What Trek's Karl Urban thinks is the essence of “Bones”

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Karl Urban told SCI FI Wire that he was "well versed" in the history of Star Trek before he signed on to play Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek movie.

"I remember watching quite a bit of the original series with my father, when I was a boy," the New Zealand-born Urban said in an exclusive interview. "About a year before I knew they were making a new film, I bought the entire box set [of the original series] and watched it with my son, who absolutely loved the show. He found some aspects hilarious. He was like, 'Look, dad, they have posters of star systems instead of plasma screens.' So when J.J. was looking for his new cast, I was well versed in the culture and character of the show."

SCI FI Wire spoke to Urban exclusively, and following are edited excerpts from our interview. Star Trek opens Friday in conventional theaters and IMAX.

What was your favorite of the original series features?

Urban: Wrath of Khan. No question. No question. Hands down, it was the best.

With all due respect, you look nothing like the late DeForest Kelley, who played McCoy in the original series. When you were first approached about Star Trek, did you know what character they were thinking of you for?

Urban: No. I was made aware that they were going to make it and thought, "Wow, that'd be really cool to be a part of it," because I had such fond memories of it growing up. So I just went and took a meeting with [casting director] April Webster and J.J., and then after that they said, "We'd really love for you to come in and read for Bones." I was thrilled to bits. They're all iconic characters. To be part of the triumvirate, so to speak, was awesome.

Be honest: Did you get the character you wanted or would you have preferred a different role?

Urban: I'm quite happy. I got the one I wanted. What appealed to me about Bones is that he has this amazingly poor bedside manner and this irascible surface character, but underneath he cares deeply about people, and his altruistic actions are the complete opposite of that surface gruffness, and that's always really quite appealing, when you [get to play] such a great polarity.

Some of your co-stars have met and picked the brains of their predecessors. If you'd had a chance to meet DeForest Kelley, what might you have asked him?

Urban: Oh, my God, I'd have had a whole plethora of questions for him, probably more pertaining to his experience of having 40 years of Star Trek in his life and what that was like. What an extraordinary actor. I really would have cherished the opportunity to meet him the way that Zach Quinto had the opportunity to meet and work with Leonard Nimoy.

You mentioned the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate. This story is early days for the crew, so how much of that do we get, and how did you enjoy working with Pine and Quinto?

Urban: The triumvirate as it sort of classically came to be formed in the series is really just in its genesis in this movie. You only really get a hint of [it]. The characters are introduced and thrown into a horrendous situation. So it's definitely the stepping-off point for that. But I had the most fantastic time working on this film, in particular working with Chris Pine, who I think is just an extraordinarily gifted young actor who has a stellar future ahead of him. This kid embodies James T. Kirk. He did not make the mistake of going in there and trying to imitate [original series star William] Shatner's vocal pattern or anything like that, but he is the very embodiment of Kirk. He's got it all. He's the complete package. I can't speak highly enough of him.