Dredd 3D with Karl Urban – Part 1

With Dredd 3D in UK cinemas on 7 September, the film’s star Karl Urban chats about pressure, preparation, and getting to grips with the Lawmaster…

  • For part 2 of this interview with Karl Urban, click here.
  • For part 1 of Alex Garland‘s Dredd interview, click here.
  • For part 2 of Alex Garland‘s Dredd interview, click here.

In the film, Dredd asks Olivia Thirlby’s rookie, Anderson, why she wants to be a judge. But why did you want to be a judge?
I guess one of the things that attracted me to this character was the definition of his heroism, which is very human. He’s not a superhero, he doesn’t have superpowers. He’s just a man with an extraordinary skillset, a cool bike and a versatile gun.

More importantly he’s the type of guy who walks into a building when everybody else is running for their lives in the opposite direction. So the opportunity to play that kind of man was something I was hugely attracted to. It reminded me of those really brave firefighters of 9/11. He’s cut of that cloth.

Coming to such a popular series, did you feel any pressure?
No, I didn’t. I felt, as a long term fan, that I’d placed enough pressure on myself without being concerned with what other people thought.

My job and my sole focus was delivering the most interesting, specific, dimensional character I could. When I’m working I’m not concerned what other people are thinking.

How did you prepare to play Dredd?
Every character you prepare for is unique, individual, different. For Dredd, the process was one of getting hold of every single Dredd comic I could.

Obviously, a huge basis for the character was what was on the page. [Screenwriter] Alex Garland wrote a fantastic, action-packed, character-driven piece.

Two was the physical transformation and that really quite gruelling and challenging, working out twice a day for 13 weeks to get to where the character needed to be physically.

And then there was the military training we conducted in Capetown. That was really interesting. We included some exercises where we had BB guns mocked up like Lawgivers and we went through the set and had stunt guys secretly deposited on set, so we actually got into real fire-fights… well, as close to real as you’d would want to get!

Then there was committing the time and energy into learning how to ride that bike. I was comfortable on a regular bike but it took some getting used to the Lawmaster.

And there where hours of discussions with Alex just trying to hone and define the character as best we could. For me it was really important to focus on identifying the humanity of the man.

As I said, he’s not a super-hero, and it was important for me to make him accessible. The humour was part of that and also getting specific as to how he felt about things and how to communicate that to an audience. That was the challenge.

There are certain points in this film where you can see significant gear shifts within the character. After all the innocent people have been murdered and the massacre, you see a real shift within Dredd and that’s his response.

So you can tell by that he does give a damn, that he has compassion. Like when he chooses not to kill the kids with weapons that are trying to kill him, he displays a compassion and a care for humanity.

Was it harder learning to ride the Lawmaster than learning to ride a horse for The Lord Of The Rings?
Ha! It took about as much time and energy! The Lawmaster was great going in straight lines, but corners could be challenging.

How important was keeping the helmet on throughout the film for you?
I had a meeting with [producers] Andrew MacDonald and Allon Reich, Alex and [director] Pete Travis in Los Angeles before they offered me the role and they said to me, ‘look we just wanna make sure you’re totally comfortable with the fact we’re never gonna see your face in this film.’

And I said, ‘I wouldn’t be taking this meeting if I’d read the script and Judge Dredd revealed his identity!’ He’s supposed to be this enigmatic, faceless representative of the law and it’s just essential that it remains that way.

Did you get to keep the helmet?
I did! They gave it to me! I tried to steal it three times before they gave it to me!

Obviously it’s a very physical role, but what was the most difficult part of making the film?
It was most probably the gruelling nature of it. The fact we were shooting in Capetown in summer and I’m wearing motorbike leathers, body armour and a helmet! So, physically it was very challenging.

But I had such a wonderful working relationship with Olivia Thirlby. Every day we’d meet up before shooting and discuss what we were gonna do that day and we were on the same page.

Alex was also on set 24/7 and he was a huge asset to this production. Whenever I’d have a question about what was on the page, I’d ask Alex. For an actor to have the luxury of the guy who actually wrote the film there on set was massive. It just seems right.

Every movie I’ve ever worked on has been in a constant state of evolution, and that process doesn’t even stop after the camera has stopped rolling… the script and the story can still be in a transformative phase through the editing, so that’s a major asset.

  • For part 2 of this interview with Karl Urban, click here.
  • For part 1 of Alex Garland‘s Dredd interview, click here.
  • For part 2 of Alex Garland‘s Dredd interview, click here.