Get one taste of the Sichuan delicacies at Café China, nestled in the heart of midtown, and you understand why the restaurant has earned a Michelin star. The only thing better than biting into spicy cumin lamb, slowly simmered to perfection with onion, cilantro, and chili peppers, is transitioning to a bowl of cold noodles with a peanut sauce whose intense tang belies its understated presentation. The mooncakes transport you to the heart of Chengdu; the braised pork belly makes you reconsider the meaning of food, of love, of life. Unfortunately—for me and everyone else in the restaurant, but especially for the terrified owners of Café China who personally set this menu—my dinner guest isn’t enthralled by the magic of the Sichuan peppercorn.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE TATER TOTS?!”
Hollywood’s most unconventional and beguiling new star, Venom has grown accustomed to getting what he wants. And mostly, he wants one of three things: frozen tater tots, chocolate bars, or raw human flesh. Explaining that none of the three is on the menu at this celebrated restaurant—that human meat isn’t available at any respectable place of business—hasn’t done anything to quell his frustration. I assure Venom that we can take a detour to the TGI Fridays near Madison Square Garden before the end of the evening.
“AND THE TIMES SQUARE MARGARITAVILLE?”
Sure, that too.
That’s enough to calm him down, as the restaurant breathes a collective sigh of relief. In more hushed tones, Venom indicates to me that he’s going to switch back to his human host, the Viceland journalist Eddie Brock, so that he can use the restroom. (They’ve agreed to meet on the condition that his host not be interviewed for the story.) While I’d love to know what Venom’s unique diet has done to Eddie’s intestinal system, I don’t want to break the rules of our agreement—not just out of journalistic integrity, but because of the very real possibility that I’ll be eaten alive. With Venom briefly out of the spotlight, I stand up and walk toward his publicist, who’s been hiding in the corner. As I get closer, I notice his once immaculate dress shirt is completely drenched in sweat.
“Please,” he says. “Help me.”
The story of Venom is a story of unprecedented scientific discovery for the human species. When Venom arrived on Earth, we had definitive proof that alien life exists—one small answer in our vast, unknowable universe. But the first extraterrestrial we’ve encountered looks nothing like the little green men so often depicted in pop culture. Instead, he’s an amorphous lifeform that bonds with a host—akin to a parasite, though he prefers to be called a symbiote. Venom confirms to me that he can bond with other living things—on more than one occasion he’s taken over a dog, and one time during “A REALLY WEIRD BENDER” he inhabited an alpaca—but he prefers human beings. “FOR BETTER OR WORSE, HUMANS ARE THE DOMINANT SPECIES ON THIS PLANET,” he tells me. “SO TAKING OVER ONE OF YOU GUYS IS PRETTY SELF-EXPLANATORY.”
But what about his planet? What about his species? Like the multi-hyphenate Tommy Wiseau, with whom Venom and his early Hollywood work are frequently compared, the symbiote’s origins remain a mystery. The fact that he’s so coy about his home planet only fuels speculation that the critically acclaimed drama Venom, released in 2018, contains a few nuggets of truth. For example: At one point while playing himself in the film, Venom says that he was “KIND OF A LOSER” on his home planet, equating how much of a loser he is somewhere in the cosmos to how much of a loser Eddie is on Earth—meaning he was, like, a huge loser. But I get the sense that Venom doesn’t want to talk about his past or whether he’s actually a loser, which I pick up on after he literally picks up our dinner table and hurls it across the room, hitting a waiter who, I will later learn, had to be transported to a hospital. (Editor’s note: The waiter has four broken ribs and a punctured lung, but is otherwise recovering and thankful to be alive.) Instead, Venom wants to talk about how he fell in love with cinema—and, well, it’s safer for everyone in the restaurant if he controls where this conversation is going.
Not long after bonding with his preferred host in San Francisco, Venom discovered film. In between devouring anyone who gives his favorite bodega owner a hard time—the owner, Mrs. Chen, always stocks up on his favorite imported chocolates—Venom would spend his time devouring classic works at the local arthouse theater and modern masterpieces that he picked up on DVD from the library. He rattles off some of his favorite filmmakers: Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, Ingmar Bergman. It wasn’t long until Venom decided that he’d had enough of watching movies and wanted to star in them. He found a willing partner in Sony Pictures.
“We believe Venom’s unique story and perspective will become a real hit with audiences craving a new kind of moviegoing experience,” a Sony Pictures source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, tells me. “By becoming Venom’s exclusive theatrical partner, we can pursue exciting content initiatives and other IP brand extensions that fans around the world have come to expect from the Sony family. We were also afraid to say no after hearing about how Venom ate Bob Iger during a pitch meeting.”
