It's shockingly evident that Karl Urban has an "interview mode," which is quite different than his "normal human being mode." When I met Urban on Friday afternoon in his Toronto hotel room -- the actor is in town promoting "Dredd 3D," which is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival -- he was relaxed and noticeably jovial. At least until the questions started. Often glaring out the window at the Toronto skyline, what I had first feared was indifference to what we were discussing, was (thankfully) revealed to be Urban really thinking through each and every answer -- there's no regurgitated, autopilot answer for Urban. I'd label it "careful, yet thoughtful."
In "Dredd 3D," Urban plays the title character -- a futuristic judge living in a dystopian city who has the power to invoke sentencing for crimes on the spot -- who is investigating a skyscraper-type neighborhood where a mysterious new drug called Slo-Mo is being distributed. (When inhaled, Slo-Mo tricks the brain into seeing everything in slow motion, which, actually, looks kind of fun.) Here, Urban discusses his longtime love of Judge Dredd, the effect "Lord of the Rings" had on his career, and what goes into the process of playing Leonard "Bones" McCoy in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" franchise.
Oh, also, there was that time a Singapore newspaper reported that he married Nicole Kidman. (That's the other New Zealand born Urban, Keith.)
Karl Urban: Beautiful view, huh?
It is. And this is a nice room.
Yeah, I think it might be a bit nicer room than mine.
"Dredd" is very grim.
I like the fun, actually. I thought, when I read the script, that it was a fun movie. It's got a great sense of humor running through it.
It's a dry humor. I mean, yes, it presents a dystopian future that is pretty harsh. But, I think what I liked about the film is the sadness. There's a certain sadness to this film that you don't often get in this type of film.
Not every known actor would agree to wear a helmet that hides most of his face for the entire movie.
It was never a concern -- that's the character. I grew up reading "Dredd," so I was concerned that would be the only way to do it. And I just thought, Wow. What a wonderful opportunity with an extraordinary challenge.
And Dredd himself has quite a scowl for the entire film. In person, your face looks very pleasant in comparison.
Well, if you've ever read Judge Dredd comics, you see that. It was important for me that the character be identifiably Dredd. So, you know, it is what it is.
It's interesting that you grew up reading "Judge Dredd," do you look at this film as a reclamation project? For people who only know Dredd from the Sylvester Stallone movie that most people hate?
I never really had that agenda or thought about it like that. For me it was just like, "Wow, I can't believe I'm getting the opportunity to bring to life a comic book hero that I liked as a teenager." Because I had that connection from back then, I understood the character. I understood the fabric of the character and I'm aware of the challenges and the limitations. You know, he's a character that is highly trained law enforcement officer. He's the type of man who has his emotions squarely in check -- believing he feels these emotions, as we all do. But he's not one to show it, so, consequently, I'm operating within a very narrow bandwidth. And that was a huge challenge.
I'm not a big drug guy. But if I were at a party and someone offered me Slo-Mo, I might try it.
Yeah, that's really a testament to Anthony Dod Mantle, our director of photography. He treated this film as an artist treats a palette. He really elevated the material. The visual elements in this film is qite unlike anything I've seen.
Is there a scene for you that stands out?
There's a lot of stuff. There are scenes where the 3D breaks the negative plane. Even that shot of Ma-Ma sitting in the bath playing with the water, you know? To my knowledge, that hasn't been done in 3D.
In the last few days when people have asked me who I'm interviewing at TIFF, three separate people have assumed I was interviewing Keith Urban when I mentioned your name. Do you ever get that?
No, I don't. But, obviously there must be that confusion out there [laughs].
And both of you were born in New Zealand.
That's right! He was born in Wellington. It was actually reported in a Singapore newspaper that I married Nicole Kidman.
OK, so it has happened. That's a pretty big one.
Well, it was a Singapore newspaper.
I'd frame that paper and put it on a wall.
You were a respected actor in New Zealand, but then you did "Lord of the Rings" and your career changed. Is that the movie that did it?
Well, it certainly opened a few doors. But it was really the film I did before that called "The Price of Milk," which Peter Jackson saw. It was on the basis of that that he offered me a role in "Lord of the Rings." But, yeah, "Lord of the Rings" opened a lot of doors. It really did.
Were you a fan of that series?
Yeah, I really wanted to be a part of it. I just knew that it was going to be a historic trilogy and I wanted the opportunity to work with that caliber of collaborator. I was thrilled when I got cast.
Is there anything about your performance as McCoy in "Star Trek" that you want to do different in the second film?
[Pauses] I didn't approach the role like that. You know, when you get a script you just look at the story and break down what your character is doing and how to serve that story the best. But, I didn't sit down and go over everything to find if there was something I didn't get right or that I wanted to correct or anything like that.
But it has to be difficult. DeForest Kelly is so known for that role. Do you go in trying to do what he did? That seems like a slippery slope.
Oh yeah. It's a slippery slope. Here's the thing: As a longtime fan of "Star Trek," I would have felt short changed if I had gone into that cinema and not seen a character that was identifiably McCoy. So, for me, it was the process of analyzing DeForest -- sort of internalizing, I guess, certain elements about that character. And, then, from there it was a process of presenting a younger version of what that character would be. And I think what we ended up with was kind of a combination of some obvious nods to DeForest, but then, you know, I also have to make the character my own. And it is, ultimately, my interpretation of what Bones is. But, having such huge admiration and respect for what he did before, it was important that the character be recognizably Bones.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
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