Last week I got to see Dredd 3D and interrogate the Judge himself Karl Urban. Karl has had an interesting career and made a name for himself acting in such New Zealand based productions as Hercules, Xena and a little film series called Lord of the Rings.
Most readers however will probably know him from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek where he played Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Karl was super down to earth and it was great chatting with him about Dredd 3D and how it was bringing a property of which he was such a fan to life.
So, how are you enjoying Philadelphia so far?
I love Philadelphia. It’s cool, because the last time I was in Philadelphia I was on a tour for Red and I was about to make Dredd 3D. So in some ways I feel like I have kind of come full circle, because I am speaking to a lot of the same people.
It’s a weird sort of synchronicity. I had literally just been cast as Dredd when I was doing the Red tour.
You’re the top New Zealander on IMDB now even beating actors like Russell Crowe, what do you think growing up a Kiwi and your experiences in New Zealand influence your life as an actor?
Umm… first off Russell Crowe is an Australian. He was born in New Zealand, however we did a deal and shipped him over. There was a period they almost gave him back after the telephone incident. But after that they decided to put him on a stamp. (Laughs)
New Zealand is my home and I feel like it grounds me. My family and friends are very important to me and I couldn’t think of living anywhere else. If one was to live in Hollywood I could see how the business could become all consuming, where event your social interactions have a business agenda.
When I am in New Zealand I have a balance, and I get refueled.
What do you miss the most when you’re making films like Dredd 3D and Star Trek apart from you family?
Friends, surfing and my dog.
I read that you were a fan of Judge Dredd even as a child growing up and that is what brought you to the project. What was it about the character that spoke to you and made you a fan?
I think it was the combination of his tough no-nonsense attitude, combined with the humor. There were satirical elements in the comics but he had this great, very dry sense of humor that I responded to.
So it was very important for us whenever possible to incorporate that into the script. The humor was a very important tool to help humanize the character.
When doing comic adaptions loyalty to the subject matter is very important. How closely did you work with the creators of the original comics for Dredd 3D?
Alex Garland our producer worked very closely with John Wagner the creator of the character, I met him when he came out to South Africa where we shot the film. Alex had a very collaborative experience with John and he was actually a full paid member of our crew.
Alex showed John an early draft of the script and one of his few notes was “Dredd says less”. So in his next draft of the scrip Alex incorporated that note and a couple of months later I sat down with Alex for a pre-shoot scrip meeting. He looked over at my script and saw all these lines that I had drawn through my dialog.
He looked at me questioningly, and I said Alex I love this dialog but Dredd says less. (Laughs) So we went through and reduced it even further, because that is Dredd. He just has this laconic dry way about him. If you can say it in one sentence why take five?
So how difficult was it to convey emotion in Dredd 3D when you never remove your helmet during the entire film?
That was the supreme challenge. But it was made even more difficult by the fact that Dredd as a character is not prone to displays of emotion. So you are already operating in a particularly narrow bandwidth.
But I kind of feel that his brand of masculinity is a throwback to you know older archetypes that we have seen. So I was very aware of things like my voice being very important and the physicality of the character and how he goes about doing what he needs to do in this film.
I really used those tools as ways to communicate with the audience.
Speaking of which, how did you come up with the Dredd voice?
The voice I found in a panel in one of the comics in my research, I read every Dredd comic I could. In one comic I saw a description of his voice, which said his voice was like a saw cutting through bone.
I had to be mindful in our story Dredd at times uses his voice like a weapon. Whether it’s to intimidate, interrogate or to warn the public it had to be versatile.
The film opened up number 1 in the UK, if Dredd 3D gets a sequel are there any character arcs you’re excited about the possibility of as and actor and a fan?
If we got the opportunity I would definitely like to do a story, which involves one of Dredd’s greatest nemesis and that is Judge Death. To me I thought that would be the obvious go-to place in the way that Chris Nolan went to the Joker.
I think that would be fun and I think it would take the realistic tone of this film, even though we have a psychic in it and push it into new territory. The Slo-Mo of this film is a great device and story element, but you can’t do that again it’s a one trick pony.
You’re really going to have to find something else that really ticks those boxes that makes this movie as audio and video sumptuous as it is.
You’ve portrayed some pretty iconic characters in films like Star Trek, Lord or of the Rings and now Dredd 3D that have fairly established fanbases. Is it difficult preparing for a role and keeping in mind meeting fan expectation?
I never concern myself with elements that are beyond my control. People’s expectations are something that I just don’t have the time or the energy to think to take into account, when I am working.
I put enough pressure upon myself to do justice to the character and to deliver the most dimensional integrated character and I can. That is my responsibility and when I am making a film that is what I am focusing on.
Finally, I have to ask about Star Trek 2, what was it like working on a set under that kind of secrecy? I don’t think I saw anything leak out the entire shoot.
Well I am use to it. That is part of the process of making one of those films. I really respect that, because quite honestly I think it can be destructive to have too much information released about a film before it’s out; especially unofficial information.
People’s perceptions are so vital and important, especially their first impressions. So I totally respect J.J.’s necessity for secrecy.
So how do we see your character Bones evolve from the first film to the second?
He evolves over the course of two and a half hours. (Laughs) I am guessing maybe two hours twenty.