DARK MAT­TERS

Move over Dead­pool, there’s a new Marvel an­ti­hero in town. But will this ver­sion of Venom fi­nally do jus­tice to Marvel’s head-chomp­ing sym­biote? To­tal Film meets the team be­hind the split-per­son­al­ity su­per­hero epic set to shake up the genre and launch a n

Total Film - - Contents - WORDS MATT MAYTUM

TF talks Venom with tom Hardy and his co-stars.

Tom Hardy had a pretty great time at San Diego Comic-Con this year, and you don’t know the half of it. “I re­ally en­joyed it,” he grins to To­tal Film when we catch up shortly af­ter­wards. “I man­aged to get a mask on and walk around with my son, so it was great be­ing with him to re­ally en­joy it. I had a dad ex­pe­ri­ence, as well as be­ing there with Venom.

It was a double whammy of plea­sure.”

So, what dis­guise does some­one like Tom Hardy have to don to wan­der around the con­ven­tion cen­tre floor, then? “I had a few, ac­tu­ally,” he laughs. “I kept burn­ing them out. I went through Yoda, Dead­pool, Spi­der-Man. I may have done a stint as Venom.

I may have done a uni­corn and a llama.” He breaks out into a chuckle. “It was re­ally hot. I was try­ing to find some­thing I could breathe through and see through as well, so I could keep eyes on a roam­ing young man. In the end, I just took it off, be­cause I was like, ‘You know what? I can’t breathe.’ I walked around. No one re­ally no­tices you any­way!”

If it’s shock­ing that some­one as fa­mous as the Os­car-nom­i­nated Hardy – who has The Dark Knight Rises, In­cep­tion and Mad Max: Fury Road on his CV – can stroll through the Comic-Con crowds un­scathed, that might be about to change. If the rau­cous re­cep­tion that the Venom footage re­ceived in Hall H is any­thing to go by, Hardy will be Comic-Con roy­alty if this new stand­alone su­per­hero project de­liv­ers on its prom­ise. “Be­cause Venom is such a beloved char­ac­ter as well, that was big, to be in the pres­ence of so many fans who love the char­ac­ter and the comics,” adds Hardy, whose son’s love of the char­ac­ter was a big in­flu­ence on him tak­ing the role.

In his pro­fes­sional ca­pac­ity at Comic-Con, Hardy was in town with di­rec­tor Ruben Fleis­cher (Zom­bieland, Gang­ster Squad) and co-star Riz Ahmed to give the crowds a bet­ter taste of what to ex­pect from their take on Venom. And when he told the crowds, “I think he’s the coolest Marvel su­per­hero that there is,” the cho­rus of ap­plause cer­tainly didn’t dis­agree. Out­ra­geously pop­u­lar since his first full ap­pear­ance in a 1988 Spi­der-Man comic, Venom ri­vals Dead­pool in terms of Marvel fan-favourite an­ti­heroes. Like Dead­pool, Venom also had a lack­lus­tre first big-screen ap­pear­ance. Turn­ing up as a sec­ond-fid­dle vil­lain in Sam Raimi’s Spi­der-Man 3, Venom dis­ap­pointed, and the di­rec­tor even ad­mit­ted, “It’s a movie that just didn’t work very well.” Well, now he’s set to get his dues as the star of a to­tally stand­alone launch, with a com­edy/ hor­ror/ac­tion tone that re­flects Venom’s own ram­pag­ing per­son­al­ity.

Talk­ing to TF af­ter Comic-Con, Fleis­cher beams about the ex­pe­ri­ence of bring­ing a comic-book movie “to the most diehard comic-book fans in the world”. He ex­plains, “When they first saw Venom’s full body, in all of his glory, peo­ple were scream­ing like they were at a rock con­cert.” Although, even when you’re rolling out some much-

an­tic­i­pated footage to the hun­gry hordes, it can still be a daunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as Ahmed – rock­ing a fresh new per­ox­ide blond do for an up­com­ing role in Sound Of Metal – can at­test. “When the footage starts screen­ing and the lights are off, then you can see the whole size of the crowd,” ex­plains Ahmed. “So your aware­ness of the size of the au­di­ence only kicks in just when you’re at your most vul­ner­a­ble, show­ing the footage. It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal trip for us.”

