Andy Serkis’ Long Road to Venom Began With Reading Comics and an Unexpected Journey Through the Shire

Andy Serkis’ Long Road to Venom Began With Reading Comics and an Unexpected Journey Through the Shire
Andy Serkis directing Tom Hardy, and Venom, in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. (Image: Sony Pictures)

Venom: Let There Be Carnage may seem like nothing more than the expected, logical follow-up to the 2018 hit Venom, but in reality, its roots reside in Middle Earth. Andy Serkis, the actor best known for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films (and Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes films, Snoke in the recent Star Wars films, etc.) is the director of Sony’s Let There Be Carnage and he says it was his work on The Hobbit, that gave him the tools necessary to play in the wide world of Marvel Comics.

“It cannot be underestimated the opportunities that [director] Peter Jackson gave me back in the day when he asked me to direct second unit on The Hobbit,” Serkis told Gizmodo on a video call last week. “As a director, I was literally about to make my first small movie with a handful of actors in two or three rooms. So that experience of shooting for 200 days on the second unit of a trilogy, that really set me [up] for all the things that I’ve made since.”

Since then, Serkis has directed the true story Breathe (starring former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield) and Netflix’s VFX-focused film Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, both of which gave Venom star and co-writer of part two, Tom Hardy, the confidence to call Serkis and see if he was interested in picking up the franchise where original director Ruben Fleischer left off. “Tom called me out of the blue just said ‘Look, Andy, we’re looking for the director of the next Venom movie and we’re all really keen on the idea of you. How do you feel about it and would you like to throw your hat in the ring?’” Serkis explained. ‘To which I said ‘Absolutely.’” 

Let There Be Carnage. (Image: Sony Pictures) Let There Be Carnage. (Image: Sony Pictures)

Serkis was a fan of the first film and had actually been trying to work with Hardy for years — he even read Spider-Man comics in his youth. He admits, however, to falling off well before Venom was introduced in 1988 (or Carnage in 1992 for that matter) and jumping in headfirst once we got the gig. “When it came to Venom specifically I had to sit down, do a huge deep dive, and went through every single comic that exists practically,” Serkis said. “And that was just an immensely pleasurable part of the process, digging into these worlds and digging into these incredible characters.”

Out of that research, Serkis found himself particularly fascinated by Carnage. Already set to be played by Serkis’ friend, and War for the Planet of the Apes co-star Woody Harrelson, the director was excited by the challenge of bringing this iconic, complexly visual villain into reality.

“What came out of the comics specifically in terms of research was the development of Carnage as a character and the amplification from Cletus Cassidy,” Serkis said. “The way that he was physically, the way that he weaponised, the way that he could shapeshift and change his molecular structure and become mist or whirlwind or all of those potential really interesting transformations that you could go through. So from a creative and a visual effects point of view, and a character-building and world-building point of view, that was really exciting.”

Considering Let There Be Carnage was a sequel, many of the big pieces were already in place — Carnage as the villain, as well as the cast, tone, etc. — so creating the look of the character was one of the big things Serkis really put his stamp on. In the end, that ended up changing the entire look of the movie.

“The first movie is quite bleak. It’s dark. It’s kind of quite monotone in many ways and kind of gritty. This, I felt, was more operatic and the colour of Carnage dictated the level of saturation and size and scale,” Serkis said. “I even changed the aspect ratio so that it gave more height because I knew these two symbiotes were going to be fighting each other. I was very keen to evolve with the visual effects team how Carnage was going to manifest, so I had lots and lots of fun and things to bring to the table.”

Another very curious thing this film brings to the table? Eddie Brock’s outfit. If you’re just watching the movie, it seems normal enough. A guy in a shirt and jacket. But fans of 1980s action-comedies might notice something else. Eddie is wearing the exact same “Mumford Phys. Ed” shirt and Detroit Lions NFL jackets that Eddie Murphy wore as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop 2. Serkis chuckles when I ask him about it.

Tom is a particular fan of that movie and it’s such an iconic kind of look,” he said. “We also felt like we were somehow tonally reaching back to those kind of movies, which have fun and horror and darkness. And so the combination of Beverly Hills [Cop] kind of meets Cape Fear meets that sort of melodrama and fun and comedy and yet the characters bouncing off each other, that was sort of the world we were invoking.”

The world Serkis was invoking also introduced a new villain in Shriek — played by his Mowgil collaborator Naomie Harris — acting as a love interest of Cassidy. She was added to give some grounding and motivation to his villainous ways, however, she’s the only major new character introduced in Let There Be Carnage (at least before the credits roll). Serkis admits, though, there were discussions of bringing in a few more Marvel connections.

“There were, at times, discussions about bringing in some of the other characters in the sort of ‘Venomverse,’” Serkis said. “And certainly when we were looking at Ravenscroft [“Institute for the Criminally Insane” which plays a part in the film] and seeing who could possibly reside in Ravenscroft in particular. So yes, there were discussions about that and that for me is, potentially, really exciting. The supervillains that are trapped inside Ravenscroft could be an incredibly rich seam to tap one day.”

Serkis on set with Woody Harrelson. (Image: Sony Pictures) Serkis on set with Woody Harrelson. (Image: Sony Pictures)

Speaking of “one day,” in other interviews Serkis has admitted he believes, one day, Venom will show down with the character that made him possible in the first place: Spider-Man. And though he’s very careful to preface any conversation about Spider-Man by saying things like “This is by no means anything that’s going to happen” and “Let me just caveat this whole conversation,” he points at a rather unexpected connection between the two as something he, as a fan and filmmaker, would like to see on screen. Eventually. Maybe.

“I like the idea of the potential comic value in their relationship,” Serkis says. “I think could be really interesting.” Considering how off the wall, at times literally, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is, that unique take makes a lot of sense.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is released in Australian cinemas on November 25.