Popcorn Taxi: It is an honour and a privilege for me to be with you here tonight. We have one of Hollywood’s greats; a man who is a chameleon, no matter how sexy he is to some people, he always manages to imbue a role with something special. He’s a man who’s played a gay paramedic, he’s played a horse rider in the world of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he’s played a vampiric bad guy, and he’s played Judge Dredd. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, please put your hands together for Mr. Karl Urban.
Karl Urban: Hey guys, how are you? (In the voice of Dredd) Did you enjoy the movie? (normal voice) I just want to say it’s great to be back here in Australia; I’m from New Zealand or the “West Island” as I like to call it. What do Kiwis and sperm have in common? No, serious question! We come here in the millions, only a couple work! What do you call a bunch of Aussies watching the World Cup final? The Wallabies! I got lots of those, just so you know.
PT: And this from a man who lived in Bondi Beach in 1995 for a year and then went back to New Zealand.
KU: That’s right, I decided to go back to increase the IQ of both countries. Honestly, I’ve got heaps!
PT: Karl, I want to start off by talking about how you landed your role in Lord of the Rings. Because, I think that most people on the international stage think of that as your major breakthrough, but I think it was the fact you managed to pull off having sex in a vat of milk with Danielle Cormack that really put you on the world stage in a kind of round-a-bout way.
KU: Yeah, I was never quite able to drink [milk] after that. (laughs) Yes, that’s right; actually, I got the role on Lord of the Rings mainly through this little New Zealand film called, The Price of Milk. The director of that, Harry Sinclair, was really good mates with Pete Jackson and he took down a rough cut of The Price of Milk to show Pete and I think there was some back and forth, a bit of a collaboration, and I just happened to be in Pete’s face when he was looking for someone to cast in the role of Eomer.
PT: Did he ever tell you that went through his mind when he said, ‘Oh, Eomer, leader of the riders of the Riddermark: New Zealand dairy farmer’. How does that work? Or he just saw there was something more to you?
KU: Yeah, I don’t know. Probably it certainly wasn’t my arse bobbing up and down in the vat of milk…
PT: Who knows?
KU: Yeah, who knows?
PT: Now, since then you’ve obviously gone on to bigger and better things, although it’s hard to look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy now without saying, ’Well, here’s a man who took the bull by the horns’, but before that you had had exposure to Hollywood. You were in a fabulously interesting film called Ghost Ship.
KU: That was actually shot after Lord of the Rings.
PT: Oh really? I thought it was 2002?
KU: Yeah, yeah. When we shot Lord of the Rings we finished principal photography in 2002. Then off the back of that, I (mimics Australian accent) came across the ditch and did Ghost Ship on the Gold Coast.
PT: Now, of course you got to work with Gabriel Byrne. A fascinating experience, where previously you got to eat cockroaches and in this one you had a crack at what look like maggots, I don’t know if they were stunt maggots, or actual maggots?
KU: Yeah, no—they were real maggots. They bred them especially for the scene and most of them survived.
PT: It’s interesting because the roles that you do, you take them on board but you also give them a little bit of something extra. There’s a fearlessness to the way you navigate your career and I’m just wondering, obviously a lot of—for want of a better word, “fan boys”—enjoy your work in genre sci-fi films, but at the same time, it seems like it’s a happy accident. It’s not like you’re seeking out where you can play a futuristic vampire or perhaps a judge, jury and executioner in Megacity One. Is there any kind of rhyme or reason to the way you choose a role, or is it something in particular you seek in each and every individual role?
KU: No, there’s not actually. I’ve joked before that if I really had properly planned this career I probably wouldn’t have done a third of the films that I have done, but for me it’s just simply a case of reading a script and when you start to make decisions about that character or you might play a scene or how it resonates with you.
You start thinking about it, after you’ve read it—that’s generally a pretty good indication that it’s something that’s sparked a bit of a creative buzz within you. And then from there, I simply look at the sum of the creative elements involved. With, Dredd it was simply a no-brainer for me because, first of all, Alex Garland’s script was really quite wonderful; it was a character-driven script. It had action, I felt like it was a kind of pressure-cooker kind of environment and I really responded to the relationship between Dredd and Anderson—ostensibly a senior cop and his rookie.
I really enjoyed the fact that they didn’t like each other much at the beginning but they have to learn to work together in order to survive. To me, that’s great conflict and that’s really important in a film; that’s going to be engaging to watch the evolution of that relationship.
Too many movies that get made, particularly ones that come out of Hollywood tend to be kind of vacuous, special effects extravaganzas and they fail to get that kind of human beat, that human element right and that’s one of the things I recognised within the script that Alex had done.
