Karl Urban is back on the big screen this week as he takes on the iconic role of Judge Dredd in the new adaptation Dredd.
I caught up with the actor to chat about the movie, working closely with writer Alex Garland and how he prepared for the film.
- Dredd is about set to be released into UK cinemas so can you tell me a little bit about the movie?
Dredd is a day in the life of Judge Dredd, a futuristic law enforcement officer, as he puts his rookie Anderson through her paces to see whether she has got what it takes to become a Judge.
- You take on the role of Dredd in the movie so how do we see this character depicted this time around? Is there a greater nod to the character that John Wagner created?
Oh most definitely. I think while Wagner collaborated with Alex Garland the writer of our film and I think that there was a great degree of authenticity in this production.
- Dredd started out in comics and graphic novels so how much were they a major source of material for you? And what did you take from them as you were developing this character?
They were an incredibly valuable asset - I was a Dredd fan when I was a teenager and so for me to go back and rediscover the stories that I enjoyed reading as a teenager was great.
But even more importantly to discover the material that had been written subsequently and to find a wonderful maturity in the writing.
So as far as research goes that was the starting point for me as I just read every comic that I could and coupled that with Alex Garland’s brilliant script - that is all I needed.
- You say that you were a big fan of this character as you were growing up so how did you find stepping into the role?
It was a challenge, it definitely was a challenge. Physically it was a challenge to get into great shape and then also I had to brush up on my motorbike riding.
I also did a military boot camp and then of course I had to figure out how to communicate with the audience without the use of my eyes because I wear the helmet for the entire movie. So yeah it was a big challenge.
- Well you have touched on my next question really you are in the helmet for the entire film so how challenging was that as an actor to not be able to convey emotions through your eyes and your face? And what did you do to overcome that?
That was the challenge. The eyes are one of the most important tools for an actor so not having that forced me to look at what else I had available and that was the voice.
I also looked at body language because how you do what you do becomes very important.
The most interesting discovery though was just having the confidence that if you think the thought and feel the emotion the audience will too - even behind the helmet.
- There is always a big thing around Judge Dredd about keeping the helmet on so how important was it to you that the helmet never comes off?
Before I was offered the role I had a meeting with Alex Garland and the producers and they said ’just to be clear we are not going to get half way through shooting and you are going to ask us to write scenes without a helmet - the helmet stays on.’
And I told them that I wouldn’t have even bothered taking the meeting if I had read the script and there were scenes that revealed Dredd’s face.
To me that is not Dredd as he is an enigmatic and faceless representative of the law - that is the way that he was created and that was the way that we executed it.
- Pete Travis is in the director’s chair for the movie and this is quite a different project for him so how did you find working with him?
The good thing about Pete is he surrounds himself with good people and then he lets them get on with their job.
And I have to say for me having Alex Garland on set was really wonderful as he wrote this film and I think that he is the driving creative force behind the film. So to have him on set 24/7 was a major asset.
- This is a very visual movie and there is a great use of slow-motion and gives an almost arty feel to the violence so what did you think of these sequences when you saw them for the first time?
They were impressive, shockingly so, but I think that the violence is a character in this film.
I feel that what Alex has done is use violence to not only help define the world but to also explore the very nature of the character of Dredd and what he deals with on a daily basis.
I really feel that he has done it to a point where you actually recoil as you are watching it and to my mind that is what the late and great Stanley Kubrick did in films like A Clockwork Orange.
- I was reading that you landed the role just twelve weeks before filming started so what sort of preparation and training did you do on the run up to the movie? How difficult was it to cram all that into a reasonably small space of time?
I had a little bit more than twelve weeks. I certainly went into an intense training regime where I was working out twice a day and the augmenting that by eating the right stuff.
Then I just read every Dredd that I could and brushing up on my motorbike skills as well as doing military training. So it was a huge challenge.
- How did you find the military training aspect?
I always approach those situations like I know nothing - even though I have done lots of films where I handle weapons and stuff.
But I think that the best way to approach it is as if you know nothing and just for safety get re-taught everything again. We had the benefit of working with a great ex-British military team and they taught us a lot.
- It’s an action packed role for yourself so did you do a lot of the stunts? And how much is that an element of filmmaking that you enjoy?
Yeah I enjoy the physical… it’s physical acting and I really enjoy that. Getting to the end of the day and feeling like you have done a good hard day’s work is a good feeling.
That being said this is an action packed film and we had a great stunt team and I am very happy with the final product.
- So how have you found the reaction to the movie so far?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We screened the film at Comic Con in San Diego and afterwards on Rotten Tomatoes the reviews were at 100% positive - and that is just amazing.
Everybody who I am speaking to who has seen the film has thoroughly enjoyed it and that is wonderful.
- We are also going to be seeing you in a second Star Trek movie and while you can’t give anything away how exciting was it to get back?
It was a lot of fun as they are a great bunch and we had a lot of fun making it and a lot of laughs.
- Finally what’s next for you?
Well I am just spending the next six weeks travelling around the world promoting Dredd. I might have a little break after that and then we will see.
Dredd is released 7th September.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw