Venom Director Ruben Fleischer Interview: Full Q&A

Venom is finally here, and the verdict is in: While critics weren’t crazy about the gooey, writhing mess of a movie–including our own review–fans have spoken loudly with their wallets. And Venom is a hit.

We already broke down Venom’s after credits scenes, plus all the Easter eggs and references you might have missed. And we chatted with Venom director Ruben Fleischer about the challenges of making Venom without Spider-Man.

Venom may be kind of a mess, but it turns out the movie’s mix of action and comedy, its faithful treatment of the symbiote itself, and Tom Hardy’s unique performance were enough to win many fans over. Even if Venom feels like a pre-MCU comic book movie from the early 2000s, that doesn’t make it bad.

When we spoke with Fleischer, we covered more than just the lack of Spider-Man and that unfortunate plot hole. Read our full Q&A with the director below.

I think the coolest thing about the movie is that Venom actually looks and feels like Venom, and I wanted to ask about your approach to the visuals and how you got it there.

I really appreciate you saying that, because we worked really hard to make sure that Venom felt like he just leaped off the pages of the comic books. And I think that in deciding to have a fully CG Venom, it freed us up to be able to make him accurate scale and size and mass, and also allowed those incredible transformations, where Eddie becomes Venom. But yeah, it all started with the comics. I went through some of my favorite panels and pulled a bunch of reference and worked with this company called Legendary to design a 3D model of the character. That took some time to get right.

You take a 2D image, and then to bring it to life in 3D, you have to make sure it looks right from all angles. But what was important to me were the eyes, the mouth, the tongue, the scale, the mass, the posture. And then once we had a model that we were happy with, then it was Double Negative’s job to bring him to life and then to animate him and try and make him look as photo real as we could possibly make him. And I think in that first closeup when you see him, when he first appears with Treece, and he’s holding him by the throat, he just looks like he’s actually there, which I’m really proud of, which is so cool. But yeah, I really felt a responsibility, especially since we couldn’t put the spider on his chest, that we make Venom be as true to the comics as possible despite that fact.

Yeah, a lot has been said about the lack of the white spider symbol–it’s been discussed to death. But I was wondering if there were any other changes that were considered to the character besides that?

That was the only real thing that was a limitation, was the fact that we couldn’t feature Spider-Man at all in the movie. So, of course, if there’s no Spider-Man, then there wouldn’t be any reason to have a spider on his chest. And so, it did take a lot of time to figure out what to put in its place, and we ended up with that veiny white pattern, which I think looks super cool. But yeah, we did a ton of iterations of different designs for what the chest would ultimately look like.

That was the most challenging part, because you have something that’s so iconic, and anything you put in its place just doesn’t look right. So it took a lot of time to find something that was distinctive and subtle, but also, you can’t just have a fully black character. There was also a version where he had nothing on his chest, but part of, I think, the reason why the spider is on his chest is because when you have such a big, black character, you need that contrast graphically of the white. And so it works really well, and I think the veins are really cool and distinctive.

There’s been a Venom spin-off in the works for ages. Had any of the work on this version been done before you started working on it? How much of any previous work got transferred over to this?

Yeah, if anything happened, I’m not aware of it. I know even that there were multiple drafts, but I only got involved with the Pinkner and Rosenberg draft, which never had Spider-Man in it. And so, it’s not like we had to extract him from it. It was always, from its inception, built as an origin story with a new approach. And I thought of it as an Ultimate version of Venom, like an Ultimate movie version of Venom.

What do you think gives Venom staying power as a character, and as a story that has been told since the ’90s?

For me, Venom represents this forbidden fruit quality, especially for younger kids. This character that can do whatever he wants without repercussions. He’s like this unbridled id, that just knows no bounds, and that’s the push/pull between he and Eddie, as far as Eddie having to reign him and teach him the rules of our world. But I think for kids, a lot of people would be psyched to have the ability to turn into a giant black monster who can bite people’s heads off if he doesn’t like them, or throw people through windows, or do whatever else he does. And the fact that he’s not a good guy, I think, is exciting. He’s at times a villain, he’s at times an anti-hero, but he’s always a badass. And I think that’s really enticing.

There were some things in the movie that were surprising to me in the way that Venom talks to Eddie, in the way he’s a smartass, he’s a tough guy. You know what I mean? In your mind, why does Venom exhibit those personality traits as this alien creature who could really be anything?

I think Venom on this planet is very powerful, and so he doesn’t like being constrained. He also doesn’t have much decorum or respect for polite behavior. But one of his earliest, best lines is in that apartment fight scene, where Eddie’s putting his hands up, and Venom’s like, “Why are you doing that? You are making us look bad.” And Eddie’s like, “No, it’s the sensible thing to do. If guys are pointing guns at us, of course I’m gonna put my hands up.” And Venom’s not having any of it. And so, instead of succumbing, he puts people into the ceiling. Yeah, I guess he’s got a bit of an ego, and he’s not gonna be captured by the likes of these mercs. He’s driving Eddie, and Eddie’s just having to react to everything that Venom’s doing in real time.

