Interview: 'Venom' Producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach on Building a New Universe of Big-Screen Antiheroes

Interview: 'Venom' Producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach on Building a New Universe of Big-Screen Antiheroes


It's been years in the making, and fans of the brain-eating alien symbiote Venom are more than excited to finally see the beloved Spider-Man baddie finally get his own movie. Starring Tom Hardy, and directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), Venom introduces a new kind of comic book movie -- a darker, more subersive take on a popular side character in the larger Spider-Man universe. 

"We wanted this movie to be fun," producer Matt Tolmach told Fandango at a recent press day. "It's Eddie and Venom, and it's all the intensity of Venom while also being a really fun, popular movie. And I think that's where we ended up living."

Below, Tolmach and longtime Spidey producer Avi Arad talk about why we're currently seeing a surge in movies about antiheroes, and why they chose Venom to kick-off a new cinematic universe full of Spidey side characers like Morbius and Kraven the Hunter. Also: Was an R-rated version of Venom ever really in the cards? And what about a Venom sequel?


Fandango: Right now there's this new drive towards antiheroes and villains, as the leads. You have Venom, and then you have these other films that are in development, all revolving around antiheroes. Why do you think we’re seeing more interest in antiheroes, and why start with Venom?

Avi Arad: Well, Venom is an alien, so he can get away with a lot. He doesn't hate us, but he has to eat, and then he runs into the least likely guy for them to be friends, because he knows everything about him. The subject matter of a journalist who got in trouble, as we see in the beginning of the movie, is incredibly contemporary. Eddie Brock, he looks it. And we take you through a journey that is happening every day here. We have the science fiction becoming science, like donating organs to people. It would've been like half the movie just to explain that 30 years ago, but now it's part of life. So we really believed -- and especially with the big movies today – that you have to zig and zag, and this is a good time for the antiheroes.

Matt Tolmach: But I also think that Venom's the gold standard. If you ask people, "What's your favorite character?" There's a small handful of the one's that are the reason people fell in love with comic books, and Venom is on that very, very short list. And so, why begin this chapter in these with him? Because he's the coolest, and the most complicated, and the most ... and I really mean this, the most, in some ways, like all of us, because he's not perfect.

Eddie Brock isn't perfect. Eddie Brock wants to know what's up. He's frustrated, he's a truth seeker, he's got a huge heart, but he also gets in his own way, and we all do. He makes mistakes. People make mistakes, and this is a movie about a guy who makes mistakes and finds himself in an insane partnership with an alien, also flawed. And that somehow the union of those two creates this unbelievable character.


Fandango: This is a film that’s been in the works for a long time. Why is now the right time for a Venom movie?

Matt Tolmach: I think there's two things. Sony was all behind us, and all in, which was awesome, and Tom Hardy. I think, sometimes the stars line up, and if you're gonna make a Venom movie, you gotta make it with the right person. And by the right person, literally, we mean Tom Hardy. He called and said he wanted to play this character, and then the wheels are going, because that's ... from where we live, that's a dream. You know what I mean? He just embodies that spirit of it.

Fandango: This is a character that bites heads off, eats brains. How much did you debate in terms of that rating and how far you wanted to take it? Was there ever a version of this that was gnarlier and bloodier, and R-rated?

Avi Arad: It wouldn't have made a better movie. The first time that I had to go through this process of thinking, actually, was with X-Men. When you take Rebecca Romijn and you put this thing through her and so on -- if we made it more violent, it would've had the wrong effect. In this movie, we know that it will appeal to young people, so it will be an unnecessary mistake to have the blood on the floor and stuff like that. There's no reason. Yeah, there's some of the fans that are saying, "We want more blood." But they don't want more blood. They want their Venom, they want their Eddie. We didn't want an R-rated movie.


Fandango: So you never shot for a heavier rating? It's not on the DVD, where you have a more intense version?

Matt Tolmach: No. We wanted to make a hard PG-13. We wanted to make a movie that everybody could go see, because that's the throw of this character, where 12 year olds, 10 year olds ... and people our age, love this character. So we didn't want to exclude anybody from that. You have to be true to the character. He bites people's head off, and he does all that. So we never were gonna not do that, but we were gonna figure out how to do that while also appealing to as many people as we could.

