Since making his debut in the U.S. back in 2002 in GHOST SHIP, Karl Urban has been a staple in genre films year after year. Starting with his part as Éomer in Peter Jackson's epic adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING in the LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy, Urban then became involved in other geek-friendly properties such as THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, DOOM and PATHFINDER.
However, it was his brilliant take on the character of Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, a role popularized by DeForrest Kelley in the original STAR TREK series, in J.J. Abrams' reboot of the brand that really cemented Urban as an actor to keep your eyes on. A strong supporting role in RED and a villainous turn in the otherwise forgettable PRIEST later and Urban finds himself at the front of a restart of Judge Dredd.
17 years after Sylvester Stallone's version, Urban isn't dropping catchphrases or mugging for the camera as the judge, jury and executioner in Pete Travis' vision of the British comic character, with an assist from Alex Garland's script. Instead he's taking DREDD 3D back to the roots of the famed Judge as read on the page by its fans. He's seriously violent with a dry sense of humor, and he's ready to show that a hard R comic book film is entirely possible when staying true to the source material.
Karl Urban is definitely an intense interview subject. While his demeanor could easily be mistaken as standoffish, Urban is actually anything but. Ask him a question, and he's likely to take a few moments to collect himself before delivering an answer that's calculated and well thought out. There is no rambling to his words, making for a highly intelligent discussion filled with responses into which he's put a good amount of effort.
Urban has been all over the place as of late to get the word out on DREDD 3D, and, when he stopped in Miami not too long ago to talk about the film, I was more than happy to sit down and discuss the reboot with him, while also taking my best crack at seeing if he'd reveal any new information on the next RIDDICK installment or STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. Enjoy...
The Infamous Billy The Kidd -So, with all the baggage of the [Sylvester] Stallone version of JUDGE DREDD, were you any bit apprehensive about doing a reboot when they first approached you, knowing, going in, that you would have to... That you already had a built in obstacle of trying to change perceptions of the character and the franchise?
Karl Urban - That wasn’t really a concern of mine. I just thought... The Stallone film came out so long ago that it kind of... Lost all relevance. There’s been such an evolution in comic book adaptions just over the last ten years alone. So that wasn’t my concern. I guess my prime concern was one of authenticity. Having read Dredd as a teenager... I didn’t read many comics, but that’s one I did read. It was kind of special to me, and I wanted to make sure that if this was something that I was going to be involved with, that the material was going to be treated with respect. Thankfully, it became pretty apparent through reading Alex Garland’s script that he treated the material with that respect. He had written a character driven, action-packed narrative, and I found it to be very true to the character that I knew. That’s why I became involved.
The Kidd - Do you feel any type of pressure when you’re doing fan driven types of properties? Because you’ve been attached, outside of DREDD, between the STAR TREK franchise and even DOOM before that, do you find any type of pressure in trying to make it something that then goes back to the the original source material, and making sure that, on top of it being a strong film, that it also caters to that core fan base that’s going to come out and support it?
Karl Urban - I feel it’s definitely important, yeah. In the case of DREDD, I would obviously classify myself as a long-term fan, so I felt a certain obligation and responsibility to get it right, just because of that. I know that Alex Garland felt exactly the same way. I was really... I think it’s a real strength of the film, that Alex actually collaborated with John Wagner, the creator, to ensure that he was happy. And out of that, some great notes came.
The Kidd - The helmet is a big deal. Because, as you know, it’s been very commonplace in superhero movies and comic book films for the hero to be unmasked, or for the talent to go a long period of time as they are. But the helmet never comes off. How early in conception was that established, that you’re going to make sure that stays on at all times?
Karl Urban - Well I think that Alex Garland had a meeting with John Wagner, before the script was written, and said, “To do DREDD properly, we’re going to need 200 million dollars. But we don’t have that. So some of the elements that you’re gonna see in this film aren’t going to be quite reflective of some of the elements in the comic, but one thing that I can guarantee you is that the character of Dredd will be the character of Dredd that you have written.” And that was central and important.
The Kidd - Does that pose an obstacle for you as an actor, knowing that your eyes as a tool are eliminated? That everything you have to use is literally just from nose down, in those very tight quarters. Does that pose an extra challenge for you, to get across a humanity in this character where he is humanized, and not so much mechanical, in a ROBOCOP kind of way?
