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Credit: Sony Pictures

Why the 'Ultimate' Venom is obsessed with tater tots, according to director Ruben Fleischer

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Oct 2, 2018, 12:30 PM EDT

When Sony announced that it had struck a deal with Disney to create a crossover series that would allow Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans rejoiced at the thought of seeing the wall-crawler teaming up with the Avengers. The announcement also created some confusion about the fate of Spidey spin-offs already in development, in part because Sony itself wasn't sure what to do with characters like Venom, who debuted on the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in the early '80s.

The character, created by an alien symbiote that turns journalist Eddie Brock into a hulking, carnivorous beast, seemed entirely dependent on Spider-Man, but it was long unclear whether it was legally eligible to be included in the MCU. Once again, it was clear that corporate turnover and Hollywood financing often do not provide the sort of fictional clarity so prized by comic book geeks.

It took a few years, but ultimately, Sony announced that Tom Hardy would star in a Venom movie that had no ties to Disney's Marvel franchise and would launch its own cinematic universe. Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) came aboard to direct the movie and help shape the new version of Venom and set up the franchise for future success.

Instead of looking at the lack of Peter Parker as a limitation, Fleischer decided to view it as an opportunity to try something new. SYFY WIRE spoke with Fleischer about the movie, the universe, and designing Venom (including his tongue).

Venom's origin story includes Spider-Man. You knew from the start that you couldn't use him, so you did something entirely different.

We've seen the origin story from the comics in Spider-Man 3 (2007). So it felt like that wasn't that long ago and just to go and redo the same thing, it felt like a great opportunity to be original. And I always considered this movie the Ultimate version of the venom story, wherein the comics they reinvent backstories for the Ultimate universe. It was in part because of the contractual things where we were just strictly prohibited from including Spiderman.

It's not to say that Venom and Spider-Man can't cross paths in the future. But for now, at least, we felt like we could just focus on Eddie and Venom and their relationship, which is the heart of the film, and let that be the guide for the movie.

The movie is set in San Francisco, but Tom takes on this thick Brooklyn accent and there's an allusion to his time in New York. Since you don't involve Spider-Man, why involve New York?

We say at the beginning of the movie that he had this sort of situation in New York that led him moving to San Francisco. And that was an attempt to nod to Eddie Brock's issues in the comics where he was exposed as a fraud in the pursuit of the thin eater. And so we thought it would just be a nice connection to his path and give him a little bit of a backstory.

But in the comics, he's from San Francisco. And we drew a lot from the comics specifically, the lethal protector which takes place after Venom and Spiderman have kind of reached a truce and Venom and Eddie move back to San Francisco. And it becomes a new chapter for them. So we kind of took that same attitude that with our film, this was a new chapter for Eddie and the film was kind of gonna start from a fresh spot.

Were there moments in which you weren't sure who or what you could use?

When I got on board I tried to steer everything towards the comics, so having Carlton Drake and the Life foundation was super-important to me. Even Roland Treece who's his henchman is a character from the comics. There are some little nods to the comics like Jameson the astronaut at the beginning where we tried to weave in a connection to the comics and the Spider-Man universe. But we kinda just figured it out first.

One of the most important aspects of Venom, obviously, is his tongue. He's got a real long, wet one in this movie — how carefully did you consider your tongue options?

It's one of his most distinguishing traits so we had to be sure to honor it respectfully. With every aspect of him, there were multiple versions — it was like Goldilocks, I guess. Like a little shorter, a little longer, ah just right. It's trial and error. You just gotta see how it appears and looks and everything.

Were there longer versions of the tongue than what you wound up with?

Not crazy but yeah probably. And then we had to dial it back. Also, within the movie, sometimes it's just a little bit out and other times it's really flapping around. Depends on the moment I guess.

On the subject of his tongue… Eddie Brock and Venom seem to love tater tots. They eat them cooked or frozen, and ravenously. Was this product placement with Ore-Ida? Their logo features prominently.

There was no deal with Ore-Ida, it just was in the script originally. It was always kind of a funny thing that the writers came up with, that he loves tater tots. We actually had to pare it down a little bit. There was a scene that we shot that didn't make it in the film, where he's at the grocery store buying and the Venom tendrils come out and grab a bunch of tater tots.

It was definitely a funny runner but we also wanted to make sure it was clear that he was carnivorous and he wants live things to eat. And then at the end, they put in the thing about chocolate. Just as a nod to the comics where he finds chocolate as a replacement for adrenal glands. He's a bit of an omnivore but the tater tots are a funny runner.

You went with a very hulking, menacing Venom as a whole. Did Tom Hardy do any motion capture for it?

There's a new approach that we used where it's not actual, true motion capture. Because Venom's so big, we had a seven-foot guy — who I'm assuming was a former basketball player — in a gray Spandex suit who would be the stand-in for most of the Venom action sequences. So we could get the eye lines and the scale right.

We did do a test at the visual effects house with Tom early on just to get his walk and how he moves down. But we really kind of thought of Venom as his own person more than Tom Hardy maxed out. Even in the comics, it's not like Venom is Eddie Brock per se. It's like, maybe informed by him but he's his own person. So that's kind of how we approached it.

And he spent a lot of time talking to himself.

It was a technique that I'd never seen before. He would basically record all of Venom's lines at the beginning of the day and then the sound guy would cut them and then during the scenes he would wear an earwig in his ear, which is a really small, little earphone that you can't see. So in the middle of the scene the sound guy would trigger the Venom lines that Tom had pre-recorded so that he could literally be talking to himself and hear a voice in his head.

It was something I'd never really seen done before but was really impressive. I guess he developed that technique on Legend where he played two characters at the same time as well. It worked really well from there and it worked well for us too I think.