You don't set out to make a movie for a rating. You're not like, "How do we make this hard R?" You set out to make a movie about a character and a story, and then you play with it along the way. But we were never really, in any way, shooting for anything more violent or graphic than this, because we wanted the movie to be fun, and it is.

Fandango: What part of this movie are you most excited for the fans to see? Fans who've always wanted to see a Venom movie?

Avi Arad: I think that it was a lot of work, a lot of soul searching for many years, actually. What we are very pleased with is the way Venom looks. Although CGI has been around for a long time, there's always a fear from the big fans. Especially in the way that he looks. But what you can do [a lot] with CGI today, there are technologies to allow you to be more viscous, to believe that this thing is always alive, that it can go through your shirt, and so on. Until they see Venom in a movie, it's a movie. Once they see Venom, they've got their treat. It's like, 'yeah, it can be done.' And we are so pleased with it.


Fandango: You’re developing these other films, like Morbius and Kraven the Hunter. Are they all standalones, or are you hoping that Venom is intertwined with them? Are you bringing these characters together? What's the strategy there?

Matt Tolmach: Without talking about too much stuff that we can't talk about, we're building out this universe. And sometimes a standalone movie, in the case of Venom, makes sense, because there's a lot of story to tell about those two characters and how they come together. But you leave yourself with a ton of opportunity.

Avi Arad: I think Morbius, which we believe is gonna be a stunning movie. These two belong together. Maybe as enemies, okay? And then becoming friends again. There are so many characters in the Spider-Man universe, which is the Sony universe, that we can play with these things.

Matt Tolmach: We’re creating opportunities.

Avi Arad: As long as the story is interesting, if we found it interesting. It’s like Morbius [came together] fast. We just knew exactly what we wanted to do.


Fandango: Did you ever consider putting Morbius in Venom? Or teasing one of the other characters with solo films in Venom?

Avi Arad: It’s not ready to be teased yet, but…

Matt Tolmach: This movie didn't need it, because it has Eddie Brock, and it has Venom, and it has other [spoilery] things. But it felt very full. And then there's the next one where you can do whatever you want.

Avi Arad: I think the darkness of the movie is actually very commercial, because just when it gets dark enough, it gets funny enough. We really believe in this formula. Every movie has to have its levity.


Fandango: Was there something that you learned from the other Spider-Man movies that you brought to this film? Something you wanted to change or do differently?

Avi Arad: With this, speaking for myself, it's a need for it to be lighter, because if you get too deep emotionally, then it's a smaller movie. We want to make big movies. Movies everybody will see. We want everybody to see, everybody to enjoy. And it opens a huge world. Venom, his planet of the symbiotes, as you can see from the beginning.


Fandango: Speaking of the symbiotes planet, did you ever think about going to that? Spending more time on that planet?

Avi Arad: Not in the first movie. There’s a whole other world out there, obviously.

Matt Tolmach: We talk about it a ton. And it may be something to visit, but honestly, there wasn't room in this movie, and you've seen it. So, it's there, but yeah, we had a lot of fun talking about it. Venom’s origin on that planet, in that world, [and] who he was as a character. All of that.


Fandango: People are always joking about that movie Life, and how it felt like a Venom prequel.

Matt Tolmach: I know. Isn't that funny?


Fandango: And the movie even opens up with a similar ending to Life, and you even have the Life Foundation, from the Marvel comics.

Matt Tolmach: I know. We’ve laughed about that a lot.


Fandango: Did you ever actually consider that? Using Life to secretly make a Venom prequel?

Matt Tolmach: No, but it’s funny that now that director [Daniel Espinosa] is working for us. He’s doing Morbius.

Avi Arad: He’s a big comic guy. Like the biggest collector of comics. A guy like that needs to do comic book movies.


Stay tuned for more with Venom producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, as we dive into spoilers once the film officially arrives in theaters on Friday, October 5. You can snag your tickets for Venom right here at Fandango.


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