Topher Grace discusses bringing the character of Venom to life, working with Sam Raimi and the cast, and what his favorite scenes in the new film are
Best known for his work on the immensely popular That '70s Show, Topher Grace has a lot in store for fans of the Spider-Man films. Playing the dual role of Eddie Brock/Venom in Spider-Man 3, Grace seems to mix the charm that he brought to Eric Forman on That '70s Show, with the intensity of the villains that inhabit the comic's lore.
THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!
Was it easy for you to jump into Spider-Man 3 without seeing a script?
Topher Grace: Oh no, I read three fourths of the script. Thomas (Haden Church; Flint Marko/Sandman) was cast earlier than me. I remember feeling jealous when he was cast. I didn't know there was more than one bad guy.
Was Venom a character that was irresistible for you to play?
Topher Grace: Yeah, on so many levels. One, I'm a huge fan of the first two films. The second was better than the first which is so rare, and it's clear that they've got this well oiled machine. They know exactly what they're doing. The actors and Sam. On another level, I was a really big fan, when I was a kid, of the comic book. Literally, when the character of Venom was being born I was getting really into comic books. I was reading Todd McFarlane, who was this kind of new illustrator, and just kind of blowing my mind. He was doing Amazing Spider-Man, he was doing his own Spider-Man comic book.
I felt like I had the inside track. No one else should play it. In fact when Sam told me, "I want you to play Venom." I kinda had to bite my tongue and say, "Well, tell me about the character..." because I hadn't negotiated for money yet.
Did you have to go deep inside yourself to bring up the darker side of the Venom character?
Topher Grace: I'm a bad actor to answer this because a lot of them are like, "I had to go to such a dark place" and really get into that. I think it's all in the same lane, all that stuff. Happiness, sadness, being mean and being nice. They're all very close to one another. My goal in my career is to do movies that are both... I hate when people say is it a comedy or a drama? My favorite movies are kind of both. Just like life, one day you're not crying all day, one day you're not laughing all day. I like to play characters that have that kind of balance, too.
Did you take any souvenirs from the set?
Topher Grace: No man, I forgot to. It was like a year long process making the film. You don't ever know when it's ending exactly. I think I'm gonna try and get the newspaper of me getting fired. Where they print the retraction on it. I might try to get a bust of venom.
Did you bring your love of the Spider-Man comic books into this process?
Topher Grace: Yeah, I think there are two kind of origins to Eddie Brock. There's one where he's more Peter's peer, which is Ultimate Spider-Man. There's one that's a little muddled, it's kind of told in flashbacks which is kind of the original version. I guess what I really brought to it was a kind of a fear at the beginning, which I shared with Sam which is, "I don't think I'm the right guy to play this role." In the original comic book he's 40 and really musclebound. I had to work out for 6 months. I could never get to where he was in the comic book.
What Sam described to me was he wanted to take a best of both worlds approach. Kind of make him this evil twin brother of Peter Parker. Who's basically a case study, he's similar, they have the same job, they're after the same girl and even Eddie has the edge. Even though they're similar, he's the better dresser. He clearly has more money; better flirt. They both received the same power and one of those two didn't have someone like Uncle Ben, a mentor, to say, "If you take responsibility for this power how would that turn out?" Peter used it for personal gain, originally. What's great about Eddie is that even though he's really slick, he kind of hides a very hollow interior. He's got a really great exterior but he's got nothing inside.
Peter is just the opposite. He might not have his whole act together but his core is very strong. That's why he's able to kind of shed this power. Eddie just totally embraces it.
What was the filming process like for you?
Topher Grace: I was off and on. I'm on one fourth of the film so I kinda was able to get breaks, but I had to keep working out through the film. Which, it's probably not a surprise to anyone, is a first for me. You have to eat right too which is really the bummer of working out. The working out isn't nearly as hard as eating and I had to eat aggressively because I lose weight very easily. I had to stay blonde for a year. Which is not my cup of tea. It kind of was a year long, constant thing.
The best was when we went to New York because I have an apartment in New York and I'd been missing living there. To be able to roll out of bed, get a cup of coffee, a newspaper and then walk over to this blockbuster film set, and when I'm finished go out to dinner somewhere was great.
What was that like with fans of Spider-Man on the street?
Topher Grace: It was great. The extras on the set were chanting "Spider-Man, Spider-Man..." and then all the people watching start chanting Spider-Man. Then Spider-Man zips in and I'm like, "Where am I?" I'm taking pictures and I'm running up to him, interacting with him. I had one of the great New York scenes where all that stuff's falling off that building and I get to run up to him, kind of make fun of him. Tobey playing that character, I'm used to that. I was a fan of the first two films. The first day for me was in L.A.. We were at the Bugle and Toby's there and J.K.'s (Simmons; J. Jonah Jameson) like, "Get in here!" I'm in the Bugle, which I've seen the set in the first two films. I've been saying, you know when Universal Studios says, "Come be in the movies!" I'm like, "I'm in it!" It was great. I'm just a big a fan of it. It's funny. I was supposed to be mad but I'm smiling from ear to ear. I couldn't stop.
