The upcoming sci-fi film Dredd 3D, directed by Pete Travis and written by Alex Garland, made its way to Comic-Con this year and we got a chance to talk to its star. Karl Urban stars as Judge Dredd, a celebrated comic book character from the revered comic strip by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.
Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed. When a heinous crime calls Dredd and rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture, the two must confront drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan.
At Comic-Con, Urban shared his transformation process into Dredd, avoiding comparisons to Sylvester Stallone's truly dreadful 1995 version, and revisiting McCoy in Star Trek 2.
Movies.com: How did you steer clear from Stallone's Judge Dredd even though Dredd 3D is not related to it at all and it's not a continuation of that story?
Karl Urban: When I read the script, it became obvious to me that what we were endeavoring to do was completely different. Tonally, you couldn't get more different. I watched the Stallone version to see what worked and what didn't work. The way I wanted to approach this character was not to have him be a posturing, bellowing character that was ground in ego. To me, that wasn't the Dredd I knew. I thought it was far more interesting to have a character with this inner rage, struggling to contain it rather than letting it all explode. That's the direction I was going in. I decided that what I wanted to do was to find the humanity within Dredd because he is just a man. He's not a superhero, he has no superhero power. He's just a man. It's his heroism that makes him so iconic, defines him. He's the guy always walking into the building when everyone else is running out. He does the things most people wouldn't dare to do in real life.
It was a huge challenge especially for me to convey all of this without the use of my eyes. The character oscillates from being a protector to being incredibly violent to having this wry, sardonic humor to displaying compassion at times. The challenge for me then was to make all of that happen from behind the helmet. There's a weariness to him as well, which I thought was really important.
Movies.com: What sort of physical preparation did you have to go through and what type of source material did you study?
Urban: I spent like 13 weeks in the gym lifting heavy things and eating seven or eight times a day to train so I could be where I needed to be physically for this character. Then there was the part of the process that I enjoy the most, which is the investigative part, and that was getting my hands on every graphic novel I could.
The wonderful thing was that I discovered a lot of new stories with Dredd that I wasn't aware of initially when I used to read Dredd back when I was a teenager. Origin stories, the dead man's walk into America -- those sorts of things -- and they were all really great stories to find. There's also a wonderful maturity that happens with Wagner's writing as the stories go on where this seed of doubt is implanted in the character, which I thought was just fascinating. Dredd's story starts off where he's just this guy who is doing his job, but then after 20 years later, he begins to question things, and I thought that was a wonderful complexity to build into this character. That's what I wanted to try and plant the seeds for in this movie, too, that weariness.
Movies.com: Often times, a hero is only as good as his villain. What do you think Lena (Headey) brought to the table for the character of Ma-Ma?
Urban: Well, this is just my own personal opinion, but I think there is a scary, beautiful, violent way to Lena's performance that is so enigmatic. Lena just draws you in whenever she's on-screen. The choices that she made were so interesting. I have to confess that there was one day where we were shooting a scene where I'm confronting her, and she just starts laughing, manically laughing, and I can feel within me the rage growing. She's just that f***ing good. She knows how to push your buttons.
Movies.com: Was it a given that Dredd's helmet would stay on in this movie?
Urban: Oh god, yes. That was hugely important. My agent initially called me up and asked me if I'd be interested in doing a Judge Dredd movie and I said, "Hell yeah, let me read the script." Then I read the script and was relieved to discover that the character did keep the helmet on. Everyone working on this knew how important it was that he kept his helmet on, and I wouldn't have done the movie had he not kept his helmet on the entire time. Everyone was on the same page about that.
Movies.com: A lot of people are curious about Star Trek 2. How did it feel to go back to that world and play McCoy again for the upcoming sequel?
Urban: It was surreal. It had been like four years since we worked on the first one, and I just remember coming to set the first day and I literally felt like I had been transported in a time warp. I walk on set now and there's everyone in the cast -- the same crew, the same extras -- and it was so trippy and weird but so wonderful to start all that again. This time everyone seemed to be a lot more relaxed, too. It was really interesting for me to see everyone else's evolution in the process since the last time.
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