The Sony relationship didn’t get off to a winning start. It’s easy to forget, amid the record-breaking number of Oscar nominations that Venom received, that the 2018 film wasn’t the symbiote’s first major role. In 2007, Venom had a supporting turn in Spider-Man 3, the overstuffed superhero flick featuring a woefully miscast Topher Grace as Eddie Brock. (Through a publicist, Grace declined to be interviewed for this story.) The reviews for the movie were unforgiving—The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis referred to Grace’s Brock as a “twerp”—and seemed to end Venom’s Hollywood dreams just as they were beginning. Venom wouldn’t star in another film for over a decade. “I WAS TEMPTED TO DO SOME WORK IN THE INDIE SCENE, BUT NONE OF THE DIRECTORS I MET SHARED THE SAME VISION,” he says. “THAT CRAZY BASTARD ROBERT EGGERS WILL DRINK YOU UNDER THE TABLE, THOUGH, FUN GUY.”
I ask Venom what he was able to learn about the industry from such a negative experience on Spider-Man 3, and whether—
“KIDNEYS, LIVER, SPLEEN, LUNGS …”
“OH, NOTHING. I’M JUST THINKING ABOUT WHAT ORDER I’LL EAT YOUR ORGANS IF YOU DON’T STOP THIS LINE OF QUESTIONING.”
We voluntarily change subjects as the check arrives. One of the owners says that if I can get him out of here in the next five minutes, the meal’s on the house.
Because of Spider-Man 3’s high-profile failure, expectations for Venom were tempered. If Venom couldn’t cut it as a supporting player, the thinking went, how the heck is he going to carry his own blockbuster? On top of that, the fact that the film was set to face off against Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born on opening weekend seemed to be a fatal error on Sony’s part. Well, a star was born—just not the one anyone expected.
Though Cooper’s directorial debut was no slouch at the box office, true to its subject, Venom absolutely feasted. In all, Venom made over $850 million and became one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. “THEY REALLY THOUGHT THEY HAD SOMETHING GOOD WITH JACKSON MAINE PISSING HIMSELF AT THE GRAMMYS,” Venom says. “BUT WE HAD TOM HARDY JUMP INTO A LOBSTER TANK!” (It’s unclear whether Venom is aware that Jackson Maine’s public urination wasn’t meant to be a show-stopping highlight of the movie, but I’m too afraid to correct him.)
Speaking of the lobster tank: We shouldn’t discount Hardy’s commitment. While many actors boast about going deep into their roles like they’re the second coming of Daniel Day-Lewis, Hardy went further than any performer before him, consenting to an alien parasite sharing his body for months during filming so that the relationship between Eddie and Venom would appear more authentic. (Grace’s Venom transformation in Spider-Man 3 was accomplished through CGI.) While Hardy reportedly found it strange when Venom consumed a human brain and he got a bit of the aftertaste, the duo would become fast friends. “They watched Bad Boys II in their trailer at least 12 times,” a source close to the production tells me.
“WHAT TOM DID WAS EXTRAORDINARY,” Venom explains as we make the trek from a Michelin-rated restaurant to a place that’s been called the “worst TGI Fridays ever” on Tripadvisor. “YOU SEE, THE REAL EDDIE IS A LOSER. BUT IN PORTRAYING EDDIE, TOM MADE IT SEEM LIKE HE WAS ALSO A LOSER, EVEN THOUGH HE ISN’T. I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT THE ACTING PROCESS FROM TOM, AND I CONSIDER HIM A CLOSE FRIEND.” (A source, who asked not to be named out of fear for their safety, confirmed that Hardy and his family recently vacationed with Venom in Antigua.)
But as Venom became an instant cultural phenomenon, it put just as much of a spotlight on its star. “FAME,” Venom says in between mouthfuls of loaded nacho cheese tater tots, “IS A BEAST YOU CAN’T CONTROL.” Once the tabloids got involved, some of Venom’s most controversial behavior made headlines. There was a monthslong stretch in 2019 when you couldn’t go a week without publications like the Daily Mail publishing a piece on Venom devouring a person or destroying the frozen foods section of the Nob Hill Trader Joe’s. (Though he disagrees with the publication’s journalistic practices, Venom does appreciate their seemingly random use of caps-lock.)
Venom doesn’t deny that he’s eaten his fair share of people, or that he loves the way humans taste, but he wants to set the record straight.
“YOU KNOW HOW, IN THE SHOW DEXTER, HE WOULD ONLY KILL BAD GUYS?” he says. “WELL, THAT’S HOW I APPROACH PEOPLE: I ONLY EAT THE BAD ONES. I’M ACTUALLY DOING EVERYONE A FAVOR, WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT. I’M BASICALLY A SUPERHERO.”
If you only eat bad guys, then why did you devour Bob Iger during a pitch meeting?
