Exclusive: Ruben Fleischer Talks Venom, PG-13 rating and Zombieland 2!

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VENOM is coming. This Friday, audiences will finally get to see Tom Hardy as the iconic Spider-man foe – but in his own movie of course. And yes, Mr. Hardy is a force to be reckoned with. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, the new feature is one hell of a ride. While it won’t reinvent the superhero genre, I personally had a terrific time. And as for Mr. Hardy, he is phenomenal. The actor gives a ferocious and funny performance as Eddie Brock/Venom. If you are a fan of his work, you are very likely to enjoy what he offers here. And thankfully, Mr. Fleischer handles the material even better than I had anticipated.

As much as I enjoyed the experience, we’ll have to see what fans of the comics will have to say. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, some have been concerned about the change in design including the lack of the spider crest, and of course, the fact that it is PG-13. Happily, during the junket for the new film, we had the opportunity to speak with the filmmaker himself and discuss this and more. During our conversation he opened up about the rating, the design and even a little bit about where he is with ZOMBIELAND 2. It was an absolute pleasure to speak to Ruben about all things VENOM.

VENOM slithers into theatres this Friday at a theatre near you.

Let me start with Tom Hardy, why Tom? What was it about him?

I think similar to you I am just a huge fan of pretty much everything I have ever seen him in, starting with Bronson, which I just loved. Whether it is in the Nolan movies, INCEPTION, Bane, I absolutely love the movie LOCKE. 

So great.

His MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, I mean he is one of the most exciting actors to watch on screen but he also brings to every role he plays so much interest and complexity. and with a character like Eddie that is struggling with a serious issue, he felt like someone who could explore those depths. In addition to that, from the comics, Eddie Brock is kind of a dark and menacing guy who is kind of bitter and unhappy and Tom has the ability to just bring that sort of menace to every character he plays. So it felt like just the perfect tonal marriage of the movie and the character and the actor.

I agree, and also the vulnerability he shows in this is so rare. He does not get cast as vulnerable guys.

And the thing I am actually most proud of is all the comedy that he brought to the table, because I think he is really funny both as Eddie and as Venom. He is just so entertaining and I think fans will be surprised. You kind of expect this darker movie throughout but there is kind of a lot of light and at the end of the day we just wanted to make a fun, entertaining film.

venom tom hardy ruben fleischer jenny slate michelle williams woody harrelson marvel superhero spider-man 2018Recently, there was a whole brouhaha about people being upset it was PG-13 and considering Venom does not really come from an R-rated comic book, were you surprised by that?

I was not surprised just because there was just so much talk prior to the announcement of the rating that it better be R, so we only ever considered it as a PG-13 movie. We never thought about anything more than that, but THE DARK KNIGHT was always my reference. Where you can make a super badass hardcore film and push the envelope in terms of the violence and the intensity, but still make it available to fans of all ages. 

It is still pretty brutal. 

I mean he is ripping people’s heads off and I do not think we really pulled any punches, and with the exception of blood, I do not know what more we could have done. But I do not think we need a ton of blood to make it better. I think it works as it is.

Venom is the first movie out of the gate basically. Did you begin this with more entries in mind because Sony is building the Spider-verse, is it something you approached at the beginning or did you focus on this story for the first time out.

My only real responsibility is just making the best version of this movie I possibly could and so for me, that was my interest. We tried to lay some groundwork for potential directions it can go in the future, but as far as anything beyond the scope of this film, I was just focused on making it the best it could. Because if this succeeds, hopefully it will spawn a lot of other films.

With a possible set up for more Venom stories, you elude to a couple of different characters. Without spoiling anything, is that something you are thinking about if you do expand into future installments?

Absolutely, without spoiling anything, there is two key characters that show up in this film that could lead to very interesting future films. 

Now at Comic Con, you had said something about the possibility of Tom Holland and Tom Hardy facing off and I think there is some interest from Sony…

Absolutely, I think the hope and ambition and desire down the road is that Venom and Spider-Man face off. Who would not want to see that? 

Especially Tom Holland, what he adds to the character. He is great.