And then I also looked at other elements—like the cinematographer, is Anthony Dodd-Mantel. He won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. So you look at the sum of the elements involved and you try and make an educated guess as to whether it’s going to be executed with a degree of quality.
PT: This film, as the lead, you weren’t just the lead actor, you were involved from the get-go in the creative process in a way that really doesn’t happen that often for actors, because they’re on the set for a couple of weeks and then they move on to the next thing. But you were not only involved in pre-production but also post-production, which I think, for a year and a half, is quite extensive. And whilst the film has a science fiction background, it’s not as heavy in CGI as you would expect—because $35 million was the budget or thereabouts?
KU: Yeah, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realise about this film; this is not a big, Hollywood blockbuster and it punches well above its weight. We were a small, independent British film, we basically had 35 million bucks and all of that ended up on the screen. So for me, I found the collaboration with Alex Garland to be really rewarding. It was quite unlike anything I’d experienced before; the degree to which we formed quite a solid partnership, there was a great back and forth.
As you know Alex, the writer of Dredd, he wrote The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later, so he’s got a fantastic pedigree. He was on set pretty much the entire time, so it was quite natural for me to gravitate towards him through the making of this film.
Whenever I had a question about whatever it was, whether it was in the script or if there was a beat that I was uncertain about, or if there was a beat perhaps where I had several choices in front of me as to how that could be played out, it was just easier to go to the guy who wrote it; to drink from the source rather than downstream.
PT: It’s interesting this film. You’ve talked about acting with the lower half of your face and being constrained within the tightly wound body of Judge Dredd, but I want to talk—especially for the actors in the room—about controlling your movement and controlling the story through the way that you move. You can see Dredd tightens up when he’s being talked about in the opening sequence with Olivia Thirlby talking about him, but then as you go through there are some incredible moments where you get: a) his hostility towards her; and then, later on, there’s that incredible scene where you’re shot and your entire body slumps down. Can you tell us about controlling your body and transmitting that story just through movement?
KU: Yeah, well that was in the approach to this movie, I realised it was going to be a huge change. Obviously the eyes are such an important, valuable tool for the actor and to approach a role where I was going to be denied the use of them was an extraordinary challenge, it really meant that I had to think about all of the other tools I had available to me in order to convey the thoughts and emotions.
So, obviously the physicality of the character takes on extreme importance, how Dredd does what he does. I likened it a lot to working in theatre; it’s quite easy for actors who work in television and film just to work from here up and this was an exercise where I really had to use the whole body.
The voice becomes incredibly important too, and as far as that goes [there’s] certain points in the script where Dredd uses his voice as a weapon. Also, in the research I found a passage in one of the comics that described Dredd’s voice like a saw cutting through bone, so I went to the local butcher and I… no I didn’t really!
KU: But yeah, I’ll tell you what the really interesting discovery was, and this is probably a testament again to the quality of Alex Garland’s script, was just having the confidence that if you think the thought and feel the emotion, the audience will, too, even if they can’t see your eyes. And that was quite a revelation, and I’m not surprised because in the reading of the script, it was tight and it was well written and you knew where Dredd was at any given point and I think that translated to the movie.
PT: I think we have to talk a little bit about the voice because one thing throughout your career is your incredible ability to move from voice to voice. Obviously, Bones McCoy is a bit of a symphony of DeForest Kelley and obviously your translation of that. But also, how did you get to Dredd? Were you just watching old Dirty Harry movies? Was there a process in your mind? Or did it just blurt out of you?
KU: (In Dredd’s voice) I just imagined he’d just had a tonsillectomy and went from there… (normal voice) a lot of whisky, a lot of cigarettes! It was just a process of discovering it and, to tell you the truth, also it was important that it be my voice, there’s nothing computerised about that and really it’s just [that] there’s a whole bunch of factors that come into it. One was that I was cognizant of the fact that this story takes place over a 24-hour time frame and elements like fatigue and dehydration set in.
I also wanted a certain economy to the character; there’s an economy of movement, an economy of words. I felt very strongly that if I can say it in one word or in one sentence, then don’t use five. In actual fact, in one of the early scripts, Alex Garland showed the [character] creator, John Wagner, a script of Dredd and John loved it. One of his few notes that he came back with was, ‘Dredd says less’.
So, Alex went away and wrote another draft of the script and then I hooked up with Alex in Cape Town a couple of weeks before we were going to shoot and had a script meeting. In that meeting we went through every single scene and every single beat and discussed it and nailed what we wanted to do.