“I WAS STILL NEW TO YOUR PLANET. I THOUGHT ‘EAT THE RICH’ WAS A LITERAL INVITATION.”
With Venom’s impressive box office performance to go along with its sweep at the Oscars, the BAFTAs, and the Golden Globes, it was only a matter of time before Sony green-lit a sequel. That was the easy part—now comes the hard work of meeting expectations. “Audiences are no longer just going to be wowed by a real-life alien playing himself in a movie,” a Sony source tells me. “We needed more stakes, more drama, more of everything. To be completely honest, we were scrambling to come up with ideas for months. It’s like our prayers were answered when Carnage showed up.”
In the winter of 2019, a mysterious spacecraft landed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Initial attempts to communicate with the vessel through radio frequencies were unsuccessful. A search team was deployed and never returned—all that was heard were their muffled screams over the radio, and a booming voice promising that there will be “CARNAGE.” “It sounded like a great title for the sequel,” the source says.
With Venom acting as an intermediary for Sony, the new symbiote known as Carnage, who was even bigger than his alien peer and made up of a reddish goo, agreed to participate in the sequel. But Carnage’s involvement was not without controversy. Unlike Venom, Carnage didn’t have any measure of self-control over his ravenous appetite—on the fourth day of production, filming was shut down on Venom: Let There Be Carnage after the bloody remains of three PAs and a boom mic operator were found. “I THINK THE WHOLE THING IS BEING BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION,” Carnage tells me in a phone interview shortly before an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast. “CLASSIC PC CULTURE RUN AMOK.”
Carnage’s bad-boy reputation resulted in the symbiote being banned from several countries, making international promotion of the sequel more difficult while raising serious questions about sharing a planet with an alien life-form that specifically prefers to eat humans. And on a personal level, Carnage’s emergence seems to have had a negative effect on Venom’s morale. Rumors spilled out that Carnage’s incessant bullying of Venom during production made the crew uncomfortable and sympathetic toward the film’s star. “He just kept reminding Venom that everyone on their home planet knows he’s a loser, and that winning an Oscar wasn’t going to change that because symbiotes don’t even know what an Oscar is,” a source tells me.
“I AM NOT A LOSER … NOT NOT NOT,” Venom slurs over his 24th frozen margarita after I ask about the Carnage rumors. “MAYBE YOU ARE A LOSER, HOW ABOUT THAT?”
Venom is about to threaten to eat me again when, instead, he begins projectile-vomiting chunks of tater tots while muttering “NOT AGAIN, NOT AGAIN!” Several patrons at the Times Square Margaritaville shriek; most run for the exits. I put my hand around Venom’s slimy shoulder, which has the texture of a tuna casserole prepared with pine tar, and assure him that he’s a beloved international icon.
Am I being nice to avoid incurring the wrath and insatiable hunger of an alien who has been sizing me up like a giant plate of chicken wings all night? Yes, I don’t want to die. But Venom really has captured the hearts and minds of an adoring public. He overcame an embarrassing start to his Hollywood career to make one of the most celebrated movies of all time, he significantly lowered the San Francisco crime rate, and through the film’s villain, Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed), he signaled a warning about the dangers of unregulated tech companies. On the whole, there’s a compelling case to be made that Venom has been a chaotic good for our planet—ironically, it’s taken a slimy parasite from the far reaches of the galaxy to make humans truly appreciate what we have at home.
“I’M GAINING A SECOND WIND,” Venom suddenly says, wiping away the puke from his gaping maw. “LET’S GET ANOTHER ROUND.”
I wake up the next morning feeling like I’ve been run over by a bus. I don’t even remember the last few hours of the night, so maybe I actually was hit by a bus. On a night out with Earth’s favorite symbiote—eat shit, Carnage—anything can happen. While preparing coffee, I get a FaceTime call from Venom. “HEY, SORRY ABOUT LAST NIGHT,” he says. “THAT DOESN’T NORMALLY HAPPEN TO ME.” He is lying.
Venom reached out because he wanted to clear the air after his theatrics, which may or may not have caused Café China to temporarily close down and change locations on account of his visit. He knows he isn’t perfect, and that not everyone is happy about his arrival on Earth. But he genuinely believes he’s here for a reason, and that, even after Venom: Let There Be Carnage arrives in theaters, the best is yet to come. “I’M STILL SEARCHING FOR THE PUREST FORM OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION,” he says. “JUST AS I’M STILL SEARCHING FOR THE PERFECT HUMAN TO EAT. BUT I THINK I’VE FOUND THE MEAL I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR: A NOSY JOURNALIST WHO SPENT THE PAST 12 HOURS EATING SICHUAN FOOD AND HOUSING MARGARITAS.”
On that, I believe him.