Reactions to Venom, the first chapter of Sony’s intended, expansive, Spider-Man-less Spider-verse, were decidedly mixed. But in line with Polygon’s own Venom review, many critics praised Tom Hardy’s off-the-wall work as both Eddie Brock and the slimy, bloodthirsty symbiote. Tucked inside your average superhero origin story was a split-personality performance bursting with comedic energy.
Director Ruben Fleischer attributes most of that Jim Carrey-esque energy to Hardy. While there were script flourishes that helped Venom enter the meme canon — a mini monologue in which Venom describes his appendage-stripped victim as “rolling down the street like a turd in the wind” was a line that survived many rewrites from screenwriters Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg — it was Hardy’s dedication to getting inside Venom and Eddie’s bonded brain that ignited Venom’s more straightforward moments.
“Tom’s a naturally funny person in his own right and I don’t think that’s ever been showcased,” Fleischer tells Polygon. “So I was thrilled that he leaned it.”
Hardy achieved his manic interpretation of Venom through technology he first embraced for 2015’s Legend, in which he played twin, professional criminals Ronnie and Reggie Kray. During the filming of Legend, Hardy would record his lines as both brothers at the beginning of the day, then play them back to himself on set through a near-invisible headphone called an earwig. He used the same mechanism to find the rhythm between a deteriorating Eddie and the alien devil whispering into his ears.
”We would have the sound guys trigger Venom’s lines that he had pre-recorded so he could literally act opposite himself and hear Venom’s voice inside his head just as Eddie would,” Fleischer says. “So whether it was in a scene with Michelle [Williams] or our other actors or just by himself, he was literally hearing himself, but in his head. Hardy’s experience was as close as an actor to get to being actually inhabited by an alien, other than blasting off to the nearest meteor.
Just as Hardy could reinvent entire scenes by being his own scene partner, the actor also stepped on to the Venom set ready to make the moments his own. Fleischer says the direction of the scene, in which a rabid Eddie/Venom rampages through a fine-dining establishment in search of raw meat, escalated after an improvised idea by Hardy.
”We rehearsed that scene about a week before shooting because it was a big, on location shoot,” Fleischer says. Even though it wasn’t a large action sequence, the scene required plenty of blocking from Hardy and Williams, and floor plans for tables and chair arrangements, all to figure out exactly how Venom would burst through the establishment on screen. As Fleischer says, everything went out the window after Hardy saw the location.
”At that [rehearsal], Tom saw that the production designer had put a giant lobster tank in the center of the restaurant and that was just a true design choice just to make it seem like a fancy restaurant. As soon as Tom sees it, he goes, ‘Well, I’m going to go in the tank.’
Even if you’re Tom Hardy, you don’t just jump in a lobster tank and call it day. “The designer was like, ‘We didn’t build it for somebody to go in!’” Fleischer says. “And, you know, they were all live lobsters.”
Then improvised direction required the rejiggering of major elements to allow for Eddie/Venom to plunge into and feast, and for Hardy to do it all safely. As anyone who witnessed the The Mask-like spectacle, they pulled off the construction and stunt work under the wire. And the lobsters gobbled up by a Venomized Eddie? Marshmallow crustaceans with chocolate syrup blood.
”No lobsters were harmed in the making of the scene,” Fleischer insists. “But that was a great example of Tom just seeing an opportunity — I forget how that scene ended before! — and just making a really bold choice.”