I opened my page and he sees these lines that I’ve crossed out through the dialogue and he sort of looks at it with curiosity, and I said, ‘Oh, look mate, I love this dialogue, but… Dredd says less’. He was like, ‘Funny you should say that…’ So, we went from there and again cut it down even more.
PT: So, he basically, as a character, he’s fresh out of words?
KU: Fresh out of words?
KU: No, he’s not. He’s got a lot of words and a lot of thoughts. One of the things that was important to me in this character was, first of all, that there’s a fatigue. He’s a little bit jaded. Dredd’s kind of been on the job for about 15 years before this day. That was really important and it was really important to me also. The humour was very important. That dry humour, those lines at first when you start watching the film you’re like, ‘Fuck, is he taking the piss? Fuck, he is taking the piss!’
No matter all the carnage and the shit that’s going on, he’s actually got a sense of humour and that’s one of the things that humanises the character, and that’s really the challenge—he’s not a superhero, he doesn’t have superhero powers, he’s a man. It was important for me, as an actor approaching it not to try and play the icon, but I had to identify who the man was beneath that helmet and beneath that uniform and work from there.
PT: Obviously playing, or being the actor who uses a cerebral approach, that is a challenge to do every day…
KU: Especially if you’re as thick as me, it’s a challenge.
PT: Well, this is the thing though, you don’t want to be too clever as an actor because you’ll trip yourself over and obviously that’s not a problem for you. You let your natural charm shine through without being tripped up by all these I.Q. points and all that kind of jazz, but seriously though…
KU: Your story, mate.
PT: Part of being an actor in Hollywood, or at least in big movies, is having a bit of fun. You have developed some skills over time that are ridiculous for most people, but that’s just part of your day-to-day activity.
KU: Yeah, yeah. I do. I literally have a whole sort of armoury of deadly skills that I can never use in real life. On The Bourne Supremacy they trained me up to do a reverse 180 in a Mercedes G Wagon and then actually let me do it. The multitude of weapons and martial arts training that I’ve had from films, and I think, ‘Well, where can I use that?’
PT: Seriously, you haven’t done a reverse 180 around…
KU: In a Mercedes G Wagon, yeah, they actually let me shoot…
PT: No. But you haven’t done it in New Zealand some late night? Perhaps around Auckland or Wellington in the back streets and thought, ‘Let’s try this out shall we’?
KU: Yeah, I might have, actually.
PT: Well Karl, I think everybody in this audience thinks you’re a pretty decent guy but now you’ve just raised up slightly higher.
KU: Oh, great—he drives recklessly. Nice one. I did try it, but way out in the country on dirt roads, so I deemed it to be safe.
PT: But, then obviously the ability to pick up an apple from horseback at speed isn’t something you’ll use in traffic.
KU: What was that from?
PT: Picking up an apple from the back of a horse… I believe that was when you were training on Lord of the Rings?
KU: Geez, you know more than me!
PT: Well I heard the story that you could, at full gallop, pick an apple up off the ground.
KU: Yes I can! (audience laughs) That’s right.
PT: Excellent dancer.
KU: I like that story. I’m going to keep that!
PT: Ha ha. But there are obviously a couple of times when it is a bit of fun, shooting guns and riding bikes… The Lawmaster: a lot of fans are pretty excited by that, and you were actually driving that motorcycle through the streets of Cape Town, it wasn’t a stunt double?
KU: Yeah, that’s correct. That was a fun day as well. You know there’s certain points in your career when you get to do things and, as I said before, you can’t believe they’re actually letting you do it. One of them was riding the Lawmaster bike through the streets of Cape Town. We had probably a couple of kays worth of street that was blocked off and these South African cops were stationed at all of the roads to make sure no-one was coming through and I just fucking loved it, mate! I was just gunning it down with total impunity, obviously going clearly faster than the speed limit, just zooming past these cops—that was a good day at the office.
PT: Obviously, being an actor, you have to have trust directors and it’s that idea of fear in your job that, ‘The director’s going to make me look like a twit on the big screen, in front of millions of people’. But you seem to have developed a knack to find the right people who will direct you correctly, or at least not mess you up. Is there something you look for in a director or is it just [that] you basically hope for the best when you start on set?
KU: That’s an interesting question. Look, it’s always a leap of faith. It really is. And going in to any project, you never really know until you’re there on the day. Sometimes you know earlier whether it’s going to work or not.
I’ve had the benefit of working with and watching some really great actors work, like Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings, and watching him from take to take to see how he would give a slight variation to the director, so not only is he giving the director the luxury of choice, but he’s also keeping the performance fresh for himself, and that is something that I aspire to do.
