Tom Hardy in 'Venom'

When 'Venom' Star Tom Hardy Wants to Jump Into a Lobster Tank, Let Him

Director Ruben Fleischer tells Playboy why viewers should approach the film with an open mind

Courtesy: Sony Pictures

It all began in 1984. During the events of the No. 252 issue of the The Amazing Spider-Man comics, our favorite web-slinging hero came into contact with a strange black, liquid sphere on an alien planet. It attached itself to his body, forming what appeared to be an all-new black Spider-Man suit with unique abilities. Sometime in 1987, former Marvel writer David Michelinie would pair up with artist Todd McFarlane to expand that story line and give birth to one of Spider-Man’s deadliest adversaries. 

After discovering that the suit was a malicious, sentient being who was trying to take over his body, Spider-Man eventually abandons the suit (also known as a Symbiote), paving the way for Eddie Brock to become the new host. After the Symbiote successfully bonds with Brock, they’d name their newly fused form “Venom,” arguably one of the most popular villains of the Marvel Universe. And now he has his own standalone movie, helmed by Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer, and starring Tom Hardy in the title role.

One of the glaring omissions from the movie Venom, hitting theaters Friday, is the presence of Spider-Man. How does one make a movie with a villain as the lead, and how do you do it without the superhero who played such a crucial role in the character’s creation? That was the daunting task Fleischer and his screenwriters faced. Not only is Spider-Man not in the film, but Marvel Studios has no involvement, which initially caused some uncertainty among the fan base. While Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios did team up and work out a deal to introduce Spider-Man into the official Marvel Cinematic Universe with films such as Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War, Sony continued to move forward with their own standalone Spider-verse, and Marvel had no creative involvement with the Venom project whatsoever.
In the comics, Venom is most often portrayed as a demented, brutal killer who often devours his victims in a horrendous fashion, so it was no surprise that there were mixed reactions and a collective groan from fans when the rating for Venom was revealed to be PG-13. Many were hoping to see an extreme Venom film that followed in the footsteps of 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool and Logan—two Marvel properties that proved that a hard R-rating can be a box office hit. Thankfully, Venom is a versatile character and is often an antihero in the comics who has enemies of his own, so its no wonder why the film was taken in this direction.

The film also explores the psychological torment of the Eddie Brock character as he battles the inner voices of the alien Symbiote in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-meets-Gollum from Lord of the Rings sort of way, and its in these scenes where Hardy and the film as a whole shine its brightest. Playboy recently sat down with director Ruben Fleischer to discuss the movie, and we talk to him about why he chose to go the PG-13 route, if we’ll ever see an unrated cut of the film and whether or not Spider-Man might duke it out with Venom in the not so distant future.
We were like, “We don’t know if you can go into the lobster tank.” And Tom Hardy was like, “Well, I’m going into the lobster tank.”
Tom Hardy seems to have a blast during the scenes where you explore that inner conflict, and we see the banter between Eddie and Venom. Did Tom stick to the script for most of these scenes, or did you give him creative license to let loose and deviate from the script?
Tom’s such an amazing actor, and he comes to the set every day with so many new ideas. I think any director would be a fool not to embrace all that he’s offering. So much of the movie is in form by his original contributions, whether it’s a one-liner, or even just re-conceiving the scenes or coming up with new ideas.

Do any examples of this spring to mind?
A great example of that is that scene in the bistro where Anne [Michelle Williams] and Eddie [Hardy] are having lunch. When we rehearsed the scene, there was a giant lobster tank as a piece of set dressing, and it was never scripted to have anybody jump inside of it. When Tom saw it, he was like, “Oh, Eddie’s going to be burning up in this scene, so he’s going to have to cool himself off in the lobster tank.” And we were all like, “Well, we don’t know if you can go into the lobster tank—it wasn’t built for a human to get in.” And he was like, “Well, I’m going into the lobster tank.” [Laughs] So we actually overnighted all these fake lobsters and put weights on them so they stayed at the bottom of the tank because they were just cheap, plastic lobsters, and then he jumped in the tank. So, he was always coming up with great ideas that elevated the scene and made it better.

The tagline on one of the Venom posters reads: “The World Has Enough Superheroes.” Do you think there’s an overabundance of superheroes movies being produced right now? Where do you stand on the whole “superhero fatigue” argument?
I think there’s a lot of superhero movies, but I’d never say that there’s too many because it seems like audiences want to keep going to these films. I think the studios would stop making them if people stopped going to them. So, as long as people continue to be excited by them, I’m sure Hollywood will keep making them. But it was really important to us in this film to distinguish ourselves from all the other superhero movies. Marvel has a real format as to what they’re doing. DC, there’s a real style to their films. We wanted to make sure our movie stood out tonally instead of stylistically and aesthetically. We really tried to make sure it didn’t look like the other movies and that it had a darker tone. We also tried to make it shorter. A lot of these movies are over two hours, and we just wanted to provide a really fun and entertaining ride that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

It’s been said that this movie takes place in a world that’s adjunct to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But did you maybe contact Kevin Feige or anyone at Marvel to get feedback on the script, or pick their brain?
No, this is a really standalone project where we were building our own world and left to our own devices. I think that movies like Deadpool and Logan are a little bit different from everything else that’s out there. It’s refreshing for audiences. With this film, we really tried to distinguish ourselves in that same way.