Psy­cho­log­i­cal trip might be an apt way to de­scribe Venom, given the char­ac­ter’s du­elling dual per­son­al­ity and the out-there tone re­quired for a char­ac­ter who leans on the anti side of an­ti­hero. In the same way that Dead­pool took a sledge­ham­mer to the fourth wall, Venom looks set to shred up su­per­hero con­ven­tions. Although, if you’re not well versed in the char­ac­ter and think he looks like an evil Spi­der-Man, you’re not alone. Hardy thought the same thing. “I’m not go­ing to lie, I just thought he was a black Spi­der-Man,” con­fesses Hardy, “I didn’t re­ally read comic books, so my in­for­ma­tion was lim­ited. But I was given loads of comics when I got in­volved. All the comics! And more im­por­tantly, I had my son as my guide… I was versed in the way of Venom by a 10-year-old. I con­sulted the or­a­cle, there. And he would steer me on.”

LIFe eX­PeCTAnCY

The rea­son Venom does ac­tu­ally look like an evil Spi­der-Man is be­cause he sort of is. In the comics (much as in

Spi­der-Man 3), Peter Parker bonds with a mys­te­ri­ous alien sym­biote that acts as a sleek new suit, but he bins it off when he re­alises it has a mind of its own. The sym­biote then merges with jour­nal­ist Eddie Brock, and to­gether they be­come Venom; the white spi­der sym­bol on Brock’s chest in­di­cat­ing the con­nec­tion. He also has the same run­ning/leap­ing/ swing­ing pow­ers as Spidey, plus a predilec­tion for head-chomp­ing. The Spi­der-Man link (and the chest logo) have been jet­ti­soned for this ver­sion of the ori­gin story, as Tom Hol­land’s Spi­der-Man cur­rently has one foot in the MCU, while Venom marks the launch of a new stand­alone uni­verse for Sony’s Marvel Uni­verse (though the door seems to be open for pos­si­ble Spidey ap­pear­ances in the fu­ture).

In the film’s ori­gin story, Brock is a tena­cious journo who sniffs out dodgy go­ings-on at the Life Foun­da­tion, which is led by bil­lion­aire Carl­ton Drake. With the aim of en­sur­ing the sur­vival of hu­man­ity, Drake be­lieves that com­bin­ing hu­mans with sym­biotes is key. And of course, dur­ing Brock’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he’ll end up play­ing a re­luc­tant host… But here’s an­other thing that sets Venom apart from stan­dard su­per­hero fare: its cast. Along­side Hardy, the sup­port­ing cast is pop­u­lated by a cool, off­beat, edgy ar­ray of ac­tors that you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily as­so­ci­ate with the genre: Riz Ahmed, Michelle Wil­liams, Jenny Slate, Woody Har­rel­son.

“I mean, when you start your cast­ing with Tom Hardy, it sets the bar as far as what kind of film you’re try­ing to make,” says Fleis­cher, and Ahmed con­curs. “I think Tom be­ing at the heart of it was a big pull for ev­ery­one,” says Ahmed. “I’ve known Tom for many years now. Our paths crossed re­ally early in our ca­reers, about 10 years ago. We al­ways kept in touch pe­ri­od­i­cally. It was great to re­con­nect with him.” And as you’d ex­pect, Ahmed takes a very grounded ap­proach to his char­ac­ter. “Hon­estly, I don’t see him as an evil mega­lo­ma­niac,” he ex­plains. “He doesn’t see him­self that way. No one thinks they’re the bad guy. There’s a strong case for what Carl­ton is try­ing to achieve, which is try­ing to en­sure that hu­man­ity has a fu­ture. And he’s look­ing at the big pic­ture.” Ahmed didn’t base Drake on any of the pre-em­i­nent in­dus­tri­al­ists of to­day, like Elon Musk or Richard Bran­son. “It’s more about bring­ing the Carl­ton Drake of the comic books up to date in a con­tem­po­rary re­al­ity,” he says.

An­other char­ac­ter be­ing brought up to date here is Michelle Wil­liams’ Anne Wey­ing, a dis­trict at­tor­ney who has a re­la­tion­ship with Eddie. As with Ahmed, the Hardy-fac­tor was a draw for Wil­liams: “A huge part of the ap­peal of this project was to get to work with him,” she tells TF. But there was also some­thing else she wanted to bring to the ta­ble. “I think Anne is a strong char­ac­ter, and very in­tel­li­gent,” says Wil­liams. “In this film I wanted her to be born of the #MeToo world, and I worked hard to con­vey that with her wardrobe and di­a­logue.”

