Karl Urban, 40, has seen his acting career take off in the past decade, thanks to playing Eomer in the second and third instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Having also won critical praise for his portrayal of Dr “Bones” McCoy in the reboot of Star Trek, Urban takes on another famous character in Dredd, playing the comic book character Judge Dredd for the first time since the much-maligned Sylvester Stallone adaptation in 1995. The film follows Urban’s Judge as he takes a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) on her first call, which turns out to be a trap orchestrated by a drug kingpin (Lena Headey).
This must have been a dream project for you, having grown up a Judge Dredd fan.
Certainly, I loved reading the comics when I was younger, particularly when I was 17, so I had that familiarity with the character and that world. I still read every Dredd book I could lay my hands on, but I wasn’t coming into the project as a novice, so in some respects that side of the preparation was already partly done for me. It made that initial meeting with Alex (Garland, the screenwriter) and the DNA (the production company) boys that much easier, knowing we were coming from a similar background.
How did that initial meeting go? Was there anything that would have made you turn the role down?
It was a very frank discussion about what everyone thought the character should be on-screen. I made it clear that if I had read at any point that Dredd takes his helmet off, I wouldn’t be interested in making the film, because that’s just not Dredd – it’s not what I would want to see as a fan, and they were very reassured by that. I think they were worried that anyone they cast would demand to take the helmet off, so we could move forward knowing we had the same goal of doing the character justice.
What was the appeal of this story in particular?
It’s such a character-driven piece, and in a way it’s not Dredd’s film. Thanks to Alex’s script and Olivia’s wonderful performance, we see Dredd and the story through the eyes of the rookie. What was interesting to me was that Dredd is Dredd in this story – there’s no seismic change happening, the character is very much steady, -constant.
How was it acting with half your face covered by the helmet?
I worked on the character as a whole – his partnership with the rookie, his voice – which is incredibly important, to give his voice resonance and authority and being able to say a lot of things without saying them. Little things such as a tilt of the head become incredibly meaningful in a role such as this.
There’s a lot of violence in the film. Did the graphic nature of some of the scenes concern you at all?
It surprised me a lot when I saw the finished film, but it didn’t concern me. Reading the violence on the pages of the script – and even filming some of those scenes – didn’t really prepare me for the graphic elements of the story and it was a surprise when I saw the finished film. But that’s incredibly important to the world of Dredd – the violence illustrates the world these judges live in, it raises the stakes and becomes a character in its own right.
Did you take on any dangerous stunts while making the film?
No, as a star there’s a lot of responsibility, so if you get hurt and can’t work, hundreds of crew members can’t work either, so you leave the difficult stuff to the stunt guys, because things can and do go wrong. There was one sequence where the stunt doubles had to make a large jump from the building and I looked at it and thought: “I could do that!” [laughs] but they insisted it was too dangerous and, when the doubles made the jump, one of them suffered a compound fracture in the hip. So after that, I wasn’t volunteering for anything too dangerous.
Finally, can you tell us anything about your involvement in the forthcoming Star Trek movie?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything, I’ve been sworn to secrecy!
Dredd 3D opens across UAE cinemas tomorrow. For a review of the film, read tomorrow’s edition of Arts&Life