The inherent difficulty in making a movie that centers on Venom is that most people probably know Venom as a Spider-Man villain. So here’s a movie where we have Venom as the star of the show, biting off heads and doing all the things that Venom does, but now he’s kinda-sorta the good guy and there’s no Spider-Man to be found. (The film’s San Francisco setting, as opposed to New York, quickly lets the viewer know we shouldn’t be expecting any Spider-Man cameos, let alone even a mention.)
Director Ruben Fleischer, best known for directing the 2009 hit Zombieland (and its upcoming sequel) brings Venom back to the big screen for the first time since Sam Raimi’s effort back in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. (Rami has made it clear he’s not the biggest Venom fan.) Playing both Venom and his human host, Eddie Brock, is Tom Hardy who brings a…let’s call it unpredictability to the role. Here we have Venom, what is ostensibly a darker superhero movie about an alien who bites people’s heads off, but then here’s Hardy, putting on a manic comedy show – at one point jumping into a live lobster tank to start chowing down on lobsters. (As Fleischer says ahead, that was all a Tom Hardy improvisation.)
Ahead, Fleischer takes us through the challenges of making a movie about Venom, the often unpredictability of Tom Hardy’s vision for the character, and why Venom takes its cues from a lot of ’80s buddy comedies, including, surprisingly, the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin film, All of Me.
(WARNING: Minor Venom spoilers ahead.)
I’ve never seen a superhero movie like this before.
I’ll take that as a compliment.
I’m serious. This is very unique.
Marvel has their world that’s so clearly defined. And DC has their own aesthetic. And for this, maybe, I really wanted to distinguish our film from other things. And with Tom Hardy playing that character, I think that really sets the tone and the style of the film. The world in which it takes place, we wanted to feel very grounded and of reality, not a heightened world, but real-life San Francisco – where this journalist unexpectedly goes through a transformation that results in a larger-than-life experience.
Is that’s why it’s set in San Francisco? So the viewer isn’t thinking about when Spider-Man is going to show up?
Yeah. And the comics, I think, led the way for us, because they actively made that same choice. Once Venom and Spider-Man came to a truce, Eddie returned to San Francisco. And in that, Eddie and Venom make San Francisco their new home and are dealing with this homeless mystery that’s taking place there. I think they actively did the same thing by wanting to separate Venom and Spiderman, and so we followed their lead.
This might be a strange comparison, but this movie reminded for the Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin movie, All of Me.
We definitely talked about that a lot, but of like a shared body experience.
Lily Tomlin berates him the whole time. And there’s a lot of that in this, too. Venom keeps calling Eddie a loser.
Yeah, All of Me was a big reference point. We definitely took a lot of inspiration in the dynamics, as well as lots of other great ’80s buddy comedies – whether it’s Midnight Run, 48 Hours, which also takes place in San Francisco. But that idea of somebody being hijacked by another person and having to work together. And over the course of the journey, they come to terms and forge a friendship so that they might work together in the future. That was the arc of many a great classic ’80s buddy movies, including All of Me, and certainly was an inspiration for the relationship in this film.
What was your relationship with Venom before you got attached to this? Because Sam Raimi pretty much made it clear with Spider-Man 3 he didn’t want Venom in it.
Venom is one of the most distinctive characters, in large part, because it is about the relationship. Almost every other superhero, or villain, is a person that maybe gets a power imbued upon them. Or they’re from a different planet and they have superpowers here. Or they decide they want to spend inheritance to become a vigilante. But this is really about two different entities coming together as one. There’s that Jekyll and Hyde quality inherent to Venom. And there’s no one better in the world to explore that duality than Tom Hardy, for whom the theme I think is consistent throughout his work. Certainly, we saw it in Legend, and it’s cool to see it take place all in one body in this film.
There’s no real MacGuffin, no stones or boxes to find. The plot is Venom is a loser on his planet and decides he doesn’t want the other symbiotes to show up because he won’t be special anymore.
I think he just likes Eddie and they have a relationship. It was hard to do, because in the comics there’s a kindred spirit between Eddie and Venom because they both hate Spider-Man and they both have their reasons for hating Spider-Man. And so, that was the basis of their bond. But in this movie, we didn’t have that touchstone for them. It really was just about them commiserating. And that Venom, on Venom’s planet, he was a runt and he was a nobody. And he got put down by his people and he was a loser. And so he comes to this planet with his fellow aliens and they want to take it over, and he’s like, “No, it’s actually pretty awesome here. I like my host, Eddie. I can relate to him.”
“Eddie seems to like me. We get along.”
Yeah, “We have a common experience.” He went from being a small fish to being the big fish on our pond. So for Venom, I think he just feels like in this world he can have his way.
I appreciated that there’s no 10-minute scene of Eddie really contemplating, “Is this the right thing to do?” He mostly seems pretty okay with Venom.
I think, what it does is a great job of doing is laying the groundwork for future movies, because you are hopefully invested in their relationship. And I think we can mine it so much more in future movies – that sort of Odd Couple dynamic between them. Because that’s what it is in the comics. After Spider-Man is put to the side, it’s really about them, and there are so many different issues and themes to explore in that dynamic of Eddie and Venom.
There’s a scene where Venom calls Eddie a “pussy.”
Yeah, and when I’ve seen it with audiences, it tends to get a big laugh, which is good, because the humor is something that we were excited to lean into. And although it’s not clear in all the marketing materials, the movie is just really fun. We made it for audiences. This is a movie that is just a fun ride and the goal was just to have a really entertaining fun film for audiences.
It’s weird when you’re watching it, and I don’t want to word this the wrong way, but the cast seems to be in a darker superhero movie and Tom Hardy seems to be in a comedy. Does that makes sense?
Was that intentional?
I think that Eddie is going through a really exciting experience.
Like, Tom Hardy jumps in a lobster tank.
Yeah, he’s having a severe experience. He’s losing his mind a little bit. He’s losing it.
But that could’ve been played as a horror angle, and it’s not. That transformation could have been horrifying.
Right, that’s the more traditional horror route. But for us, yeah, we definitely leaned into the comedy. That bistro scene was always, for me, from script to storyboards to execution, designed to be one of the more entertaining scenes in the film. And actually, the idea of going into the lobster thing was Tom’s idea. We went to the set to rehearse before shooting, just so he could get a lay of the land because it’s a really physical scene. And the production designer had put a lobster tank in there just as a detail of a fancy restaurant.
And Tom, as soon as he saw it, he said, “I’m going in that tank. You guys gotta figure out how to do that, but I’m gonna end this scene in that tank.” And, so, they had to fortify the lobster tank because it wasn’t designed to have a human in it. We had all real lobsters, but we had to get a bunch of plastic lobsters because you can’t put a human in a lobster tank with real lobsters. And so we had to get, overnight, ship a ton of fake lobsters for when he got in the tank. But that’s the genius of Tom Hardy. He just brings so much to the table. That’s one of the more memorable moments and I can give him all the credit for it.
I just picture you on the phone with someone going, “Well, now we need some fake lobsters. Tom’s got an idea.”
Yeah, 100 percent.
“Well, here we go. Tom’s got some crazy idea. I guess we’re doing this.”
Yeah. No, it was really, again, that’s why you want Tom Hardy, because he’s always thinking, “How can I elevate this scene?” Which was great on the page, but then he takes it to the whole another level, and he’s just a genius that way.
‘Venom’ opens in theaters on Friday, October 5th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.