really, I’d call it, and so this is his coming out party basically. This is Venom’s coming-out party.
Well, like actually coming out? Because that’s very interesting.
Well, coming out, being out…
Well, you just compared it to LGBTQIA. That’s very interesting.
Well, what is interesting is that it’s just like, here he is kind of, he says in the movie, “We must stop this cruel treatment of aliens.” He said, “You know, we all live on this ball of rock,” you know? And so he inadvertently becomes a kind of… he’s speaking for the other. He’s speaking for freedom of the other.
And it’s very obvious that Eddie and Venom are in love. Like we all know that. They are. They are in love.
Absolutely they do love each other and that’s the kind of the center of the movie is that love affair, that central love affair.
‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ opens October 1st. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.