I love that fight, because it’s a fight, but there’s also a sense of discovery in it. That’s really when Eddie sees Venom for the first time, and it’s when he has that thing where he sees the goo coming out of his hands, and he’s like, “What is that?” And then he quickly turns and strangles a guy with it. It was an original way to approach a fight, where the main character in it is figuring out a new reality in the midst of the action.

I didn’t really expect Venom to be as funny as he was. There’s a lot of lines where, like, he calls Eddie a “pussy” for not jumping out a window. That was when I started to realize in the audience, “Oh, Venom’s the comic relief.” Was that always the plan?

Yeah, he was always funny on the page, but over the course of editing it, we definitely leaned into those lines, just because they’re so fun. But in the comics, I think, Venom’s really funny as well. I think that he has always got great lines, and some of them even made their way into the movie. Like that line where he grabs Treece, and he says, “Eyes, lungs, pancreas. So many snacks, so little time.” That’s taken directly from the comics. So he’s always had great one-liners, and I think he has this sarcastic attitude that we tried to embrace for the film.

I want to ask, what does Venom see in Eddie that makes him want to betray his whole species and stick around? Is it really just them both being outcasts?

Yeah, we had to manufacture that, because obviously in the comics they bond over the fact that they both hate Spider-Man. And so, since we didn’t have that as something for them to connect over, we went with the idea that they’re kindred spirits, and that Venom sees in Eddie somebody like himself who–on his planet, maybe Venom’s a bit of a loser too, and then on our planet he decides he can be a big fish in a small pond. In all honesty, I think we had to ground the relationship in something to justify Venom’s betrayal of his own race. And we tried to make it that there was just a real connection between Eddie and Venom, because of their common worldview.

There’s this element in the comics that Venom is seen as an aberration among his own kind, because he chooses to bond with hosts and not just consume them and then move on. Did you try to get any of that across in the movie?

No, but I was grateful that that exists, because it is an explanation for why Venom’s different from the other Klyntar. And so we did think that we could embrace [that]. We weren’t going away from the comics, and making it clear that Venom chooses humanity over his own people. Riot and the rest of his kind just want to consume our planet. Venom actually embraces us.

Was that the ability of Riot’s, to be able to go between different hosts at will? Because there was so much stuff with the symbiotes that were in the lab needing to find somebody who was compatible, but then Riot was jumping from person to person.

Yeah, you can interpret it however you want, but it’s an aspect of symbiotes that they can bond with different hosts, and even Venom himself, in the comics, jumps between different people. And in our movie, he goes between people. But our idea was that Riot was using up the life force of whoever he took, and then he jumped ship when he’d consumed them and then find a new host to carry him further on his journey.

I have a plot question that I was just curious about. There’s a six month time jump, where Riot is in the market, and then he kills a bunch of people and takes over that woman. And then six months later, the woman is at the airport and it jumps to the little girl. So was Riot just being someone’s grandma that whole time? What was Riot doing for that period?

Yeah, that’s a good question. That’s one of our few–hopefully–few logic bumps. But we had to have a passage of time in order to show Eddie’s downfall, and that was the one thing that doesn’t entirely track. But I like to think that old lady was going around murdering all throughout Malaysia, and she was just having a good old time just shooting shards through different people in Malaysia, but then finally she found her way to an airport and is gonna get to San Francisco.

My assumption was maybe Riot was dormant for a period, but I like your version better.

Yeah, I mean who’s to know? But you’re clever in having caught that.

I want to know if there was any version of the script, or anything where we got to see what the Venom dog looked like, when it infected the dog in the hospital?

I definitely imagined it, and I wish that–it wasn’t in the script, but I always had this image when the dog was running through the halls of the hospital, that some lab sound went off, and then he blew up like a pufferfish, like a little Pomeranian/Venom pufferfish. And you just get this beat of like [poof] and then it goes back in. But it was not in our VFX budget to do that.

I would have loved to see that.

Yeah, maybe in the future, maybe, but that’s the great question.

So I wanted to ask about Woody as Carnage obviously. How did that come about, and is that something you hope points toward the future?

I’ll just answer this vaguely, but we tried at the end of our movie to lay the groundwork for a potential sequel, or a further story. And there’s a character that’s beloved by all Venom fans that does not appear in the body of our film that I think fans will be really excited to see, and especially with the casting. I found somebody who I have a relationship with and love working with. And I love all the characters that he’s played. So to imagine him being an iconic adversary to Venom in the future is really exciting.

That’s actually a good segue to my last question–the zombie movie landscape has evolved a lot since Zombieland came out. So was there any specific thing that you think is going to help Zombieland 2 stand out in today’s landscape?

I think that the writers, Rhett [Reese] and Paul [Wernick], who wrote the original Zombieland, have always had an ability to have this meta commentary on films, and I think that’s been really well exhibited in the Deadpool franchise, which they also wrote. But we are definitely hyper aware that the zombie market is somewhat saturated. But we like to think that we were one of the originators of the genre, and so, we’ll be sure to offer commentary on the genre.

Cool, looking forward to it! Thanks again Ruben!

Venom is in theaters now.

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Author: Michael Rougeau

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