It was only the second day of the Toronto International Film Festival and Karl Urban was already under the weather. We’re extra grateful that he toughed it out for interviews so we could talk to him about Dredd 3-D. The movie opened the Midnight Magic section of TIFF. Since we got to see it early at Comic-Con, we knew it was an ultra-violent adaptation of the comic book in which Urban wears a helmet the entire movie. In a future where police officers are also judges and, if they judge the death penalty, executioners, Judge Dredd and new recruit Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) have to survive a lock down in Ma-Ma (Lena Headey)’s lair. The movie opens September 21.
Crave Online: I know from speaking with you before that you value being unrecognizable in a role, so is Judge Dredd the perfect character for you?
Karl Urban: [Laughs] Yeah. More than a lot of roles, obviously I was able to lose myself in the role of Dredd.
I respect your decision to never take the helmet off at all. Is there a danger that all helmet all the time could be too extreme also?
Well, Dredd is a movie in many ways about extremes, but look. If you know the character of Dredd you know that A, he never takes his helmet off. B, he’s an enigma. He is the faceless representative of the law. To me I just felt that I couldn’t authentically do a Judge Dredd movie any other way.
What sort of body language were you able to develop under that?
Really a lot of it was dictated by the uniform that made you walk in a certain way. It had its limitations but certainly the physicality of the character became extremely important without the use of the eyes. I had to use everything else, all the other tools that were available to me to help convey and tell a story. It was made more difficult by the fact that Dredd is the kind of individual who has his emotions in check. He’s not one to actually wantonly display his emotions. But, that being said, he is like a tightly wound coil. There’s a juncture in this film where there’s a loss of innocent human life. Part of Dredd’s job is to protect the people of Mega-City One, so when this massacre occurs, then you can see a gear shift within him. He becomes a little unhinged and that says a lot about how he feels about what’s going on.
Your lips were very evocative. Did you practice expressions that would work in that little section under the visor?
Did you agree with the decision to let the Anderson character go without her helmet?
That’s the way she was written. It’s explained in the film she’s psychic and it interferes with her psychic abilities. It was important that she not wear the helmet. That’s her character and there’s a story reason for it. She’s a way into the story, into the emotion of the story. She’s a way into Dredd. She humanizes the story. It’s through her that you get an access to Dredd that otherwise he would be somewhat impenetrable. I feel the heart of this movie is the relationship between Dredd and Anderson and the evolution of that relationship. Dredd doesn’t think much of her at the beginning, but Dredd’s arc through this film is essentially the change in that relationship. For Judge Dredd that’s kind of huge because he is a judge. He makes a decision about something and some of those decisions have life or death consequences. He made a decision about Anderson when he first met her and then at the end of the film he feels something completely different about her and he does something that he never would have done at the beginning of the film. So for a character like Dredd, that’s kind of a huge crack in his worldview. Not everything is black and white as he first thought.
And Dredd really believes in the system, doesn’t he?
He does. If you know the comics at all, it was really wonderful to see the evolution of the writing in Dredd, particularly of the last 15 years. When Dredd was established, he was sort of a response to Thatcherism and a character of the times, but over the last 15 years, the way the character’s been written, there’s a lot more maturity and depth in the writing and a lot more depth within Dredd that was really questioning the system that’s his job to uphold. You can see that in the graphic novel Origins I think the best. Yeah, what we show in the film is a small little window, a small crack in that black and white worldview.
Was it also important to you to make a violent “hard R” Judge Dredd movie?
I think it was important to [writer/producer] Alex Garland to make a graphic film.
And was it important to show Dredd on his day job, that he’s actually a police office, not just some guy who goes on missions?
Yeah, he is the next generation, or a generation or two ahead of police officers. You could simply say he’s a highly trained form of law enforcement. He’s judge, jury and at times when necessary executioner.
Bones was such a standout in Star Trek. What more do we get to learn about Bones in the Star Trek sequel?
Can’t tell you.
Well, some of your co-stars spoke about the Khan issue.
Can’t tell you.
Ok. Do you have a particular affinity for the sci-fi genre?
No. I mean I’ve done a lot of films that are in science fiction/fantasy genre but I’ve also done a lot of films that aren’t.
Do you get to be in the third Riddick?
How different was that from The Chronicles of Riddick?
Oh, I had a great time getting back together with Vin and David Twohy and getting back to the character of Vaako. I essentially have to transition from Chronicles of Riddick into Riddick’s new adventure. I’ve seen a bit of the film and it’s really, really good so I’m looking forward to that getting out there.
Did they scale it back to the more intimate style of Pitch Black?
I guess it’s probably more similar to Pitch Black than to Chronicles.
How was your experience with the midnight crowds at TIFF and when you showed the film at Comic-Con?
Fantastic. When you work so hard on making a film, it’s all worthwhile when you get to experience seeing that film with an audience who thoroughly enjoy it and react to the movie. Those beats that you’ve worked on throughout the film, just to see and feel them land, it doesn’t get any better than that.