Dredd 3D - Karl Urban interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
KARL Urban talks about some of the challenges of playing Judge Dredd in a new movie version of the iconic comic book character and tackling things such as the violence and keeping on the helmet.
He also discusses his own career to date, coming from New Zealand to Hollywood and why getting back on board the Starship Enterprise for the Star Trek sequel was good fun.
Q. I think this is the Dredd film that the fans have been waiting for…
Karl Urban: It’s the one they’ve deserved for the last 35 years.
Q. What did you think when you first heard that a script existed? Were you sceptical when you first heard they were trying to do another one?
Karl Urban: That’s an interesting question. I haven’t been asked that. Perhaps initially I had reservations but as soon as I read Alex Garland’s script it was overwhelmingly clear to me that the material had been treated with respect and it was well researched. I felt that the collective sum of the creative elements involved would ensure a good execution.
Q. Does the fact your face is not seen for the movie come into consideration? Is there a temptation to remove the helmet?
Karl Urban: I didn’t consider that at all because, to me, character acting is how you do what you do. Yes, you don’t see my eyes but you hear my voice and the physicality of the character takes on a heightened significance. It was an amazing challenge and what I found was just having the faith in the fact that if you think the thought and feel the emotion, then the audience will too.
Q. What was it like putting on the helmet for the first time?
Karl Urban: It was good. I thought the wardrobe designers did a fantastic job of adapting one of the most loved comic book characters in the uniform and transferring it into a reality. This is set in a post-Holocaust society, the judicial system is struggling to maintain control over the population and the uniform had to be reflective of that. And that’s why there’s no spandex. We have a leather motorbike suit. The helmet had to be chunky, it had to be protective and body armour. These guys just get shot riding down the road. So, all of that speaks volumes about the world in which this character lives.
Q. How cumbersome was it to wear the outfit and perform the stunts and fight scenes?
Karl Urban: That was a challenge [laughs]!
Q. And how did you overcome that?
Karl Urban: Well, I actually put that uniform on a full two weeks before we started shooting. I wore it every day just to get used to it. I wanted it to feel like a second skin. And it took some getting used to.
Q. You also did a rigorous boot camp, I understand. Did that help too?
Karl Urban: It did, yeah. I worked with an ex-British military lot and they taught us weapon safety, how to move through spaces, how to clear spaces. We even went so far as to have mock-ups of the Law Giver that contained a Bebe gun inside. And we went through live firing exercises with the stunt team where we would literally be getting into fire-fights with the stunt team. They would be secretly deposited through the set and we would have to go and clear the set as a team. And we’d be firing at each other.
Q. What appealed to you about Dredd when you first read the comics? I gather you were 16-years-old?
Karl Urban: Yeah, I was a teenager. I just responded to this cool, enigmatic lawman. The humour… I loved the dry humour in it. I loved the characters within Mega City One and the morality tales that were quite often told. I loved the science fiction element of it as well, having been a big fan of movies like Blade Runner and Alien and Star Wars. I guess I enjoyed the escapist element of the sort of futuristic vision. Really, Dredd in its early incarnations was a response to Thatcherism and I liked how it explored freedoms that you and I take for granted and things that would seem so preposterous, like sugar being legal. In Dredd’s world, it’s illegal. So, that was interesting.
Q. You started acting at the age of eight, so was Dredd a character you always thought you might like to play after you’d first been introduced to him?
Karl Urban: No, I’ve never really been like that. I’ve never really identified characters…
Q. You went after the role of Bones in Star Trek, though, didn’t you?
Karl Urban: Yeah, sure I did. But again as a young fella watching those characters or reading the comics, it’s not natural to think ‘I’m going to do that one day’. But it just so happens that I’ve found myself in a position where I was given the opportunity to play those characters.
Q. Going back to your earlier career and films like Out Of The Blue, which is a great film, how hard did you have to work to make the transition from an actor in New Zealand to one of Hollywood’s leading men?
Karl Urban: Well, it just feels like a long process. I’ve been really blessed to have worked with some of the best directors in the world and to have worked with some of the most amazing actors. So, I’ve watched them and learned from them. Coming from New Zealand it seems like such a distant, impossible dream to have. But through a certain degree of perseverance I’ve just sort of stuck in there.
Q. You live in New Zealand still…
Karl Urban: That’s correct.
Q. Is it important to you to keep a base there rather than move to somewhere like LA?
Karl Urban: Oh very much so. I love living in New Zealand. That’s where I want to raise my family, it’s where my family lives. It’s culturally what grounds me. I couldn’t conceive of permanently living somewhere else. But one of the cool things about my job is that I get to go and live in different parts of the world for three or four months while I make a film. On Dredd, for example, I was living in Capetown… so, a good experience.
Q. Equally, does that help in avoiding some of the bright lights and celebrity trappings of fame?
Karl Urban: Yeah. To me, fame is a by-product of what you do if you do it well. It’s never been my goal. I just really want to work with the highest collaborator that I possibly can. And I’ve been very fortunate to work with some truly gifted people. To me, that’s the goal – to continue to work with people whose work I have admired for such a long time.