Karl Urban - Yeah, it was a huge challenge. And it wasn’t just the fact that Dredd doesn’t reveal his identity, that he wears the helmet all the time. You know, obviously, the thing is that there is no alter-ego. What you see is what you get. It's compounded by the fact that the character of Dredd is a highly trained member of the Hall of Justice. He has been trained to keep his emotions in check. So that here, you’re working within a very narrow bandwidth. So it was important for me to identify what humanizes the character, and to make sure that the character did not become inaccessible. So the humor was very important to me. If you’ve read any Dredd comics, quite often you find this great dry sense of humor, and I really responded to that, and we tried to put in as much of that as we could. To me, that humanizes that character, you know? It was important to find where Dredd’s compassion lay. There’s a point in the film where he has an opportunity to kill a couple of youths who are threatening to kill him with firearms, and he chooses not to do so. That, to me, speaks of his humanity. You can see his humanity in the way he reacts after the massacre of people in the bloc. There’s a gear shift, a significant gear shift within Dredd, and that also speaks volumes of his humanity. The fact that... These people, that it’s his job to protect, and ostensibly he’s failed to do so. So the gloves kind of come off at this point.
The Kidd - There’s been a movement in comic book films, kind of starting with THE DARK KNIGHT, to do everything a little more realistic, but darker. A lot grittier. But DREDD lends itself to that by the premise of this very pessimistic view of what the future is. Why do you think that there is this kind of rush to put everything in this one particular box, which then doesn’t necessarily keep it true to this source material?
Karl Urban - Well, I don’t think that it doesn’t keep it true to the source material, I just think that when you’re adapting content from one medium into another,, you have to make choices. Choices were made in the early 90s in comic book character movies that, viewed through the lens of time, those choices are dated. So I feel, to keep the material fresh and interesting, to keep that evolution happening, there needs to be change. Otherwise we’re just going to continue making carbon copy movies, with carbon copy stylistic choices, and let’s face it, that’s going to get boring real quick. So I personally think it’s a good thing.
The Kidd - Is there any other way that DREDD could have been made without it being ultraviolent or, especially with a hard R rating, because without some of those elements, you’re talking about a softened stance, a softened perception of what Dredd is, and I think that’s kind of what the Stallone version did?
Karl Urban - Yeah. Look. You could, but to be fair, if you’ve ever read Judge Dredd comics, they’re pretty graphic. They’re pretty... At times they’re pretty dark. And we were endeavouring to represent... Accurately represent, as much as we could, given the limitations of our time and our budget, that world that many of the creators involved in making this movie love.
The Kidd - I know that you’re attached to the next RIDDICK film. That’s already been shot. It’ll be nine years between the last film and when this one gets released, and I know that Vin Diesel talked about DEAD MAN STALKING being a very hard R, kind of a darker tone. So I want to get a sense of what the shift in tone is between the last film and where this one is going.
Karl Urban - I’m not going to say too much about that, except that to say I had a great time getting back together again with Vin and David Twohy and sort of having the opportunity to play Vaako again. I’ve seen a little bit of it, and I think that this film is going to be closer to PITCH BLACK than CHRONICLES.
The Kidd - I know you got into a little bit of trouble for maybe possibly revealing the STAR TREK 2 villain, at the time, earlier this summer, so I’m not going to about that. I know J.J. Abrams is very tight lipped about what is and what isn’t in STAR TREK 2, or STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, I guess is what they’re rumored to be calling it now. What can you tell us about where this next chapter of the story is going, because it seems like by all indications and hints, it’s going to take a much darker turn in terms of what they’re looking to do.
Karl Urban - Mmm. Nothing.
The Kidd - [Laughs] You’re very very quiet. Is it that everything is kind of tight-lipped as far as moving forward, or do you have any idea when we’re going to see any parts of it? Or is everything very much under lock and key right now?
Karl Urban - Yeah, here’s the thing. I totally respect the need for secrecy. It’s a shame when you go to a movie or... Six months out, a year out from that movie coming out, everybody knows everything about the movie. Kind of defeats the purpose. I like the idea that there are elements, characters, stories, that are saved for the audience. For the experience of going into the movie theatre and watching the movie. So, you know, I totally respect it.
The Kidd - Alright, thank you very much.
Karl Urban - Thank you very much.
DREDD 3D is currently in theatres in the UK and opens in the U.S. this Friday, September 21.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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