Fleis­cher gushes about the ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with Wil­liams, who’s more of­ten seen in in­tense in­die dra­mas than tent­pole block­busters. “She just brings so much em­pa­thy to her char­ac­ters,” he says. “And es­pe­cially within the dy­namic be­tween Anne and Eddie in our film. She grounds it so much.” Although, it may prove to be the case that there are ac­tu­ally three peo­ple in that re­la­tion­ship, once the sym­biote and Brock be­come one…

DoUBLe TRoU­BLe

The movie pri­mar­ily takes the comics run Lethal Pro­tec­tor as its in­spi­ra­tion (the 1993 se­ries was the first one head­lined by Venom/Brock), and as that ti­tle sug­gests, he’s very much the an­ti­hero. It was suit­able source ma­te­rial, be­cause Spidey is set aside while Brock heads home to San Francisco. “It’s very much a pure Venom story, which is some­thing that we’ve done with this film – try to make it as much Venom’s movie

‘I wAS VeRSeD In THe wAY oF Venom BY A 10-YeAR-oLD’ tom hardy

as we could. You know, we have lim­i­ta­tions in the in­cep­tion of the movie… And then also the ti­tle, Lethal Pro­tec­tor. At that point, Venom has achieved this an­ti­hero qual­ity. But he’s not just a pure vil­lain. As it says, a lethal pro­tec­tor. So he’s a vi­o­lent vig­i­lante… So he’s some­where in be­tween.”

It’s that com­bi­na­tion of du­al­ity and in­ten­sity that makes Venom the right fit for Hardy. “Tom brings so much com­plex­ity, and I would say dan­ger, to the roles and char­ac­ters he plays,” con­tin­ues Fleis­cher. “Those are two in­her­ent qual­i­ties of Eddie Brock and Venom, the com­plex­ity and the men­ace. So get­ting to watch Tom live be­tween these two char­ac­ters who are shar­ing a body and hav­ing to nav­i­gate these two forces si­mul­ta­ne­ously was re­ally im­pres­sive and fun to watch.”

That war­ring in­ter­nal double-act was key to the at­trac­tion for Hardy. “For me, it was the mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties, be­cause to play that, on a kind of epic level, a su­per­hero level, that was the big draw,” he con­firms. “I was like, ‘This is a great char­ac­ter, be­cause he’s a di­verse an­ti­hero. He’s not a good guy, and he’s not a bad guy.’ He’s con­nected to this alien who’s not from this planet. They’ve got to fig­ure out an eth­i­cal frame­work be­tween the two of them, and nei­ther of them are run-of-themill types. There’s this kind of Odd Cou­ple [re­la­tion­ship] be­tween the two of them. I en­joyed the Jekyll and Hyde na­ture of that, in a su­per­hero world.”

And de­spite the out-of-this-world/ sci­ence-fic­tion el­e­ment to Venom’s cre­ation, it wasn’t en­tirely new ter­ri­tory for Hardy. “It picked up a lit­tle bit from, I sup­pose, Bron­son and then the Kray twins [in Le­gend], and then do­ing that with su­per­heroes,” muses Hardy. “It’s in a big­ger space, an epic space, and double-team­ing with my­self and this big CGI, vis­ual ef­fects el­e­ment, like a double act. So to play two char­ac­ters, re­ally drew me into it. And the dark hu­mour and the fe­roc­ity and the psy­cho­log­i­cal grey­ness, re­ally, of the two. Be­cause there’s no good and bad in it. It’s so grey… It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­ven­ture.” So, how do you go about cre­at­ing these two sides of the an­ti­hero coin that will de­fine this film?

BeAST moDe

In many ways, it all be­gins with the voice. Venom gives Hardy the op­por­tu­nity to es­say an­other dis­tinc­tive ac­cent af­ter the “lovely, lovely voice” of Bane. “I like to just play, and be play­ful, re­ally, and just have fun,” smiles Hardy, who looked back to War­rior (2011) when com­ing up with Brock’s voice, as well as adding “a lit­tle bit of Woody Allen neu­ro­sis in there”. “At some point,” he adds, “he’s go­ing to be­come at one with this crea­ture that’s living rent-free in his body, and come to terms with it. So he had to have a range in his voice.”

