Urban Legend: Karl Urban on playing Judge Dredd

Karl Urban
Karl Urban
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EVERY actor dreams of seeing themselves on the big screen. And landing the lead role in Dredd 3D, the latest film about iconic comic book character Judge Dredd, was a dream come true for Karl Urban.

But the New Zealand actor won’t actually be seeing much of himself on screen - thanks to his cumbersome costume.

“Comfortable isn’t necessarily an adjective I would associate with any of the uniform,” jokes the 40-year-old.

“We shot in Cape Town in the middle of a South African summer and I wore a full leather motorcycle outfit, body armour and a helmet. Let’s just say it was moist...”

He’s not complaining, though. Urban appreciates that the skin-concealing garb is a crucial part of the crime-fighting character, who started life on the pages of British comic anthology 2000 AD.

“One of the great aspects of Dredd is that you never fully see his identity,” Urban explains.

“Since his creation in 1977, he was the faceless representation of the law and an enigma, and to do anything else just wouldn’t have been Dredd.

“I wouldn’t have done the film if I wasn’t happy with it, although I don’t think I was quite prepared for how challenging it was.”

As a long-time Judge Dredd fan, Urban was pleased that the film, directed by Pete Travis and written by The Beach author Alex Garland, is accurate to Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s comic strips.

“Alex Garland had been faithful to the original concept. My main source of inspiration was the comics and, of course, Alex’s character-driven script,” he says.

Urban was introduced to the comics during his teens, so is thrilled to have had the opportunity to put his stamp on the legacy, alongside co-stars Olivia Thirlby, Game Of Thrones’ Lena Headey and Domhnall Gleeson. And having to do the whole thing with his face hidden was an interesting obstacle.

“It was a huge challenge to communicate with the audience without the use of your eyes,” he admits.

“The voice takes on a role, and how you do everything becomes really important. It was important for me not to play the icon, but to play the man. I wanted to look for his humanity and the subtle gear changes where that would occur.”

Despite being well covered up, Urban was still forced to get into shape, training hard in the gym and learning to handle weapons and tactics with the help of ex-paramilitaries.

“I really enjoyed doing that physical acting and stunts. The first thing I had to do as preparation was to stop drinking beer and eating hamburgers,” he reveals.

“I then had to start lifting lots of heavy things, multiple times per day.

“I found that daunting. I was working out twice a day, eating six times a day and every time I came back, there was my pile of Dredd comics with this ripped figure just goading me on.”

Riding Dredd’s famous Lawmaster motorbike made it all worthwhile though.

“The most fun day on the entire shoot was when I was in my full Dredd uniform, driving the Lawmaster through the streets of Cape Town as we were shooting the opening sequence.

“I wish I could do the whole film on this bike, it was a lot of fun,” he recalls, grinning.

Urban’s two sons with wife Natalie - 11-year-old Hunter and Indiana, seven - approve of their dad’s latest role, even if they aren’t able to watch it yet, due to the 18 rating.

“They think it’s kind of cool, although they won’t be able to see the movie for about a decade. They enjoy seeing the posters and all,” he says.

Referring to the rating, he adds, “I think it’s a bold move in an era where a lot of superhero-style movies come out and pander to a younger demographic.

“This movie takes a firm stand and says, ‘We’re for the big boys and girls’. It’s cool because it allows you to explore certain things thematically that a lot of the Hollywood films don’t have the opportunity to.”

And if Dredd becomes a hit (Garland has already talked about the possibility of a trilogy), Urban’s always open to donning the heavy-duty leathers and helmet again.

“I haven’t really thought too much about the future and where we could take the character. I’m just here, being in the moment and releasing a film that I’m really proud of,” he says.

“If this is a one-off and it becomes an instant cult classic, I would be really happy. But if we get to make more, I’d be on board.”

Dredd opens in cinemas tomorrow