There’s been some mixed reaction to the PG-13 rating. Deadpool and Logan are both R-rated, and I think some fans were hoping to get an R-rated Venom movie. Were you pushing for that R rating, or did you ultimately set out to do a PG-13 movie?
We only ever intended to do a PG-13 movie. But we wanted to push the violence to the hilt. For me, the reference point was always The Dark Knight, which definitely felt like it was about as aggressive, intense and violent as you could hope a comic-book movie could be. With us, that’s where we set our bar. I feel like we didn’t compromise anything in the way that we made the film. I think anyone who sees the movie, they won’t be disappointed by the fact that it’s PG-13.

Did you shoot any extended or alternate scenes that upped the gore and violence, so there could be an unrated cut released on Blu-ray? 
I’ll never say never. The only real thing that would distinguish what we made versus an R-rated movie would honestly just be blood. That’s the big sacrifice you have to make with a PG-13 movie. When people get shot or their heads get bitten off, it’s not super bloody. But to me, that’s not enough to warrant an R-rated movie.

Wolverine’s first couple of standalone movies were PG-13, before Fox finally delivered the R-rated Logan, and Deadpool proved that an R-rated comic book movie can be a box-office hit. Is there a chance you’ll explore the more extreme side of Venom in a sequel? The guy has done some horrific things in the comics, and some fans would love to see that imagery. 
Yes, but who’s to say? I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I think there are potential adversaries that would warrant an R rating. So, we’ll see what the studio decides what to do.

In this movie, you mention Eddie Brock’s past in New York, and you even mention The Daily Globe, a well-known newspaper from the Spider-Man comics. In your mind, is Tom Holland’s Spider-Man somewhere out there in your film’s universe, waiting to cross paths with Venom one day? Seems like this might’ve been planted there on purpose. 
I think it would be really cool if Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man were to face off against Venom. While I am not aware of any plans for that to happen, just as a pure fan, I can say that I would love to see that. I can only imagine that Sony would love to see that, too. So, as far that I’m aware, there aren’t any specific plans, but I would be very excited about that possibility.

During your Comic-Con panel, you said you were passionate about the Venom character, and that you made this movie for the fans. These fans in particular can be very critical, harsh, and they examine every little detail. You’re adapting a Marvel character with a 30-plus-year history and a rabid fan base that has high expectations. Does that make this your most intimidating movie, as far as reactions are concerned?
I think we all know that fanboys are not shy of sharing their opinions. [Laughs] My only hope is that people will go into the film with an open mind, and see it for what it is, and appreciate it for what it is because we all made it out of a sense of respect and passion for the source material, and we did our best to honor the comics and the character from the comics who we all love. I hope that fans, at the end of the day, are happy with this rendition of Venom.

What’s your opinion on how Venom was handled in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3?
I think they did the true-to-the-comic origin of Venom. You know, the iconic scene in the church with the bell—and it’s so cool that you can see something that you know so well from the comics being realized onscreen. I really appreciate their devotion to the comics as a source material. With our film, I almost thought of it as the Ultimate version of the character, where we have the license to reinvent his origin and come up with an almost parallel version of the Eddie Brock/Venom saga. 
From a design standpoint, how long did it take you to nail down Venom’s look?
The biggest challenge was his chest pattern because we couldn’t use the spider symbol. That took the most time to figure out exactly what would replace it, because it’s so iconic. So we went through a ton of different designs and patterns for his chest, but I’m really pleased with the look that we landed on—those white lightening veins. As far as the character himself, we got there pretty quickly because we had the comics to draw from. In terms of his size, scale and mass, and the eyes, the mouth, the tongue, all that—so much was referred to, and my job was to make it as true to the comics as I could.

Todd McFarlane is one of the co-creators of Venom. He put out a video on YouTube expressing that he was pleased with your design, although he did make a few tweaks of his own and displayed what his changes would be. Did you ever consider consulting with him during the design process?
No, and actually, in hindsight, I don’t know why we didn’t. We really were left to our own devices; it would’ve been a thrill to consult with Todd. I wasn’t even aware if that was a possibility, to be honest. But he and David Michelinie are the reason we made the movie. We tried to pay them tribute. Like, the law office that Anne works for in the movie was called McFarlane and Michelinie, and we tried to acknowledge that they were responsible for the whole thing. But yeah, I wish, in retrospect, that we involved Todd.

Now that you’ve dipped into the Marvel pool, can you tell us what other Marvel characters or other movie franchises you’d like to dabble with?
I’ll be honest, I think the holy grail for any filmmaker that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s is Star Wars. I have such a love and passionate for that universe, so it would be a thrill to work with them some day.

One of your most memorable films is Zombieland. It sounds like a sequel is taking shape.
Oh, we’re about to start. In about a month, we’re going back to Zombieland. That’ll be a really fun world to revisit, especially with that cast, to get to work with Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson again. It’ll be really fun.

Can you give us a little tease where the story line might go?
All I can say is that it’s 10 years later—they’re not the only people in that world, so we’re excited to expand and meet some new characters. And we want to try and rival the first one. We all made a commitment to only do a sequel if it can be as good as or better than the original. So we set the bar really high for ourselves.

Zombieland came out in 2009, and The Walking Dead emerged in 2010 and became this juggernaut of the zombie genre. Because it’s a long-running show, that’s given them many opportunities to come up with all sorts of inventive zombie kills, character-versus-zombie predicaments and makeup designs. Some might even say there’s a little bit of zombie fatigue because of that show. Does that pose a challenge to you with this Zombieland sequel?
The biggest challenge is that I’ve never seen The Walking Dead, so I want to make sure that we’re not stepping on their toes in any way. So, I almost feel like I have to hire a Walking Dead expert to make sure that we’re not doing anything they’ve already done, especially since we’re going to be shooting in Atlanta, which is where they shoot their show. I want to make sure we’re not treading on any of their turf.

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