Andy Serkis knows his way around giving great performances via both motion capture and CG. So the idea of him directing Venom: Let There Be Carnage—the new follow-up to 2018’s Venom, which introduced Tom Hardy as both popular Marvel Comics character Eddie Brock and the alien symbiote that infests him—seems like a no-brainer on paper. After all, this is the man whose groundbreaking work as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy showed just how far a digital character could go, even 20 years ago, in range and emotion with a human actor underneath the computerized costume. He further refined the process with his work in movies like Jackson’s King Kong (2005) where he played the title character before delivering his masterpiece as ape leader Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011-2017).
So when fellow British actor Tom Hardy called Serkis a few years ago about getting into the same kind of shenanigans, Serkis was intrigued.
“Tom and I have known each other for years and years, and wanted to work with each other, both as actors and as an actor-director relationship,” Serkis tells us. “In fact, just before the first Venom movie, he reached out and said, ‘Andy, look. I’m going to be playing a sort of CG character, I think. And I might be using performance capture. Can I come down to your facility, and can we experiment with stuff?’ So I said, ‘Absolutely, that would be great.’”
The experiment that Hardy spoke about never panned out, although it was a short time later that Serkis realized what project Hardy was getting into at the time. “The first [Venom] movie came out, and then I realized it must have been Venom that he was talking about,” recalls Serkis. “I thought no more of it, and thought, ‘Well, our paths will cross at some point.’”
Flash forward a few years, with Serkis now establishing himself as a director with the features Breathe (2017) and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018), when suddenly the phone rings… and it’s Hardy again. “I got a call out of the blue from him again, saying, ‘We are very keen to throw your hat in the ring to direct the second movie. How do you feel about that?’ And I said, ‘Look, I love the first movie. Absolutely adored your performance. And I love this Venom-verse. So I’d love to talk about it.’”
Serkis continues, “It just seemed, to me, to be absolutely the perfect piece of material for us both to come together on and work. In many ways, Tom and I have a very similar sensibility in terms of character choices. Marginal, outsider, edgy characters who are somewhat larger than life, sometimes. So it felt like exactly the right thing to do.”
Venom: Let There Be Carnage picks up three years after the end of the first film, with Brock and Venom somehow coexisting, even if it means that Brock’s life (and apartment) is a source of perpetual chaos. Trying to get his journalistic career back on track, Brock scores an interview with incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who inadvertently tips Brock off to the location of his victims’ bodies and seals his own fate on death row—but not before he bites Brock on the hand, ingesting enough of his blood for the symbiote to transform him into the monstrous Carnage.
Soon Carnage is escaping from prison and rescuing Kasady’s incarcerated girlfriend Shriek (Naomie Harris as a mutant with a destructive scream) from the Ravencroft asylum. It doesn’t take long either for the pair to target Brock and his former fiancée, Anne (a returning Michelle Williams).
There is much more banter between Brock and Venom in this film, giving the proceedings the feel of a fucked-up buddy comedy or bromance in addition to the body horror already associated with the characters.
“There are multiple love stories in there,” says Serkis. “It’s not just Eddie and Venom, it’s Eddie and what’s happening to Anne, and Venom’s relationship with Anne. He wants Eddie to get back together with Anne… and obviously Shriek and Cletus, and even Cletus and Eddie have a strange bond to do with family, in a dysfunctional way. So there’s multiple threads which tie all of these characters together, which I think is real fertile ground for keeping it real. But at the same time, we let it just bounce off into all of the different areas of comedy and melodrama.”
While Eddie and Venom actually learn to get along better, and even help each other, there are in fact echoes of the split-personality conversations between Gollum and Smeagol that Serkis so magnificently personified in the LOTR trilogy.
“I feel like I do have some understanding of those kinds of characters, of course,” says Serkis. “And Tom knew my history of the sorts of things that I directed, and the sorts of characters that I’d played. So I think he felt that someone would be there who could create the right atmosphere for him to do his performance.”
Although Hardy perhaps did want Serkis behind the camera for his expertise with creating characters through motion-capture and other digital effects, the director maintains that Hardy has his own approach for inhabiting the roles of both Brock and Venom (for which Hardy provides the voice).
“Tom’s process, which is the way that he created Venom in the first movie, is awesome to watch,” marvels Serkis. “Awe-inspiring. He has his own process of recording Venom’s voice before every single scene, and then having Venom’s voice play back in an earbud in his ear, so that he could then talk over him or relate to him, or react, or vehemently oppose him… I was just there to frame that and make sure we captured that in an interesting, visceral, kind of way.”
Having now worked with Hardy on one Venom outing and noting that the actor has been “living and breathing this character, and the world of this character, for a number of years now,” Serkis must contend with a question that is surely going to come up a lot as soon as people see this movie: would he be interested in bringing the other Tom into the mix, Tom Holland, that is, and getting back behind the camera for the inevitable clash between Spider-Man and Venom?
“Who knows?” he states. “I’m not going to be a clairvoyant and imagine what might happen, because that can get me into a lot of trouble. But I do think that before we get to any sort of Spider-Man activity, if there is to be any, there’s still some really rich scenes to tap into just within the Venom-verse, on his own.” Serkis pauses before adding, “There’s so many different ways it could go, if we should be so lucky to make more after this.”
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is out in theaters starting today, Friday, Oct. 1.