For Venom’s vo­cals, the ac­tor had to reach even fur­ther. “Ini­tially, when I read it, I was like, ‘He’s out­landish and big,’” ex­plains Hardy. “I wanted to do some­thing that would stand out, so that he was enig­matic and charis­matic, as well as be­ing danger­ous and scary.” Hardy looked to mu­si­cal in­flu­ences, from rap­pers Red­man and Busta Rhymes, to, sur­pris­ingly, god­fa­ther of soul James Brown. “There’s some­thing elec­tric and soul­ful, but at the same time, pri­mal about those voices,” says Hardy.

“We wanted him to be this dark and men­ac­ing char­ac­ter, but we also wanted him to have a lot of per­son­al­ity, be­cause he is the co-star of the film, if you will,” says Fleis­cher of find­ing a voice for Venom. “So I would say that it had to be dis­tinc­tive. It had to look like it fit that mas­sive, iconic char­ac­ter.”

The role didn’t re­quire any per­for­mance cap­ture from Hardy, be­cause, frankly, the pro­por­tions don’t match. “It wasn’t mo­tion cap­ture, be­cause the eye­balls on the crea­ture, on Venom, and the mouth, they don’t match with my eye­balls and mouth,” laughs Hardy. “So the mo-cap

‘I LIKE TO JUST PLAY, AND BE PLAY­FUL, AND HAVE FUN’ TOM HARDY

treat­ment went out of the win­dow pretty quickly. So fa­cially, your eyes and teeth and tongue are not go­ing to match with this. And you need a 7ft-tall bas­ket­ball player in a Ly­cra suit for the phys­i­cal shots.” He de­scribes the com­bi­na­tion of stunts, prac­ti­cal ef­fects and VFX wiz­ardry as “men­tal sudoku”, although, that’s not the only mindtwister when it comes to mak­ing a Venom movie a re­al­ity…

Tone IT UP

When it comes to any an­ti­hero, tone is key. As soon as a not-en­tirely-straight ar­row is loosed, con­ven­tions have to be up­ended. Hardy says of Venom that “he’ll do what­ever he has to do to get to [his] goal”, so don’t ex­pect him to abide by any ar­bi­trary rules. “I think it’s an in­ter­est­ing mix of tones, ac­tu­ally,” adds Ahmed of the vibe of the film. “It walks that fine line. It’s that mix­ture be­tween hor­ror and com­edy we saw in [Fleis­cher’s] Zom­bieland that worked so well.” Like the shapeshift­ing an­ti­hero, the tone is set to twist and leap all over the place. The first trailer (which con­tro­ver­sially didn’t ac­tu­ally fea­ture Venom; see left) played more like a hor­ror movie, while the lat­est brought the dark com­edy and head-chomp­ing to the fore.

Hardy cites some ’80s clas­sics as touch­points. “I think, you know, we’ve taken in­spi­ra­tion from An Amer­i­can Were­wolf In Lon­don. The tonal­ity of that, and the hu­mour in An Amer­i­can Were­wolf In Lon­don, and the vi­o­lence and ag­gres­sion. I re­mem­ber, also, when

I was a kid, the orig­i­nal Ghost­busters.

I’d also think about Bev­erly Hills Cop… God, I’m giv­ing away my age. Well, I re­mem­ber it from the ’80s. I don’t know if it’s dated now, but there was a cer­tain edgi­ness to the com­edy as well.” Not for­get­ting, there’s also an­other big genre Venom has to de­liver on…

While Hol­ly­wood stu­dios have a rep­u­ta­tion for play­ing it safe, re­cent comic-book movies have been ex­hibit­ing more edge. The Dark Knight tril­ogy didn’t pan­der to a younger au­di­ence at all, but re­cent spin-off movies in the genre like Dead­pool and Lo­gan have gone ‘hard R’ on the vi­o­lence and swear­ing. At the time of writ­ing, Venom was yet to be clas­si­fied. “We’re cu­ri­ous to see where it’ll land,” says Fleis­cher. “But we pushed the en­ve­lope as far as we pos­si­bly could in terms of just mak­ing it the most true-to-the-comics ver­sion of the film that we could. He’s a char­ac­ter that goes around biting peo­ple’s heads off and eat­ing brains. So we tried to re­spect that as much as we could.”

Based on what’s been filmed, Hardy could see the rat­ing go­ing ei­ther way. “You want to reach as big an au­di­ence as pos­si­ble with one of these movies,

be­cause they’re good fun,” pon­ders Hardy. “My son steered me onto Venom. There would be things I would prob­a­bly cover his eyes for. It de­pends how sen­si­tive a nine-year-old’s par­ents are. It’s not my place to say. I don’t re­ally know what [rat­ing] they’re go­ing to give it. But, it can pivot to ei­ther/or, if that makes sense. The IP lends it­self to gore, and it also lends it­self to a black-com­edy ac­tion-thriller, as well.”

