Karl Urban, star of the action-packed Dredd 3D, talks to View’s Matthew
Turner about the film’s keeping to the style and themes of the classic
comic, shooting a film in leather and bringing justice to Mega-City One.
What attracted you to the part and how did you get
What attracted me? Well, to put it into context, when I was a teenager I
didn’t read many comics but Judge Dredd was the comic I did read. I got
a call from my agent one day, informing me that Alex Garland had written
a script, Judge Dredd, and would I be interested? I said most
definitely, she sent it to me, I read it, and I thought that Alex had
done an amazing job of delivering an action-packed, character-driven
narrative that was honourable to the source
Certainly it was the Dredd I knew from my teenage years, so I was
immediately interested and I was also aware of some of the creative
elements involved and I thought that that would be a good indication
that the material would be well executed, so it was on that basis that I
decided to proceed. I took a meeting with [writer Alex Garland, producer
Allon Reich, producer Andrew Macdonald and director Pete Travis] and
after that meeting they called up and offered me the role.
You’re a big Dredd fan, obviously. The adaptation
is pretty close, but he seems to enjoy what he does a lot more than in
the comic incarnation. That’s presumably much more down to you than the
script, so why did you give him that particular end
If that’s you’re interpretation of it then I’m not going to contest
that. I was very cognisant of the fact that the Dredd that I portrayed
had a wariness about him that was brought on by years and years of being
in the shit. And to me, one of the important elements, always, in the
comics was Dredd’s humour, that dry humour that was prevalent right
throughout the comics and that was the challenge in approaching the
character, was how to humanise him.
And especially as [you're] playing a character where the audience
doesn’t see your eyes, [it's] really important to look for what
humanises him. So in terms of speaking about that particular moment, I
think it all comes back to one of the functions of Dredd which was to
protect human life, and in our story there’s a catastrophic loss of
innocent life. And so that has a significant impact on the character,
you can see it immediately after it happens in the way that he treats
the villains in the piece, the way he treats the perp, he gets very
violent with him and then again that scene you were discussing, the way
it’s like that, is because of that.
You mentioned the audience can’t see the eyes: you
have to wear the helmet for the entire film. How was that? Obviously you
went in there knowing you wouldn’t reveal your face and so
It was a huge challenge.
Was it heavy?
No. I think the costume designers did an extraordinary job of designing
that uniform. It had to be realistic, it had to speak of the
environment, it had to be protective. These guys get shot just riding
their bikes around the streets. And so it was one of those elements that
you had to get used to, and I wore the uniform about two weeks before we
started shooting to sort of feel comfortable in it.
How was it interacting with your co-stars wearing
your helmet though?
It was interesting. It took some getting used to. It was a challenge,
it’s definitely a challenge. The eyes are one of the most valuable tools
an actor has, so when you take that away you have to start thinking
about all the other elements you have at your disposal, so the voice
becomes very important, and then, obviously, the physicality of the
character, how you do what you do speaks volumes. And for me I guess the
most interesting discovery was having the thought and feeling the
emotion, it was amazing what would come through and what would transmit
because there are subtle indications throughout your whole body when you
feel a certain way or you think a certain thing and it’s just about
having the confidence about how it comes through.
You’ve not just got the helmet, you’ve also got
Dredd the character, there’s no real arc for him throughout the film, is
there, compared to [co-star Olivia Thirlby]'s
Well no, there is. There is an arc through the film. Respectfully, I
disagree. Dredd does something at the end of this film that he would
never do at the beginning. It is a character-driven film, the
relationship between Anderson and Dredd is telling in many different
regards, and it certainly does speak volumes about the journey that
In Dredd’s world things are very black and white. At the beginning of
the film she’s a fail; not only is she a fail but she’s also a mutant.
And by the end of the film he is somewhere completely different, to the
point where he’s actually starting to question things. And if you know
your Dredd, you know that that is a very, very important crack in his
psyche and you can see that through the more mature writings of [Dredd
comic book writer] John Wagner, when he’d go into stories like Origins
and America and stuff like that. In his later writing the character of
Dredd is questioning the big lie, he’s questioning the very foundations
of the justice system, and in our story that little shift in his psyche,
it’s a tiny thing, but it’s huge.
Did you talk to Sylvester Stallone at some point
and did you watch the 1995 movie?
Yeah, I remember seeing the film when it came out. I have never spoken
to Mr. Stallone.
What do you think about the first movie and do you
think people will compare the two?
Well, it’s not my job to voice an opinion about Mr. Stallone’s film. If
other people wish to do so then I thoroughly encourage the healthy
debate. Tonally, they’re quite different. His film was a product of its
time. Joel Schumacher was making fluorescent Batman movies at the time,
so you have to put it into context.
Do you have a favourite scene in the
Yeah, I mean I’ve got a few, I’ve got many. I love Olivia’s scene where
she is psychically, mentally, probing Wood’s character, that’s one of my
Slowly and surely you’re chipping off more and
more geek-centric properties with Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and now
this. Is that a deliberate strategy?
No, no. Just dumb luck. I’ve happened to be involved with some very
popular material over the years and I probably never would have done
Dredd if it wasn’t for the fact that I read it as a teenager, and I knew
the material, and I think that is perhaps why some American actors
didn't jump on it, it being an ostensibly British comic.
Is that the same with everything: you sort of do
the things you’re familiar with and that you’re keen
Certainly something like Star Trek, then yeah, sure, I grew up watching
that and to be given the opportunity to work with J.J. and that team was
a massive opportunity. But equally I’ve done stuff that’s not Sci-Fi,
fantasy genre stuff, like Red or the Bourne Supremacy or New Zealand
films, like Out of the Blue. I don’t know what I’m going to do next, I
don’t know until I read the script and respond to the
To me it’s all about the character and the story, and certainly in Dredd
I felt that it was; it’s a character-driven piece. It’s not a special
effects driven piece, although we do have yummy bits in the film. That’s
how I describe special effects. It’s a technical term, yummy bits. But
really the glue of what this film’s about is these characters, how they
treat each other, how they feel about each other and the situation they
are in. To me that’s one of the most interesting elements about this