Karl Urban Interview
Karl Urban Interview
Karl Urban, star of the action-packed Dredd 3D, talks to View’s Matthew Turner about the film’s keeping to the style and themes of the classic comic, shooting a film in leather and bringing justice to Mega-City One.
What attracted you to the part and how did you get involved?

Karl Urban

What attracted me? Well, to put it into context, when I was a teenager I didn’t read many comics but Judge Dredd was the comic I did read. I got a call from my agent one day, informing me that Alex Garland had written a script, Judge Dredd, and would I be interested? I said most definitely, she sent it to me, I read it, and I thought that Alex had done an amazing job of delivering an action-packed, character-driven narrative that was honourable to the source material.

Certainly it was the Dredd I knew from my teenage years, so I was immediately interested and I was also aware of some of the creative elements involved and I thought that that would be a good indication that the material would be well executed, so it was on that basis that I decided to proceed. I took a meeting with [writer Alex Garland, producer Allon Reich, producer Andrew Macdonald and director Pete Travis] and after that meeting they called up and offered me the role.
You’re a big Dredd fan, obviously. The adaptation is pretty close, but he seems to enjoy what he does a lot more than in the comic incarnation. That’s presumably much more down to you than the script, so why did you give him that particular end moment?

Karl Urban

If that’s you’re interpretation of it then I’m not going to contest that. I was very cognisant of the fact that the Dredd that I portrayed had a wariness about him that was brought on by years and years of being in the shit. And to me, one of the important elements, always, in the comics was Dredd’s humour, that dry humour that was prevalent right throughout the comics and that was the challenge in approaching the character, was how to humanise him.

And especially as [you're] playing a character where the audience doesn’t see your eyes, [it's] really important to look for what humanises him. So in terms of speaking about that particular moment, I think it all comes back to one of the functions of Dredd which was to protect human life, and in our story there’s a catastrophic loss of innocent life. And so that has a significant impact on the character, you can see it immediately after it happens in the way that he treats the villains in the piece, the way he treats the perp, he gets very violent with him and then again that scene you were discussing, the way it’s like that, is because of that.
You mentioned the audience can’t see the eyes: you have to wear the helmet for the entire film. How was that? Obviously you went in there knowing you wouldn’t reveal your face and so forth...

Karl Urban

It was a huge challenge.
Was it heavy?

Karl Urban

No. I think the costume designers did an extraordinary job of designing that uniform. It had to be realistic, it had to speak of the environment, it had to be protective. These guys get shot just riding their bikes around the streets. And so it was one of those elements that you had to get used to, and I wore the uniform about two weeks before we started shooting to sort of feel comfortable in it.
How was it interacting with your co-stars wearing your helmet though?

Karl Urban

It was interesting. It took some getting used to. It was a challenge, it’s definitely a challenge. The eyes are one of the most valuable tools an actor has, so when you take that away you have to start thinking about all the other elements you have at your disposal, so the voice becomes very important, and then, obviously, the physicality of the character, how you do what you do speaks volumes. And for me I guess the most interesting discovery was having the thought and feeling the emotion, it was amazing what would come through and what would transmit because there are subtle indications throughout your whole body when you feel a certain way or you think a certain thing and it’s just about having the confidence about how it comes through.
You’ve not just got the helmet, you’ve also got Dredd the character, there’s no real arc for him throughout the film, is there, compared to [co-star Olivia Thirlby]'s character?

Karl Urban

Well no, there is. There is an arc through the film. Respectfully, I disagree. Dredd does something at the end of this film that he would never do at the beginning. It is a character-driven film, the relationship between Anderson and Dredd is telling in many different regards, and it certainly does speak volumes about the journey that Dredd takes.

In Dredd’s world things are very black and white. At the beginning of the film she’s a fail; not only is she a fail but she’s also a mutant. And by the end of the film he is somewhere completely different, to the point where he’s actually starting to question things. And if you know your Dredd, you know that that is a very, very important crack in his psyche and you can see that through the more mature writings of [Dredd comic book writer] John Wagner, when he’d go into stories like Origins and America and stuff like that. In his later writing the character of Dredd is questioning the big lie, he’s questioning the very foundations of the justice system, and in our story that little shift in his psyche, it’s a tiny thing, but it’s huge.
Did you talk to Sylvester Stallone at some point and did you watch the 1995 movie?

Karl Urban

Yeah, I remember seeing the film when it came out. I have never spoken to Mr. Stallone.
What do you think about the first movie and do you think people will compare the two?

Karl Urban

Well, it’s not my job to voice an opinion about Mr. Stallone’s film. If other people wish to do so then I thoroughly encourage the healthy debate. Tonally, they’re quite different. His film was a product of its time. Joel Schumacher was making fluorescent Batman movies at the time, so you have to put it into context.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

Karl Urban

Yeah, I mean I’ve got a few, I’ve got many. I love Olivia’s scene where she is psychically, mentally, probing Wood’s character, that’s one of my favourites.
Slowly and surely you’re chipping off more and more geek-centric properties with Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and now this. Is that a deliberate strategy?

Karl Urban

No, no. Just dumb luck. I’ve happened to be involved with some very popular material over the years and I probably never would have done Dredd if it wasn’t for the fact that I read it as a teenager, and I knew the material, and I think that is perhaps why some American actors didn't jump on it, it being an ostensibly British comic.
Is that the same with everything: you sort of do the things you’re familiar with and that you’re keen on?

Karl Urban

Certainly something like Star Trek, then yeah, sure, I grew up watching that and to be given the opportunity to work with J.J. and that team was a massive opportunity. But equally I’ve done stuff that’s not Sci-Fi, fantasy genre stuff, like Red or the Bourne Supremacy or New Zealand films, like Out of the Blue. I don’t know what I’m going to do next, I don’t know until I read the script and respond to the character.

To me it’s all about the character and the story, and certainly in Dredd I felt that it was; it’s a character-driven piece. It’s not a special effects driven piece, although we do have yummy bits in the film. That’s how I describe special effects. It’s a technical term, yummy bits. But really the glue of what this film’s about is these characters, how they treat each other, how they feel about each other and the situation they are in. To me that’s one of the most interesting elements about this movie.
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Content updated: 23/05/2019 14:09

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