The Dredd star talks about putting on the mask and fleshing out a comic book icon.
In between tucking into a double helping of double choc brownies during our early morning appointment, LWLies got Dredd star Karl Urban’s granite jaw wagging about how to make the no-mercy masked lawman a character of flesh and bone.
LWLies: The comics always had a droll, dry sense of humour. Was that something you were thinking about on the set of Dredd?
Urban: Most definitely. I was looking for every opportunity to inject that humour. That was one of the elements in the comic I always responded to. You were never really sure whether it was taking the piss; you were pretty sure it was, but you could never know. It was important to try and do a similar thing with the film. For me the humour is what is humanising about Dredd. He’s not a robot but a man, and I had to try and define that humanity. The humour was a strong part of that.
Dredd never takes off his mask, and he’s not a bloke renowned for his compassion. What other avenues did you explore to flesh out that character?
The character is defined by his action. It was about working out how he reacts to any given situation. He does have compassion in this film, and it was important to find the place for that. He does spare some people in the film, even though their crimes are punishable by death. There’s a point in the film where there’s a mass slaughter and a loss of innocent life, and there’s a significant gear shift within Dredd at that moment. That manifests itself in the way he treats the criminals from that point onwards; he’s no mercy.
Critics often celebrate physical actors. Is that an ability you’re born with, or can it be learned by anyone?
How you move your body as an actor is one of the most important aspects of the whole job. I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy over the years to exploring all of the tools available to me, whether it’s my voice or body. Any actor worth his salt would. This was certainly an exercise in the physical. It became very important to pay particular attention to my physicality in a scene. Without the use of my eyes, the voice becomes very important. It had to function on a multitude of levels – I had to make it commanding and authoritative, but I’ve always felt that people with true power don’t raise their voice. This character is not a bombastic character based in ego. He’s more like a tightly-wound coil that could leap forth with violence at any moment, but remains contained.
This is a violent film with heavy themes. Did you see it as a moral film in any sense when you first read the script?
I did, but not just through Dredd. I feel the really interesting aspect of morality in the film came from the inhabitants of Mega-City-One – of Peach Trees. Many of them have a choice; do they support or turn their back on the judges. And it’s really interesting to see the ramifications of how those morality choices play out. That was the best part of the comics – Dredd was an enigmatic lawman, but it was the people who lived in Mega-City-One that were the most interesting.
The film was shot in stereo 3D, and it’s been reported that style of shooting limits your range as a director. Did it affect your performance at all?
No, the fundamentals are the same. We shot with Reds and we used the Phantom for the slo-mo stuff. The Reds leant a visual quality to the film. You don’t get as many shots in a day, but what you get is a versatile image because it’s digital, so you can reframe and resize it easily.
What do you love about movies?
It’s one of the last things we do collectively as a society. I love the escapism of going into a darkened room with a bunch of strangers. I love to be entertained and I love to entertain. It’s important to laugh and to take time out of your busy life and take time out of your busy life to let go a bit.