How Venom and His Glorious, Disgusting Tongue Came to Life

venom tongue
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

In making Venom, director Ruben Fleischer had a lot of discussions about saliva. Specifically, the amount of saliva that should be dripping off the wiseass symbiote's tongue. "Sometimes they'd go overboard and we'd have to pull them back and other times we'd have to say, 'What happened to the saliva?'" he recalls. "There's hundreds and hundreds of shots of Venom and every single one we'd have to figure out what was right for that shot." All in a day's work.

The comic book character's distinctive mouth accoutrement has been translated into an entrancingly yucky cinematic feature in the new movie, which stars Tom Hardy. He plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist who ends up infected with an alien parasite known as a symbiote when digging up dirt on the fishy Life Foundation, an organization run by Elon Musk-esque Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed).

Venom, as rendered on screen, is a sinewy mass of black goo. But since the first trailer was released in April, people (notably people on the internet) have been fixated on one particular element of his physique: his tongue. Needless to say, it's gotten NSFW. (Actress Elizabeth Banks put it most succinctly: "Looks like he's eating a dick.")

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Our discussion with Fleischer didn't get into the more prurient interest in Venom's tongue, but that's not to say that the director doesn't have some theories as to why it's so prominent. "When you have such a big, beastly, scary-looking monster, having that tongue kind of disarms him and I think that's why in the comics it exists," Fleischer speculates. "It just kind of takes the curse off of this super scary guy." 

The great tongue lengthening was originally something of an accident, artist Erik Larson recently explained on Facebook. Larson thought Venom creator Todd McFarlane once illustrated a trade paperback cover with an extended mouth member and so followed suit. "Determined to take it a step further, I gave Venom an even bigger, crazier tongue -- not realizing that Todd didn't do anything special or unusual with his tongue at all -- it was a perfectly ordinary, unremarkable tongue," he wrote. Turns out that was something of Larson's imagination. And lo, the tongue was born.

In designing Venom for the screen, Fleischer mainly wanted to remain true to the comics while still making him look photoreal. Since, at least in this movie, Spider-Man has nothing to do with Venom's origin, one of the biggest debates was what to put on his chest instead of the web-slinger's logo. In the end, Venom's front side was left blank and veiny. "We really spent a lot of time making sure that our 3D model looked like scale and mass and size as true to Venom as we could make him," he explains. "Obviously his eyes and his mouth are his most distinguishing features. So making sure his teeth were incredibly sharp and jagged with multiple rows. That huge tongue flapping about. No shortage of saliva at any moment."

Sony Pictures

Not that making the spindly tongue was easy. "They must have done 20 different versions of a tongue with different lengths and shapes and curves and you kind of just plug them in and seen how they feel until you kind of just land on one that you think is right," he says. "It definitely was a process but it's such an important aspect of the character that you have to get it right."

Hardy -- also a producer -- spent a lot of time working on Venom's voice, but was more hands-off when it came to his look, according to Fleischer. "Early on in the process he would record different voices on his computer and put them in Garage Band and add filters and send them to me for feedback," Fleischer says. "They ranged from more kind of energetic and funny to really dark and scary." They ended up somewhere in the middle where Venom is alternately menacing and kind of a pal. That's Venom's general vibe throughout the film.

The tongue arguably doesn't get as much play in the movie as the trailer might imply. When it does show itself, it's unruly, almost disconnected from the rest of Venom's body, especially in fight scenes. During a battle between Venom and fellow symbiote Riot, their tongues point skyward. 

But how long is Venom's tongue? "That's a great question," Fleischer says. "I don't know but we can probably find out. It's pretty significant."

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.