We talk to the star about his role as the new Judge Dredd . . . and also manage to throw in a Star Trek 2 question!
You might want to see Karl Urban in Dredd but that will be difficult. In keeping with how the character is portrayed in the comics, Urban wears his helmet for the entire film. The only part of his face exposed is his mouth and chin. “To do it any other way was a non-starter. You never see his face,” said Urban during a conversation in Boston.
Urban was eager to do the part from the moment he read the script. “I read Dredd as a teenager,” he recalled. “The thing I responded to is this tough, enigmatic lawman.” Indeed once he signed on his research included getting a hold of every Dredd comic book he could get his hands on. “I was able to identify elements from the comics that I wanted to incorporate into my character.”
In the film, which totally ignores the 1995 movie with Sylvester Stallone, Dredd is one of the people enforcing the law in a post-apocalyptic world. The story focuses on him and a psychic rookie, played by Olivia Thirby, fighting a gang pushing a new drug called “Slo Mo,” which allows users to experience time slowed to a crawl. This leads to some imaginative and very bloody effects in the movie, and Urban was okay with that. “It was all there in the script,” he said. “Tonally that was the vision for the film.”
In spite of the violence, what attracted the actor to the character was that he was an old fashioned movie hero. “I was drawn to Dredd’s brand of heroism. He’s just a man. He doesn’t have superpowers,” explained Urban. It was his resentment of the younger character which eventually evolves into grudging respect that allowed Urban to find some humanity in Dredd.
As an actor the native New Zealander has had remarkable good fortune in finding connections with some of the most successful franchises in film and television. He was on Xena: Warrior Princess (as Julius Caesar), and appeared in The Lord of the Rings (as Eomer), The Chronicles of Riddick (as Vaako), and perhaps, most notably, as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in J. J Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek for which he was singled out among an exceptionally strong cast for creating a younger version of the character originally played by the late DeForest Kelley.
He returns in next year’s Star Trek In Darkness and when asked about what he can share about that film he smiled and said, “Well, nothing.”
However while he was tightlipped about his future as Dr. McCoy, he did noted that enjoyed playing the differences with Dredd. “Bones’ heroism is not defined by action. It’s defined by altruism, being a loyal colleague and friend.” He recalled watch the entire original series on DVD with his then eight year old son two years before he got the call to play the part, and so when he was cast he had already had more than one immersion into Star Trek.
Oddly, in spite of his fondness for the Judge Dredd comic books and Star Trek and a filmography with a heavy presence of science fiction and fantasy, Urban says he has no special affinity for the genre and is just as proud of his non-genre films. However he can’t help but notice that if Dredd is a hit, he will be attached to two major science fiction movie franchises.
“We want the audience to connect,” said Urban of the independent production company that made the film. “If they don’t, we’re okay we’re that. We made the film we wanted to make.” As for any future Dredd movies, at this point Urban isn’t allowing himself to speculate. “I’d certainly love to have the opportunity,” he said. “Audiences like these characters. They like spending time with them.”
If Dredd clicks with viewers, they are likely to be spending a lot more time with those characters in the years to come.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.