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Spider-Man 3 - Topher Grace (Venom) interview

Spider-Man 3. (c) 2007 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Interview by Martyn Palmer

TOPHER Grace talks about his lifelong love of Spider-Man as well as the many, many challenges of playing a character like Venom…

As a self-confessed Spider-Man fan yourself, what makes the character so enduring?
Everyone always assumes that you love it because of Spider-Man’s amazing abilities and the cool sequences of him flipping around New York City. But I think that’s misleading. I mean, that’s great and everything, but for me, and I think a lot of kids, I think it was about the fact that Peter Parker is a nice guy, a normal guy.

When you think about it, there are tons of superheroes out there, why is this one any different? I think it’s because instead of him being some kind of super-human he has very real problems that I could relate to when I was younger. He’s kind of a normal dude who has normal problems. I think it was really smart at the time it came out and it continues to be to this day. It’s amazing that these comic books can appeal to so many different generations. And when I saw the first film I thought to myself: “They are really getting it right..”

Have you always been a fan of the Venom character?
I was about 11 or 12 and I adored him. I just loved Todd MacFarlane’s work and I always though Venom was one of the most vivid characters.

How did you feel when you were offered the chance to play him?
Laura Ziskin [producer] and Avi Arad [producer] came in and I didn’t know why I was there. And then Sam [Raimi] started telling me the entire plot of Spider-Man 3 and you know, after a while, I said: “Look, I’ve got to ask what this is about…” And Sam said: “Well, we want you to play Venom..” I had to try and remain cool and not geek out in the middle of this meeting and say: “Yes, I’ll do it!”

Did you have to think twice about appearing in a sequel?
Well, I loved it [Spider-Man] and I loved the second one even more. What Sam did with the first two movies is incredible. I told him at that first meeting that there are only a couple of sequels that are better than the original – it’s like Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 2, Spider-Man 2 and like The New Testament! I certainly think that the second one was better than the first and without being biased I think the third one will be amazing as well.

I don’t like sequels because normally they are bad, just re-hashes of what came before them. But with Sam and Alvin Sargent, who does a brilliant job of writing these films, you get so much information each time. It’s a new story, a new chapter and it’s all about what Peter is going through in each movie. When we had the first table reading it blew my mind how much new information they were introducing in this film. Tobey goes to a very dark place in this one and it’s all about vengeance versus forgiveness. I would actually love sequels if they were all as good as this.

How did you cope with the extensive make-up once you transformed to Venom?
It was an incredible process. I’d be starting work at somewhere around four in the morning and we would start shooting at 10am. And yes, it’s a really long process and, you know, there are fangs and all sorts of uncomfortable things to put on.

The suit is hot and it’s pretty claustrophobic in there. And there’s no zipper so you can’t go to the bathroom! So that’s the most challenging thing about being a super villain. The days were long and challenging and sometimes, if I was playing Venom that day, uncomfortable. But then I would watch the playback later and say: “You know, that’s the coolest shot I’ve probably ever seen…” So it was all about the destination and not the journey.

What about the physical aspect?
I’ve never really worked out in my life and I had to put on 20lbs which still didn’t look like a lot because I’m a very skinny guy. But it was about nine months of working out and eating in a different way. I knew that would be part of the process. There’s a lot of physical stuff when you are working – there’s a lot of hanging from wires and jumping around.

How was working with stunt co-ordinator Scott Rogers?
Scott is great. He’s dealing with some actors, like Tobey, who have lots of experience because they have been doing it for the last two movies and some, like me, are very new. But his priority is safety and you feel very comfortable with him and he does a great job. And the system they have is very well oiled – it’s like coming in and starring on a hit show or something. You can just trust that they are going to make you look good and make you as comfortable as possible and as safe as possible, because they have all been doing it so well for so long.

Your character’s back story is a little different from the comic books. Can you elaborate?
In the comic books the origin of the character is different. Eddie Brock is kind of a muscle bound guy of around 45 and at first I wondered whether it was a good fit for me. But Sam explained to me his idea for a kind of new origin for Venom which I actually think is better. It’s a guy who is very similar to Peter Parker in many ways.

They kind of look the same – and I know I look like Tobey, I’ve lost a lot of roles to him in the past. They both work at the Bugle, they are both reporters, they are in competition, not just in the job, but they also like the same women. And Eddie seems to kind of have the edge – on the exterior he is kind of doing it better than Peter. He has a better hairdo, wears a little more hair gel, a little more stylish, he can flirt with girls. The irony is that on the inside Peter is a much better person, he has a much better core and Eddie is very shallow and not a good person.

It’s kind of a case study because Venom’s powers are kind of the same as Spider-Man’s. In fact, he kind of inherits them from him. It’s kind of the case where if Peter Parker had received the same powers but not had a great mentor like Uncle Ben to give him such good guidance he might have been different. I used to sit on the set with Sam and we’d say the mission statement for Venom is: “With great power comes great fun.”

Was that fun to play?
The best thing for me was that I’ve never played a bad guy before. They do a really good job of showing his rationale and Avi [Arad] has this great saying that there are no bad guys in Marvel which is really true, you understand why everyone does what they do. But essentially he does some things that are wrong and that to me is really new.

I’m used to playing a protagonist and that means your responsibility is to keep the audience in mind and you can’t really go too far from the centre otherwise you kind of hear a bell go off and say: “Yeah, that’s unrealistic, I don’t think I would really do that..” Because you are a kind of a vehicle for the audience to experience the film. But when you do this bad guy – half of me is a jerk and half of me is some psycho killer from outer space – there’s no bell going off. No matter what you do is right so it’s really freeing and great fun.

Read our review of Spider-Man 3