What was the process of becoming Venom like?
Topher Grace: Clearly I didn't like working out. It was one hour to get in the suit... then four hours to attach the prosthetic make-up. It was just a lot of patience. I couldn't even read a newspaper. I had to stare straight ahead because they were all connected to my neck. They put in the fangs. They lift me up on wires, a couple of stories up. It's a process and by the way, at that point I'm ready to go home and I haven't even started acting yet! That's why Sam is the greatest director alive, because that guy would come up to me at just the right times and was like, "Hey buddy, let me show you something." He'd bring up the portable monitor and show me the shot. I'd go, "That's the coolest shot. If I wasn't in this that would be the coolest shot I'd ever seen in my life." And I'm the dude in it, he's a good motivator.
Are you signed on for anything else?
Topher Grace: Yeah, I did a movie, I just finished called Kids In America. It should be coming out next year. It's like American Graffiti but it takes place in the '80s; in '88. Ron Howard produced it so it's very similar and he's great. It's the opposite of this movie. It's an ensemble film. A lot of kids my age that I dig. Anna Faris is in it who's brilliant.
Do you think there's something tragic about your character in Spider-Man 3?
Topher Grace: Sam is great because he likes to find the humanity in everyone. No matter how dark the story. Eddie's is the darkest, I think, of anyone who has been in a Spider-Man movie. He's in a really bad way. Revenge, jealousy, it just consumes him. I really admire Sam because I think this is better than what happened in the comic book. Once he's Venom it's a lot of fun. Beforehand, Sam really wanted to find the humanity in the character and that was a hard thing to do. Watching the film and seeing people's reactions, there's a moment where, even if you don't agree with what Eddie is doing, you understand why he's doing it which is more than I can say for most bad guys. I actually think that makes for scarier bad guys because it connects them to you. It's not like I fell into a vat of acid and I want to take over the world. You kind of understand their motivations and wonder if you would have the same restraint that Peter has.
Would you play this character again if there was a Spider-Man 4?
Topher Grace: In terms of playing Venom again, whatever, can you guys recite what every single actor says when you ask them that question?
If there's a good script, the same team...
Topher Grace: (Laughs) You got it.
What about a spinoff film with just your character?
Topher Grace: Those haven't really worked well, have they? I'm looking for my Elektra.
You watched the film for the first time doing press in Tokyo?
Topher Grace: The best was Tobey hadn't seen it either. To sit next to Tobey Maguire and watch Spider-Man, we're dueling on screen and he and I are high fiving, I'm like, "What kind of an amazing experience is this?"
What are your favorite scenes in Spider-Man 3?
Topher Grace: I'm gonna give you a couple because it's gonna seem self centered. That one where I turn into Venom kind of blew my mind. When you're doing it its like Sam with a big bullhorn yelling, "Now it's your left shoulder!" You really feel stupid and I think even some of the crew was laughing. Its weird, it's not even like acting. It's like you're 5 years old. It's literally like pretend. You have to go to place of such deep, imagining everything; in front of a green screen. Seeing that done was incredible, with the score, the camera angles. I also think it's a cool scene.
I like that Sandman thing where you think it's boulders. That shot goes all the way around and he's trying to get up and he falls through himself, kind of. Also, when he sees the locket. I love what Sam does... I think my favorite part of the film is when you realize Tobey is gonna put the suit on again. He knows he shouldn't, all this stuff is going wrong in his life and you can feel his need to put that suit on without any words. That I thought, I don't know if it's Alvin Sargent or if it's Sam Raimi, I think it's both but they got you in an emotional place where it's really about substance abuse, this movie. The movie's really about forgiveness.
The suit is about, it's kind of like alcohol or cocaine, that will numb your demons and make you feel stronger. Then once you take it off you're like, "What have I just done?"
What do you think of Eddie basically sacrificing himself at the end?
Topher Grace: Are we gonna write about that? I felt pretty strongly that it should be that way. We all had conversations about that but I think of all the Spider-Man villains, the movie's about choices and he made bad choices. I felt like it was very important to the film. Especially because Sandman's on a very different journey, it highlights how different those two journeys are.
END OF SPOILER ALERT.
What do you have coming up next?
Topher Grace: I'm gonna work with Paul Weitz who directed In Good Company. We're gonna do another film together. He's the greatest director and he writes and directs, so its like so easy working with him. It all comes in one great package. He's a great guy, we get along really well.
What kind of film is it?
Topher Grace: I don't know how to classify it. It's kind of like In Good Company in the sense that it's not really a drama or a comedy...
It's a dramedy?
Topher Grace: I think it's more of a commada.
Spider-Man 3 swings into conventional theaters and IMAX on May 4 from Columbia Pictures.