We had the opportunity to sit down with Karl Urban, who plays the titular character Judge Dredd, to talk about his history with and attachment to the source material, the possibilities for a sequel, the helmet - and yes, the violence in the film.
Screen Rant: You had been a fan of the comic when you were younger, yes?
Karl Urban: "Yeah, that’s right. I first started reading it when I was about seventeen and I was really attracted to the whole dystopian view of the whole sort of futuristic 'Blade Runner'-esque city. I mean Mega-City One is a character in itself within the comics. And I love the people who lived in Mega-City One, and the wonderful little vignettes that you’d have about their lives. And you know, also most importantly, the character of Dredd himself, who was this ultra-staunch member of the Judges, and one of the most iconic and featured Judges in Mega-City One. And, you know, it was kind of - it was ironic that at a point in my life where I was rebelling against anything authoritarian, that I was so captivated by, you know, a figure like Dredd."
How much influence did you have in the adaptation of the character in this film? I mean, did you have a say in the decision to wear the helmet and so forth?
"The helmet was just a non-starter of an issue, and that’s quite frankly the way it should be. It should always have been. I read the script, a wonderful script written by Alex Garland, and got to the end and was pleased to find that Dredd’s helmet stayed on. I then took a meeting with Alex along with Pete and Andrew, and Alex said to me, 'Just so we’re clear, the helmet stays on.' And I said, 'I wouldn’t be taking this meeting if the helmet came off.' So we were both on the same page."
Was it challenging at all? I mean he’s a grumpy sort of a guy. How do you evoke and express that with the helmet on? How did you work around those challenges?
"Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s a huge challenge. And you know, it really comes down to what were the other tools available to me? But you know, in acting - character acting - character is how you do what you do. So for me, there were many different aspects of the character that I could shade and color. He’s a protector, he has a great, dry, sardonic wit. There’s an inner rage, an inner violence, but most importantly, he has it under control. So he’s a character that’s very much in control of himself. He’s in control of his emotions. I didn’t want this Dredd to be based on ego. I didn’t want this Dredd to be a bellowing, posturing figure. He’s just quiet, calm, controlled and to the point. And other interesting elements. Like there’s a weariness to him as well. Like this job and Mega-City One is a meat grinder. It’s a meat grinder on everybody and you can see that in Dredd.
And compassion. Compassion for humanity. You know, he makes a choice through the film. He could kill a couple of people in this movie, but he chooses not to, out of compassion. Basically setting fire...to stun. So you know, there’s a lot there for me to work off. And the voice became very important. And it was described in the comics [...] like a saw cutting through bone. And that was my approximation of what that would be, it was my interpretation. And I had to find something that was going to work in as many situations as possible."
This film is very violent.
"Yes, I was quite surprised, actually, seeing it for the first time the other night with you guys. It’s one thing when you make a film, and then I’ve seen it in various different incarnations without the effects, and then you go to see it in the final cinema, and I was quite taken aback A) at how violent, but then B) at how beautiful [it was] within the violence. This movie would oscillate between being extremely graphic in its depiction of the violence and then suddenly it took on this ethereal, beautiful quality like a moving painting that was - it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen."
Do you think it needed that level of violence to really capture this world and the tone of the film?
"That’s a good question and I don’t feel I would be the right person to answer that. I’d rather keep my opinion to myself on that one."
All right. Were you familiar with Lena Headey and her work before shooting Dredd?
"I wasn’t familiar with her work but I had met her when I was doing 'Bourne Supremacy'. She does such a phenomenal job in this movie, and that’s the cool thing about this movie. There are some seriously strong female characters. You know, this film has amazing women in it. Olivia does such an extraordinary job of taking this slightly vulnerable but, you know, focused and determined character of Anderson and we watch her progress into a fully-formed Judge. Lena Headey does this amazing, left-of-center performance as Ma-Ma, as the lead villain in the film, and she is scary. She is so extraordinary, so extraordinarily talented."
She’s such a great villain.
If there were to be a sequel, would some of these characters come back together? Or would it be Dredd plus all new people?
"I don’t know. I’m kind of at the point where I’m not even thinking about a sequel. I just want to release this film, and I just hope that audiences will embrace it and - look, if this is a one-off cult-classic - and I firmly believe this is a cult-classic film instantly - I’m good. Seriously, I’m really happy. If we make no more['Dredd' films], fine. Honestly, it wouldn’t bother me at all. But if we get to make more of them, then I would love to do that, too. I really would. I would just look forward to continuing the journey and sort of broadening it up, seeing more of this world, more of these characters. I think one of the greatest strengths about this film is the relationship between Dredd and Anderson, you know. There’s a good chemistry between those two characters. They play off each other really well."
Dredd 3D opens today.
Follow me on twitter @JrothC