We sat down this morning to talk to none other than Judge Dredd. Which is a lot less terrifying that it sounds when it was actually just the charmingly gregarious New Zealander Karl Urban. We picked his brain (a lot easier with the helmet off we discovered) about all things Dredd for the impending September 7th release of the new film Dredd 3D. *Disclaimer* His level of knowledge of 2000 AD comics far exceeds my own, if there are any mistakes in here, my apologies. Here’s the interview:
UTF: In the film your character asks Olivia Thirlby’s rookie “Why do you want to be a Judge?” – Same question to you.
I guess one of the things that attracted me to this character was the definition of his heroism, his brand of heroism is very human. Hes not a superhuman, he’s just a man with an extraordinary skill set, a cool bike and a versatile gun. More importantly he’s the kind of guy who’s walking into a building while everybody else is running for their lives in every single direction. So the opportunity to place that kind of man was something I was hugely attracted to. It reminded me of those really brave fire fighters in 9/11, he’s cut of that cloth.
UTF: How did you go about preparing for and acting the role?
Well it’s a process that when you make a character, you have to go through many different doors to define him. There was the physical side to it, transforming myself physically. Then there was all the research, I read every single Dredd comic that I could but also a huge basis for the character was what was on the page. Alex Garland wrote this huge, action packed, character driven piece and at the heart of the story, because its quite a contained story, is the relationship between Anderson and Judge Dredd, and the evolution of that relationship is one of the most interesting things about this movie.
UTF: Could you tell us about some of your favorite story lines or characters?
Yeah sure. Well when I was a teenager I started reading the Quality comics and series that came out in the 90’s, they were stories like Kenny Who and Raider. Raider was a really interesting and cool little mini series about an ex Judge who took to the streets and became a vigilante and was kind of like a mentor to Dredd who found himself having to ostensibly hunt him down, I thought that was really really cool and interesting.
For me one of the great moments of getting to play Dredd was not only going back an rediscovering these old stories but also discovering a whole plethora of new stories that have been written subsequently. It was interesting to see the evolution in the way the character was writing, the depth and maturity in Wagner’s writing translated to the character of Dredd himself. That’s evident in stories like Origin, Dead Mans Walking to Metropolis . You know America was a really good story, he’s an antihero, well in America, Dredd is the villain
UTF: If you were to do a sequel, who would you like to square off against?
Obviously Judge Death, him and his mates. I’ve also got to pick Scorpus or Mean Machine. There’s too many!
UTF: Coming into a series with such a long term, entrenched fan base did you feel any kind of pressure at all? Particularly at SDCC with the first public screening?
No, no I didn’t. As a long term fan myself I placed enough pressure on myself, without being concerned what other people thought, y’know really my job and my sole focus was just delivering the most interesting and specific dimensional character that I could and when I’m thinking I’m not concerned about what other people will think.
At Comic Con, I was just grateful that is was received so well. I think Alex has done an extraordinary job delivering this movie and I’m very proud.
UTF: It was a very physical role, would you say the hardest part was keeping that scowl?
*Laughter* No the most difficult part was probably the grueling nature of the filming. We were filming in Cape Town in the summer, I’m wearing bike leathers, body armor and a helmet and so physically it was very challenging. But I had such a wonderful working relationship with Olivia, everyday we’d meet up before shooting and discuss what we wanted to do that day and we were always on the same page. Not only with Olivia but Alex Garland who was also on set 24/7, he was a huge asset to this production. Whenever I would have a question about what was on the page, I would ask Alex. For an actor to have the luxury of having the guy who actually wrote it there it was massive.
UTF: Following on from that, the tone is very gritty but there is still that deadpan humor. How important was that for you to keep?
Yeah the humor was very important to me because it really helped define the character, to define the character’s humanity. The challenge is he’s not a robot, he’s a man. A highly trained man, who is used to keeping his emotions in check but one of the things that does humanize him is his humor.
It’s one of those elements I responding to in the comic so it’s something I focused on, trying to inject that into the movie. Just that dry, deadpan humor that I think Alex did an extraordinary job of incorporating.
UTF: As your first highly prominent lead role in a big summer blockbuster, were you concerned at all that your face was covered for it?
No not at all, I’m playing Judge Dredd!! It’s part of the character. No, I had a meeting with Andrew and Alex in La before they offered me the role and they said “We just wanted to make absolutely sure you’re okay that we’re never going to see your face in the film” I said “I wouldn’t be taking this meeting if I read a script where Judge Dredd revealed his identity”.
He’s meant to be this enigmatic faceless representative of the law. It was essential that it remained that way. So no my feelings were nothing other than elation to actually be able to do this character, y’know my focus was just how to secure the best performance possible.