I love Tom Holland as Spider-Man and I know he is really excited about the Venom movie. He is pumped to face off against Hardy so it seems like an inevitable reality. So it is just a question of when and where, so hopefully that will happen in the not so distant future.

venom tom hardy ruben fleischer jenny slate michelle williams woody harrelson marvel superhero spider-man 2018Do you have any stories or ideas that you kind of dig that you would like to see that happen in? 

There is so much to be drawn from the comics but we have to in a way reverse engineer it, because of course in the comics Venom starts with Spider-Man and then makes his way to Eddie. So we are going to have to figure out a way to establish their rivalry and whether that is something that happens between Eddie and Peter, or purely between Venom and Spider-Man. That remains to be written.

Let us talk about the design of Venom which I really liked. I think it is a cool design. Quite menacing, but it is a little modified. It did not have the white crest of course. Is that because of the changes and the modifications?

We could not include the spider because he does not originate from Spider-man which was inherent from the film. In the comics, he has a spider on his chest because he is first with Spider-man before he comes to Eddie and he retains that feature. But in our movie, since he goes straight to Eddie first, it did not make sense to include that. So we came up with that veiny white pattern as a replacement, but I think he looks really cool and that was the only thing we differentiated from the comics. My goal was to make him look as true to the comics as we possibly could, with his eyes and mouth and tongue and size, his bearing too.

That must be tricky to deal with, because you have so much source reference to deal with and then you have to basically put that all in an under two hour movie.

In the comics, it is a 2-D flat image, so trying to make that come to life in a 3-D world is a challenge. But I got to work with some pretty incredible visual effects people who really did an amazing job of bringing him to life. 

I also felt like you have Michelle Williams, who I want to say is probably one of the most respected actresses working. How did you get her involved?

It is funny. She is someone I have been aware of for a really long time because my first job in the entertainment industry was being a PA on Dawson’s Creek. I have been tracking her career for a really long time, so for me it was a thrill to be able to cast her in the movie. But I have been a fan of hers for a long time, I know Hardy was a big fan and I think she has been doing smaller independent films, so I think she was really excited to do a big superhero movie. And I know she has been offered a ton so we are really lucky that she agreed to do our film.

Now let us get back to the humor a little bit. There are some amazing lines. How much of that came from Tom and how much was from the script?

It is a combination. Tom is a surprisingly funny guy off camera and so it is great to let some of that aspect of his personalty shine. There was a lot of humor in the original script and so it was just kind of a marriage of those two things, and the more we edited and found the character, the more we could lean in to that aspect. There was a fear of it undermining the intensity or the horror aspects of the film, but for me having done ZOMBIELAND, I think horror and comedy can work really well together. So the ultimate goal was to make a really entertaining film, and for me that includes all aspects and genres, action, comedy, drama, horror, we wanted to have a fun movie for audiences.

I guess that plays into the idea that nowadays superheroes run two and a half hours. They are these big epic almost Shakespearean tales. This feels like a more personal story, a lot shorter than that, why was that the approach?

The huge goal in making this film was distinguishing it from the other superhero movies, and even in the marketing tagline, “The world has enough superheroes.” I had the intention to take every opportunity to make our movie a little different from what everyone else is doing, whether that was the tone, being a little darker and edgier, the look being a little grittier in our real world and the length of those movies, I feel when I see the run times for a movie that that is a big commitment, and I like short movies. ZOMBIELAND is eighty-seven minutes. THIRTY MINUTES OR LESS is eighty-three minutes. I like a ride. You go have fun. It is a quick ride and I thought this movie would work really well just being a fun ride for audiences, and that was just another way to distinguish ourselves from everything else that is out there.

For sure. You have come from doing movies like ZOMBIELAND and THIRTY MINUTES OR LESS. Such a different world in general. Was it a little daunting to take on a Marvel superhero movie in this day and age?

For me I was excited to do a superhero film because I know there is an audience for them, and the fanbase for VENOM – specifically from the comics – is so rabid so it felt so exciting to be given the honor to bring that character to life.

