BOP Interview: Karl Urban
By Ryan Mazie
September 19, 2012
It is everybody’s dream to become their childhood superhero. Actor Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings, RED, The Bourne Supremacy) is lucky enough to have brought that dream to reality twice - first by taking on the iconic role of Bones McCoy in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, and again by starring as Judge Dredd, a comic he read as a teenager. In Boston to promote the hyper-stylized, bloody-yet-beautiful popcorn action flick, Urban said that Dredd 3D is unlike most pictures he has seen. “I really like the fact that…you are given a limited amount of information about the character and you go along for the ride,” said Urban. “This film does what a film should never do, which is momentarily take the audience out of the picture. You’re in the middle of a gunfight…and you are transfixed by the beauty of the image, and for that moment you are essentially out of the story and looking at it like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful,’ and then (bangs table) you are slapped right back into the movie.”
With a breakneck speed, clocking in at 95 minutes, Dredd stars Urban as the titular judge, jury, and executioner in a distant future who spends most of the film entrapped in a 200 story building that is a nest for criminal activity. Tasked with evaluating a psychic rookie (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby), the two figures of the law punch, shoot, blast, and set afire their way up to the top floor to capture a ruthless drug lord controlling the city known as Ma-Ma (Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey).
Urban’s Dredd sees the world as black and white, while Thirlby’s rookie lawwoman character Anderson is the human connection for audiences. “She’s really in many ways the heart of the piece. And it is through her that you come to understand more about Dredd. She humanizes Dredd,” said Urban who went on to comment on his working relationship with the actress he spends the near entirety of the film acting against, “It was one of the most rewarding, collaborative experiences that I’ve had. And I think in many ways, this is her movie. This is the story of a rookie cop and her journey to getting her stripes and she knocks it out of the park.”
While building chemistry with your co-star might be the most difficult part of the acting process, Urban had the even bigger challenge of figuring out how one acts when his lower jaw is the only body part not covered up in police armor. However, he would not have played the helmet-wearing lawman differently. “Anyone who reads Dredd knows that you never see his face and that lends itself to the enigma of the character. To do it any other way was a non-starter,” said Urban, “But that was compounded by the fact that the character of Dredd operates in a pretty narrow bandwidth already. For me, I had to identify every single opportunity that I could to humanize the character; that’s why the humor became so important - finding the parts where he is compassionate.”
Urban spent four months in South Africa shooting the film, “I was wearing a leather motorbike uniform, body armor, and a helmet in the 80 plus degree South African sun,” he recalled, “But, I enjoyed that in a sort of sadomasochist way; that discomfort lent itself well to its character.”
At least Urban finds himself in a more breathable costume in the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness sequel that he remained tight-lipped on. Also an action film, Urban said he enjoyed switching up the characters he plays. While Dredd has a tough skill set and an even tougher armory, Urban said, “[Bones’] heroism isn’t defined by action it’s by altruism. It’s by being a good friend, a loyal colleague.”
Given early kudos from press and audiences, one of Dredd’s hardest selling points may not be the film itself, but it’s 3D presentation. “To me [the 3D] elevates this movie,” Urban reasoned, “What I understand is there is a certain degree of 3D fatigue that people are feeling, because let’s be frank - there have been a few movies that have been in 3D that have been rather exploitative and the quality of those films haven’t lived up to the medium. But this film was shot in 3D with an Oscar-winning cinematographer [Slumdog Millionaire’s Anthony Dod Mantle], and the work in it is phenomenal. I’d urge anybody, if they are going to see this film, they’ve got to see it in 3D.”
Starring in comic strips since 1977 in the UK, Dredd is still a lesser-known comic book hero to most audiences. Asked why those unfamiliar should see Dredd 3D, Urban responded with his own question, “Let me ask you – what did you know about Indiana Jones before Raiders of the Lost Ark? You start at one adventure, and then you launch into the next and that’s what we have here.”
Dredd 3D opens in theaters September 21st in 3D and 2D presentations.