Q. Some of the roles you’ve taken on in some massive franchises – Lord of the Rings, Bourne, Star Trek and now Dredd – inevitably bring a huge fan-base and a huge level of expectation. Is that something you consider going in? Or is it more of a pressure to play someone like your character in Out Of The Blue, who is based on someone real?
Karl Urban: Well here’s the thing… firstly, I put enough pressure on myself without thinking about how fan expectations [come into play]. My sole focus when I’m working on a project is to make that character as specific as I possibly can and to tell the story that the writer has written to the best of my ability. And then everything else is beyond my area of concern. Certainly, I think on a project like Out Of The Blue, which has sensitivities about it, you’re a little bit more cognisant of, and a little bit more aware of how people will feel. And you have to be. You have to tread very sensitively and very carefully.
Q. You mention the sole focus on characters, does that mean when preparing to play someone like Dredd you devoted yourself to re-reading the comics for inspiration? Or did you look at other sources like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, for instance, who Dredd was modelled on?
Karl Urban: No. I didn’t. I felt that all the resources that I needed were in the comics and in the script. And it was all there, even down to the description of his voice. It was described in one panel as a saw cutting through bone. So, that was really where I started from. I thought it would be a mistake to try and base my performance on somebody else’s.
Q. You actually worked with Alex in giving him less to say…
Karl Urban: Yeah, it’s funny [laughs]. Alex collaborated with John Wagner [original Dredd co-creator] and he showed John a version of the script. And John loved it but one of his few notes was: “Dredd says less.” And so Alex actually reduced the amount of dialogue that Dredd had. And then I got that script and I went through it and put these big lines through Dredd’s dialogue… everything that I found that he didn’t need to say that wasn’t absolutely necessary. If it took too many words to say it, I cut a line through it. And when I opened up my script for a script meeting we had in Capetown, Alex sort of saw the lines through the script and enquired about it. And I said: “I love this dialogue but Dredd says less!” And he said: “Oh, that’s funny… that’s exactly what Wagner said.” It was very clear that we were all on the same page. Alex is a huge Dredd fan, I was a huge Dredd fan and it was a really wonderful collaboration.
Q. Is there a story from the comic books you’d particularly like to see done next if you get a sequel?
Karl Urban: Yeah, I’ve got lots. It could be something like the origins story or Dead Man’s Walk into Necropolis, which I think is fantastic. Or there’s wonderful little vignettes like Raider, which is a skeletal story, very simple, about an ex-judge who was going out onto the streets and embraced vigilantism. But for such a small, compact little story it has a lot of possibilities and a lot of scope.
Q. Are you hopeful of getting a sequel?
Karl Urban: Well, I’m happy with this film. This film, to me, is an instant cult classic. If we get to make more, then great, because I’d love to continue the journey but we’re at a point where we’re handing this film over to an audience and I just hope that they have as much fun watching it as we had making it.
Q. Are you glad that they didn’t tone down the violence in favour of a 12A certificate? So many comic book films, including the new Batman films, seem to want a higher certificate and pull themselves back. Even Stallone toned it down in his version of Judge Dredd, whereas this Dredd just goes for it. Are you happy with that?
Karl Urban: Well, yeah. The violence and the graphic material was already a part of the script when I read it. I certainly think that it’s a great antidote for some of the more lighter fare that’s come out recently.
Q. Do you feel a greater fondness for Dredd than some of the other characters you’ve played?
Karl Urban: Don’t get me wrong, I would love the opportunity to play this character again. But the type of guy I am, I just don’t like to get ahead of myself. I like to live in the moment and not live in the vacuum of expectation. I just really want to enjoy the fact that, hey, we’ve made a really cool film and the rest is beyond my area of concern.
Q. How nice was it to be able to walk back onto the Enterprise as Bones?
Karl Urban: It was good fun. They’re a great bunch. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. JJ is one of the best directors around.
Q. How much more of you can we expect to see in Star Trek 2?
Karl Urban: I think you get to see more of everybody because we don’t spend any time establishing the characters as they’re already now established. So, we hit the ground running.
Q. If you did get to play Dredd again and considering the ethos that Dredd says less, how would you go about revealing more about him?
Karl Urban: Well, I think that we would continue to approach the character with the same degree of focus and attention to detail as we have this time around. I don’t see anything changing there. One of the wonderful things about this movie is that there’s a real humanity within Dredd. And you get to see that in moments. Say for example there’s a loss of innocent human life and you get to see a significant gear shift within Dredd. You get to see a wonderful weariness about the character. You actually feel like he’s been through a lot. You get to see his compassion when he chooses a different setting on his gun. He could kill the kids who point guns at him, or he could stun them. And then there’s the comedy. He’s got a wonderful, dry sense of humour. And to me the challenge was to find Dredd’s humanity.