Venom Tom Hardy Ruben Fleischer marvel jenny slate michelle williams spider-man superhero 2018

Did you grow up reading Venom and Spider-Man comics?

Yeah. More Spider-Man and so I knew him through Spider-Man and also from the cartoons. I always just loved the way he looked, and I just thought he was one of the most badass looking characters in the whole Marvel canon. So when it came time for me to try and do a superhero movie or a comic book movie, this was an opportunity I was super excited about.

You do a nice job. I like the fact that it takes a little time to get going. It does not start with a big bang. It takes time developing these characters. How important was that to you?

I think to really invest in Eddie’s journey you have to invest in him. If Venom had shown up in the first ten minutes you would not really know who Eddie was, or the experience he was going through, and how he fit in or anything else. It was important to us that you really understand who Eddie Brock is and what his obstacles are before he goes on this journey. Because we establish him as someone who is selfish and kind of cuts off his nose to spite his face, and he is only ever thinking about himself. That is a great set-up with a character who has to share his body and learn to co-exist with somebody else and learn to be more selfless as opposed to selfish, and that is the journey or the arc he has with Venom. At the end of the day he has to learn to share and be a partner, while it is not with Anne, it turns out to be this unexpected buddy who co-habitates with him. 

One of the biggest surprises coming out of Marvel recently was DEADPOOL. You have this movie that does not necessarily feel like anything else. Was that kind of an inspiration for you for this story?

I think there are so many comic book movies so I think this was the opportunity to kind of do something original and fresh. That is why Deadpool is so awesome, because it feels so different. And the other thing that was true for Deadpool that is true for our movie is that Deadpool just tried to stay true to the comics, so that added to it. They didn’t really pull any punches. And similar with us, our north star for the movie was the comics and trying to be as  true as we possibly could. But yeah I love Deadpool, and I think whenever there is something that is fresh and original within a genre that has become saturated, that is appreciated.

I agree, and I also think that is why bringing certain types of directors who have not really done this thing is a little more interesting. Did you find that you were given a lot of freedom to make the movie you wanted to make?

Yeah, especially with the casting, I am most proud of the cast of our film, between Hardy, Riz, Michelle, Reed and Jenny, that is five really interesting actors that I think is an aspect of the film that I am most proud of. This is a really original cast for a comic book movie. It does not feel like the others in that regard to me. I had freedom throughout the film, stylistically I think they felt like they were really excited for me to put my stamp on it tonally and a lot of the humor too was appreciated.

I mentioned ZOMBIELAND earlier, where are you currently with the sequel?

I am in prep right now. 

That is what I thought.

We are casting. We are scouting. I open up offices in a week or two in Atlanta and we start shooting in January.

So much has changed obviously with the Walking Dead being the juggernaut that it is. How does that change your view on zombies? Making them good and scary and fun again.

I will be honest. I have not watched the Walking Dead so I need to educate myself to be aware of what else is out there. But I think it is all about the characters that we created with the original and the audience wanting to spend more time with them and see what they are up to ten years later. Talking about cast that is a cast, I just cannot wait to work with them again because they are just so fun and just awesome actors. 

venom tom hardy ruben fleischer michelle williams woody harrelson jenny slate superhero spiderman marvel 2018

Let us finish off a little bit with the effects here, can you talk about who you worked with to create the look?

We worked with this company Double Negative and our visual effects supervisor’s name is Paul Franklin. He is a two time Academy Award winning visual effects supervisor. He does all of Nolan’s movies, and he is one of the most talented and hardworking people I have ever met. They have kind of distinguished themselves as a company by making their VFX so real and seamless that you almost do not believe they are visual effects. When it came to bringing Venom to life, the most important thing to me was that he was as photo real as we could make him so you are not distracted by the CG. Because sometimes you are watching these movies and it just feels like a cartoon at times. The intention was to make Venom as if he was actually in our world. The scene where he first emerges and he is going to bite that guys head off and he is standing there; the first time I saw those shots it blew my mind. The VFX are essential in a movie where the title character is CG character. And so luckily I got to work with one of the best visual effects companies in the world.