What­ever hap­pens, ex­pect a lot of sym­biote-on-sym­biote ac­tion, as Eddie Brock’s not the only hu­man ves­sel play­ing host here. The footage shown at Comic-Con sug­gests Ahmed’s Drake merges with a sym­biote to be­come Riot, one of Venom’s most pop­u­lar ad­ver­saries in the comics, although Ahmed’s keep­ing sch­tum for now. Tight-lipped through­out our in­ter­view, Ahmed pleads the fifth, be­fore cryp­ti­cally adding, “It’s cer­tainly a film where all the char­ac­ters, at least emo­tion­ally, have to face them­selves and make de­ci­sions about what kind of per­son they want to be.”

Fleis­cher is sim­i­larly se­cre­tive, though he teases a lit­tle more. “With­out go­ing into too much de­tail, we tried to make [the other sym­biotes] look as cool, and evoke the comics as much as pos­si­ble,” he ex­plains. “With Riot, who is our fea­tured sym­biote, there’s some dis­tinc­tive qual­i­ties to his char­ac­ter from the comics that we def­i­nitely chan­nelled. The look of his eyes, his hands, his colour, and his bear­ing are unique from Venom. So we made sure that he stands out, and try to make him look as close to the comics as we could.”

Fleis­cher has also con­firmed, “There are other vil­lains in the movie too – we’re def­i­nitely plan­ning a big world with these char­ac­ters.” Given that Fleis­cher’s Zom­bieland star Woody Har­rel­son is also set to show up in an undis­closed role, can we ex­pect him to play some­one sig­nif­i­cant in the Venom-verse? “I think it’ll be re­ally fun for fans to go see the movie and see for them­selves,” is all Fleis­cher will of­fer on that front. And, there’s even a pos­si­bil­ity – given the his­tory of the comics – that Anne Wey­ing could merge with the sym­biote in the fu­ture. “She-Venom would be a dream come true,” ex­claims Michelle Wil­liams when TF puts the pos­si­bil­ity to her.

While the ground­work is clearly be­ing laid for a larger Venom-verse, and both Fleis­cher and Hardy have ad­mit­ted it’d be cool to see Venom go head-to­head with Tom Hol­land’s Spi­der-Man, it seems that, for now, ev­ery­one is tak­ing it slowly, mov­ing in hu­man steps rather than sym­biote leaps. “We def­i­nitely are think­ing about this world as a big evolv­ing world, and we want it to have the op­tion of go­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” says Fleis­cher, teas­ing. “You’ll have to see what ground­work has been laid.” Though, he is firm that this is very much a stand­alone. “This movie’s just all about Venom. So that’s what we’re fo­cused on. It’s in­tro­duc­ing Eddie and Venom. And then as to where it goes from there? We’ll have to see...”

One thing’s for sure: Hardy’s cer­tainly up for a re­visit. “I’m open to what­ever you want to do with it,” he says. “We’ve signed up for three of them. So it’s very much an open case. We’ll see what peo­ple’s re­sponses are to it. I think it’s an awe­some char­ac­ter. I love play­ing both of them. It’s an amuse-bouche, and for Sony, it’s the Venom-verse launched in iso­la­tion, as it were. We all prepped for it to be a stand­alone uni­verse. So what­ever Sony want to at­tach to it at a later date, it’s a ful­crum piece… But let’s see what hap­pens when it lands.”

An­other cer­tainty for now is that what­ever hap­pens, post-Venom, Hardy will have an even big­ger pres­ence at Comic-Con than he does now, given that he’s one of a se­lect group of ac­tors (which also in­cludes Michael Keaton, Ben Af­fleck and Ryan Reynolds) who have played char­ac­ters from both the DC and Marvel sta­bles. “I’m quite mer­ce­nary,” he laughs of his comic al­le­giances. “I’m not a fully paid-up mem­ber to any group. It’s re­ally awe­some to have played in both camps. It’s a real hon­our. And I got re­ally cool ones. I got Bane and Venom, and I’ve got Mad Max as well. I’ve got some nice cos­play un­der my belt, some cos­play scalp, as it were…” Per­fect for go­ing incog­nito at Comic-Con.

‘we ARe THInk­Ing ABoUT THIS AS A BIg eVoLV­Ing woRLD’ ruben Fleis­cher

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