It’s a rocky marriage, but they’re putting in the work.
That would be Tom Hardy and Venom, the fearsome alien parasite he launched a franchise with in 2018. Global audiences dismissed critics and rang up a tab to the tune of $856 million to see the pair, which proved the film victorious and set forth the sequel “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” in theaters Friday.
In the new film, Hardy, 44, hits the screen again as tepid journalist Eddie Brock, who now finds himself one half of an Odd Couple with the relentlessly sardonic Venom, an otherworldly carnivore who has accepted the bargain of eating chickens and chocolate instead of humans as long as he’s under Eddie’s earthly roof.
While not in a pandemic, they’re nonetheless stuck sharing one body, mimicking the worst of bickering couples in lockdown.
They’re “100 percent an old married couple,” says Hardy, speaking by Zoom from London, his pup Blue at his feet. “It’s very clear cut that these two belong together. They can’t stand each other but they can’t be without each other” – especially in the face of a new arch-enemy, Cletus Kasady/Carnage (Woody Harrelson).
A year and a half into the pandemic, Hardy pops up on Zoom in typical form: He’s casually dressed in a yellow National Geographic sweatshirt, curse words peppering his speech, a vape pen making guest appearances.
Gearing up for a second film, which finds Michelle Williams returning as Eddie’s ex and a new foe in Shriek (Naomie Harris), Hardy was hardly immune to the cold critical reception (a 30% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes) for his first foray.
Making the first movie was a “baptism of fire,” Hardy says. Fans liked it, but “critics hated it,” he says, letting out a laugh. Yes, he does read reviews. “Anybody who says they don’t read reviews … I lean on the side of suspicion,” he says. ‘I happen to fall in the camp of, I just like to know so maybe I can do something better.”
Hardy and screenwriter Kelly Marcel pitched the studio on their vision for a sequel (Hardy produces and also has a story credit this time around), which leans more heavily into the banter and witty delights nestled in the first film, such as when Eddie, taken over by Venom’s impulses, finds himself in a lobster tank and takes a crusty bite. (This time Venom gets to go to a rave.)
On the set, Hardy also voices Venom, acting against himself with an earpiece that pipes pre-recorded Venom lines into his ear. Marcel would often rewrite dialogue on the spot, transmitting fresh lines to Hardy through the same device.
“I don’t know quite how he does it,” says Marcel, who befriended Hardy 20 years ago doing pub theater together in the U.K. “He’ll come in to work in the morning and run the scene as both Eddie and Venom. Literally in front of your eyes, (he’s) switching from character to character and voice to voice. At full speed.”
Andy Serkis, who takes the director’s chair in “Venom 2,” would occasionally give in and do his “Lord of the Rings” Gollum voice. “There’s often some playful banter about who would win between Venom and Gollum,” Marcel.
Marcel says that the film was completed in San Francisco in early 2020, a mere few weeks before the world entered lockdown. The film was released in October 2020 instead of the planned release date.
“In all honesty, the film is a better film having had the extra time” for post-production, says Serkis, noting the biggest improvements in the finale smackdown with Carnage.
An alum of tough-guy roles in films like “Max Max: Fury Road,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Revenant” and “Warrior,” Hardy has spent these odds times much like most parents: clad in sweats trying to keep calm and carry on.
“Stop-start, stop-start,” The star describes what school has been like for his children recently. (He and wife Charlotte Riley share two, ages 5 and 2; his eldest, 13, is from a prior relationship.) “That has been more whiplash than the floating around of work.”
The star (now “vaccinated, gratefully”) sampled sourdough baking like the rest of us, and paints a picture of life chasing around his young ones during months of home-schooling: “My children are under three foot tall,” he says. It was “Crocs and three-quarter-length board shorts with a gut and skinny-fat, pallid, with rings under my eyes, bent over with two beings that need to feel safe.”
In his work life, he’s still hustling, despite more franchise clout. “Tom is Tom,” says Marcel, as much of “a force to be reckoned with” in his 40s as when they first met in their 20s workshopping plays between gigs. “He’s an incredibly energetic human being with a bajillion ideas running around his head. The man doesn’t stop working or moving.”
But one hallowed corner of Hollywood still evades him: Venom getting to play in the sandbox with Spider-Man and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Currently, Marvel’s intellectual property is divided up between Sony (where Venom lives) and Disney (where the Avengers hang out).
“Who wouldn’t want to campaign in some aspect to say, ‘Hey, I’m playing Venom. I want to be accepted into the Marvel canon, even if all the children are split across two parents. Although there are many legal issues, we are still family. ” he grins.
Could the MCU accept him as part of the family tree? “Even if we can’t go to each other’s barbecues just yet? Could I maybe come to a barbecue one day?”