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Why Karl Urban almost didn't come back for Star Trek Beyond

Contributed by
Aug 8, 2016, 11:32 AM EDT (Updated)

The rebooted Star Trek universe almost lost its beloved Dr. McCoy before cameras started rolling on the franchise's latest movie.

That's the story from Karl Urban, who first portrayed Leonard "Bones" McCoy in both J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). But while Urban was a standout in that first film, he got little to do in the second as the iconic trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy was sidelined in favor of more emphasis on the woeful romance between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

So when it came time for the third movie, Star Trek Beyond, Urban told that he wasn't sure he wanted to come back:

"I certainly was hesitant about reprising the role of McCoy. I felt that I was in agreement with a vast number of fans and audience members and critics who, after watching Into Darkness, felt that the character had become marginalized. And I was not keen to repeat that experience. I was out of contract. Because of the Olivia de Havilland law in America, I was no longer under obligation to do a third picture, and was, actually, in fact, negotiating to do another film when we were contacted and asked about reprising the role of McCoy. So I was somewhat ambivalent about it. And I really liked this other piece of material."

It was a meeting with new director Justin Lin, however, that changed Urban's mind:

"I raised my concerns and issues with him. And he outlined the story and the vision that he had for the character. And I was immediately intrigued and also somewhat reassured that he was a long-term fan of Star Trek, that he understood the weight and value of the character, and how the character interacts with Spock and Kirk. So that gave me a great deal of security, which enabled me to make the decision. And I’m so glad I did. I feel that the version of McCoy in Star Trek Beyond is the most well-defined version of the character that I’ve had the benefit to play. So it’s all turned out for the best."

On this we agree. Whatever you may think of Star Trek Beyond overall, McCoy's role in the film is much more suited to his importance and far closer to how he functioned on the original series. Early on, he has a scene with Kirk (Chris Pine) that could have easily taken place between DeForest Kelley and William Shatner, and the subplot in which he and a wounded Spock are separated from the rest of the crew and struggle to survive while engaged in philosophical debate is straight out of the classic Trek canon. 

Urban's portrayal of McCoy (and his almost eerie channeling of the late, great Kelley) has consistently been one of the best elements of the Trek reboots, and he's a legitimate Star Trek fan as well. We're glad he decided to stick around, and that Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (also all diehard Trek fans) gave the character the respect he deserves. Sound off below and let us know if you concur.

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