Karl Urban explains his 'darker, grittier, more realistic' Dredd

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Rick Klaw
Dec 17, 2012

Seventeen years since his disastrous big screen appearance, the iconic Judge Dredd returns in Dredd. This time the movie features a modest budget and focuses on the characters rather than a big name superstar.

Karl Urban, who portrays the titular character and first began reading the comic as a teenager in his native New Zealand, compared the two. "This was the Dredd I read as teenager. Tonally this a darker, grittier, more realistic with the right dry sense of humor. It was a very simple character driven story about survival, empowerment, and discovering your capabilities."

Screenwriter and producer Alex Garland also experienced Judge Dredd as a youth. "I starting reading Dredd when I was 10 in 1980. And was immediately hooked. It was probably the first thing I hid from my parents. I read and really loved it. I stayed in touch with the character. I became someone who tried to collect missing issues. I was really into it."

This love lead to Garland's insistence that Dredd co-creator John Wagner be involved in all aspects. "It was important to me that we weren't just name checking him but that he was one of the crew. It meant it wasn't just an act of homage. It was a practical thing about having this guy around making sure that [we] were doing the right thing by this character. John read many different drafts of the script. He came out to the set. Later, I showed him several different cuts at different stages looking for his input. It was genuine involvement." Among Wagner's many contributions were refining Dredd's pithy, blunt dialogue and a change to the film's ending.

"There is a contractual requirement that that he couldn't take his helmet off. It's literally in the contract," commented Garland. "Karl wouldn't have done it anyway, even if we asked him. And I wouldn't have allowed it in the first place. We were all on the same page."

"The process was one of figuring out how to communicate with the audience without the use of my eyes. The voice became very important as did the physicality," added Urban about acting under a helmet. "He's quite an icon. It would be a mistake to play the icon. We had to find the man within that uniform and underneath that helmet. We focused on the physicality, sense of humor... finding out where he's compassionate, where the gear shifts are and in response to what. That was really the foundation."

"Basically, based my research on reading every single Dredd comic I could," revealed Urban. "Then trying to the best of my ability to service the script and flesh out the character. Obviously, I'm aware of the fact that when Dredd was created Clint Eastwood was part of the inspiration for the character. But I didn't go watch old Eastwood movies. But the archetype of Dredd is definitely founded in that Man With No Name type."

It was the humanity that first attracted Urban to the project, particularly the relationship between Dredd and Anderson. "At the heart, this film is a two-hander between Olivia and myself; Anderson and Dredd. I really like how at the beginning they don't like each other but in order to survive they have to learn how to work together. It's sorta a buddy film."

Rather seeing the modest budget, a reported $45 million, as a determent, Garland sees it as a strength.

"Having less money than you want is a good thing. It creates a good atmosphere on the set, an indy movie sensibility. Everybody has to pull together. It's about doing for the love of thing and not for the paycheck. I prefer to work at a cheaper level generally partfully for that reason and also it forces you to be more creative when solving problems. I think audiences can tell when a film is trying and when it's being lazy. Can tell when it's struggling for it's own existence. That's what were doing the whole way through. Struggling to keep alive."

"This movie has to climb a mountain in order for that to happen," said Urban about the possibility of a sequel. "It's really too early to speculate. Would we like to be involved: absolutely! We are handing it off to an audience, If they embrace and see it in numbers, sure we'll be back. If not and this is a standalone film, we are really proud. It's an instant cult classic. It's a nice enigmatic way to introduce the character and it be a stand alone film."

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