UTF: Did you get to keep the helmet afterwards?
I did actually! They gave it to me eventually, I tried to steal it 3 times before they did!
UTF: You’ve got a long list of popular fantasy/sci-fi roles are you scared of being typecast?
I think its very easy to try and categorize but in reality I’ve also been in films like The Bourne Supremacy, Out of the Blue, and RED which are quite different genres. I just respond to the characters, and as I was a big fan of Dredd growing up it would have taken a bigger man than me to turn it down.
UTF: Are there any other superheroes you would ever like to play?
I feel it would be greedy to want any more than what I’ve got. I could retire quite happily my comic book inspired characters at this point in time, if I never played another character based on a sci-fi/fantasy/comic book thing I’d be happy. I’ve done some goodies.
UTF: Talking about sci-fi the Star Trek sequel is scheduled to hit next year, were you excited to return as Bones?
Definitely, we have a great crew, it’s a lot of fun making those films. It’s wonderful to get back together again and to continue the journey.
UTF: Getting into the role of Dredd, was it unordinary or do you have a method for getting into character?
Every character you prepare for is unique and different. For Dredd the process was firstly getting hold of every Dredd comic that I could. Next was the physical transformation, really quite grueling and challenging, working out twice a day for 13 weeks to feel physically where the character needed to be. Then there was the military training conducted in Cape Town and that was pretty interesting. It included exercises where we were given BB guns mocked up like Lawgivers and we had stunt guys secretly deposited around the set so we got into real fire fights, well as close to real as one would ever hope to get. I also had to put a lot of time and energy into learning how to ride that bike.
There were also hours of discussion with Alex and trying to define the character as best we could, it was most important to find his humanity. He’s not a superhero, he must be accessible. The humor was part of that, as well as getting specific as to how he felt about things and how to communicate that to the audience. There are certain parts in the film where events happen and Dredd changes ever so slightly that you understand he feels compassion.
UTF: You mentioned the bike, was it a totally custom model and were you able to ride a regular bike before hand?
Yeah I was comfortable on a regular bike but it still took some getting used to.
UTF: Was it harder than learning to ride the horse from Lord of the Rings?
Took about as much time and energy, great going in straight lines! Corners could be challenging…
UTF: In the beginning of the film your character has a voice over where he sets the scene and the world, how did you view the social commentary going on in the film?
Parallels can certainly be drawn. It’s easy to forget that the character was created in the 70’s, in the era of Thatcherism, Punk and Anarchy, I think those three are relevant. You only have to look back one year and see London in riot, that’s the world Dredd is set in, a world where society is on the verge of chaos and collapse. It’s not that big of a leap. We take our freedoms by and large for granted, I think it’s interesting to look at a totalitarian society where those freedoms have been taken away. That’s the only way that society can function it’s horrific but interesting to explore.
It certainly makes me appreciate the fact that I live in a democratic country that has good gun control *laughs* and a good quality of life. At the end of the day this is escapist entertainment but if you want to dig deeper the message is there. I like the subtle little morality tales in this movie Dredd’s doing his job protecting the law and he’s representation of order and he’s bound by a law of ethics and an oath that he’s taken.
Whats interesting is the choice that the citizens have to make by themselves in terms of the judges, whether to help them or not. Based on those choices what happens to those people throughout the film was interesting. Quite often in the older stories, Dredd was little more than a supporting character and it was those citizens that made the city run and their stories were incredibly interesting.
Q: What was it like working with the team in Cape Town?
Just really fantastic, it was one of the most collaborative experiences that I’ve ever had Pete (the director) knew that he had a good team working with him and he just let everybody do their jobs. Alex had an extraordinary input, you could say he directed a fair amount of the film.
That’s not uncommon, on Lord of the Rings we had 5 units with 5 separate directors. Pete Jackson was undoubtedly the driving creative force behind Lord of the Rings but by virtue of the fact of what we were trying to accomplish with that there were other directors helping out. Dredd was always pretty ambitious as well, Alex’s input was huge.
Q: With the announcement that The Hobbit is being made into 3 films and speculation of the 3rd bridging the gap between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, would you be interested in reprising your role as Éomer?
I believe that they’re already shot and done. Believe me I’m looking forward to seeing those films too! Looking forward to seeing Bond as well, Sam Mendes is going to knock it out of the park.
That’s all folks. He was a lovely guy and really clued in to the source material, that was clear in the way he spoke about it. What do you reckon, is he right as Dredd? Let us know in the comments section below.
DREDD 3D hits screens on the 7th September