San Diego Comic-Con 2012: Roundtable Interview with Dredd 3D Star Karl Urban

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While at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, Dread Central was invited to participate in a roundtable interview with the star of Lionsgate’s upcoming reboot Dredd (review), Karl Urban.

The New Zealand-born actor is no stranger to playing iconic characters either; after quickly rising to fame for his roles in both The Lord of the Rings sequels as Eomer, eventual King of Rohan, Urban has gone on to play McCoy in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot in 2009 and now dons the iconic helmet of justice in Dredd 3D, which hits theaters September 21st.

Check out some of the highlights from our roundtable interview with Urban below, and look for more Dredd 3D coverage coming soon right here!

Question: Did you want to make sure to steer clear of the other movie even though Dredd 3D is not really related to it at all or not a continuation of that story?

Karl Urban: Well, here’s the thing- when I read the script, it became obvious to me that what we were endeavoring to do was completely different. Tonally, you couldn’t get more different. I think that our film is a lot more…well, I don’t really know how to describe it really, but I will say this- going into this movie, I watched the Stallone version to see what worked and what didn’t work.

The way I wanted to approach this character was not to have him be a posturing, bellowing character that was ground in ego; to me, that wasn’t the Dredd I knew. I thought it was far more interesting to have a character with this inner rage who was struggling to contain it rather than letting it all explode. That’s the direction I was going in. I decided that what I wanted to do was to find the humanity within Dredd because he is just a man; he’s not a superhero, he has no superhero power. He’s just a man, and it’s his heroism that makes him so iconic. It’s his heroism that defines him; he’s the guy always walking into the building when everyone else is running out. He does the things most people wouldn’t dare to do in real life, and that was the challenge for me.

It was a huge challenge especially for me to convey all of this without the use of my eyes; the character oscillates from being a protector to being incredibly violent to having this wry, sardonic humor to displaying compassion at times- there are a lot of aspects to this character. The challenge for me then was to make all of that happen from behind the helmet. There’s a weariness to him as well, which I thought was really important.

Question: The comic book is such a product of its time and place; what do you think still remained relevant about this story within the context of society now?

Karl Urban: That’s a good question. To be honest with you, I didn’t really think about how this movie was going to be perceived or really the relevance of it when making it. To me, my mission was to A- honor the work of John (Wagner) and Carlos (Ezquerra) that was created back in the 70’s as best as I could and B- service the script as best as I could and just be in the moment to make the best film we could. Everything that happens after that is really not on my radar. It’s not really up to me to pull it apart and analyze it, I just wanted it to be a good, fun piece of entertainment.

Question: Was that similar to your approach to Star Trek then?

Karl Urban: Absolutely; I think the best thing you can do is not even take into consideration any of those things -the pressure, the fan expectations, the studio expectation- and just focus on the character. That’s all you really can do when you’re on set. Those other things are beyond your control. It’s really for everyone else to dissect.

Question: Did you go back and look at the source material at all to help inform your performance as Dredd?

Karl Urban: Oh yes. That was certainly part of my whole process when I came on board this and entered this world. First of all, I spent like 13 weeks in the gym lifting heavy things and eating seven or eight times a day to train so I could be where I needed to be physically for this character. Then there was the part of the process that I enjoy the most, which is the investigative part, and that was getting my hands on every graphic novel I could.

The real wonderful thing was that I discovered a whole lot of new stories with Dredd that I wasn’t aware of initially when I used to read Dredd back when I was a teenager. Origin stories, the dead man’s walk into America, those sorts of things; and they were all really great stories to find. There’s also a wonderful maturity that happens with Wagner’s writing as the stories go on where this seed of doubt is implanted in the character, which I thought was just fascinating.

Dredd’s story starts off where he’s just this guy who is doing his job, but then after 20 years later, he begins to question things, and I thought that was a wonderful complexity to build into this character. That’s what I wanted to try and plant the seeds for in this movie, too, that weariness.

Question: Was there always the mandate that Dredd’s helmet would stay on regardless in this movie?

Karl Urban: Oh god, yes. That was hugely important. My agent initially called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in doing a Judge Dredd movie and I said, ‘Hell yeah, let me read the script.’ Then I read the script and was relieved to discover that the character did keep the helmet on. Everyone working on this knew how important it was that he kept his helmet on, and I wouldn’t have done the movie had he not kept his helmet on the entire time. Everyone was on the same page about that.

Question: Often times, a hero is only as good as his villain; what do you think Lena (Headey) brought to the table for the character of Ma-Ma then?

Karl Urban: Well, this is just my own personal opinion, but I think there is a scary, beautiful, violent way to Lena’s performance that is so enigmatic. Lena just draws you in whenever she’s on screen; the choices that she made were so interesting. I have to confess that there was one day where we were shooting a scene where I’m confronting her, and she just starts laughing -manically laughing- and I can feel within me the rage growing; she’s just that fucking good. She knows how to push your buttons.

Question: Since we’re at Comic-Con, I’d like to indulge in a Star Trek question for a moment; how did it feel to go back to that world and play McCoy again for the upcoming sequel?

Karl Urban: It was surreal; it had been like four years since we worked on the first one, and I just remember coming to set the first day and I literally felt like I had been transported in a time warp. I walk on set now and there’s everyone in the cast, the same crew, the same extras; and it was so trippy and weird but so wonderful to start all that again.

This time everyone seemed to be a lot more relaxed, too; it was really interesting for me to see everyone else’s evolution in the process since the last time.

Karl Urban stars in the Dredd 3D title role along with Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby, and Domhnall Gleeson. Look for it in theatres on September 21st.

The future America is an irradiated wasteland. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington, DC, lies Mega City One- a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury, and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge – a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.

During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation. A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture: a 200-story vertical slum controlled by prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan. When they capture one of the clan’s inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound’s control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire. With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival.

The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis bring Dredd to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film. Filmed in 3D with stunning slow-motion photography sequences, the film returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s revered comic strip.

San Diego Comic-Con 2012: Roundtable Interview with Dredd 3D Star Karl Urban

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