The danger is when you are in a situation where you do your best to abandon all your fears and you place your trust in the director, you can get it wrong, you can completely go to areas that are perpetually not the most specific choice you can make or are very risky, and put yourself out there and that’s just one of those things that you kind of have to gauge.
In all honesty, if I trust the director, I don’t mind doing anything, I’ll make a complete fool out of myself, there might be something in it, but it’s a lot more difficult to do when you don’t have that trust in the director, then you’re much more likely to give a more limited amount of choices.
PT: Now ladies and gentlemen, obviously we have some microphones stationed all around this wonderful theatre so you’ll see people walking around with microphones, and I’m going to throw it up after I ask Karl one more question. If you make yourself known, there’s also a microphone up the top there. The Popcorn Taxi staff will be walking around, just wave your arms about and hopefully they’ll see you and you’ll get to ask a question.
I’ll just ask one more question and then we’ll throw it open to the audience. Now Karl, I think one of the most interesting things that you’re touching on is about having trust in a director, but there’s got to be that point when you go, ‘Shit! This guy’s an idiot!’ Who was that person and what did you say? No, but seriously, at what point do you go, ‘ Shit, there’s nothing I can do except salvage my role’?
KU: Well, look, here’s the thing: I ultimately view my responsibility when I’m hired to do a job; my responsibility is to service the script, to service the character, and at the end of the day, I can contribute and say, ‘Hey mate, in my opinion, X, Y and Z…’ but at the end of the day it’s your film and it’s a director’s medium and it just comes to a point where ultimately, certain things have to lie outside your area of concern and you just concentrate on servicing the script and the character to the best of your ability.
It’s a leap of faith, it always is and no film ever really turns out exactly the way you had imagined it, even the big ones. It’s always a process of evolution and change and nothing is ever solidified until the movie is released.
PT: All right ladies and gentleman, let’s see what we’ve got. Okay, we’ve got a question over here to the right.
Audience member 1: Karl, I’ve been waiting 25 years for someone to do Dredd properly.
Karl: Thanks for saying that, I appreciate that.
Audience member 1: I just wanna say thanks for absolutely nailing it. Could you describe for us the research and the preparation you did to actually do Dredd?
KU: Yeah sure. First of all I got hold of every single Dredd comic that I could, and that was really interesting because I read Dredd as a teenager, so I got to re-read all those stories that I kind of responded to in my youth. Then I discovered a whole lot of stories that had been written subsequent to my having stopped reading Dredd and that’s where I found the most interesting, fertile information on Dredd because over that last sort of 15 years there’s this wonderful depth and maturity of writing and depth and maturity in the character of Dredd himself that had evolved.
Originally Dredd was a satirical response to 70’s Thatcherism and the stories were quite often little vignettes but as Dredd gets older, the character starts to question his role. The very totalitarian justice system that he is charged to uphold and serve, he questions that and to me that is really interesting ground, that speaks of an inner conflict.
In this film, through his interaction with Anderson, it’s really kind of the sort of the dawn of change within him. At the beginning of the film, he sees things in a very black-and-white sort of fashion, there’s right and wrong—you’re either on this side of the law, or you’re on that side of the law—but you know, obviously, at the end of the film, in passing Anderson—by rights he shouldn’t pass her. You know, she’s failed the very steps that he’s said, ‘If you fail this, you fail’ but he ends up passing her, so Dredd comes to understand that there’s this grey area and that’s the beginning of this questioning process of the character.
I digress. So, anyway, I read every single Dredd comic that I could, hit the gym and that was kind of daunting; Alex and I were pretty convinced that we didn’t want a ‘roider’ Dredd. When Dredd was first drawn, he was a lot more lithe. We kind of wanted him a lot more to be like a panther and that was one of the keys for the character.
For me, it’s far more interesting. I wanted him to be like a tightly wound coil. It’s far more interesting to me to play a character who is struggling to contain the rage and the anger rather than to play a character who is letting it out. That was one of the important keys for Dredd. From there, I also did a two-and-a-half week military boot camp in Cape Town, and that was really interesting as well.
We worked with these ex-British military types who trained up in tactical manoeuvring and one day we went on set and the Lawgivers were actually properly, fully functioning guns and the rehearsal ones were BB guns and fired bullets.
So, they gave us these BB guns and set us off to clear the set. They’d put a couple of fucking stuntmen on set with BB guns and they started firing at us! We got engaged in this firefight and those fuckers hurt when they hit you in the head!
PT: How hard is it to shoot somebody with that helmet on? Can you see anything?
KU: Yeah it was, that was the thing, it was all essentially a fully-functioning uniform; it was proper motorbike leathers, the body armour and a motorcycle helmet.
PT: We’ve got a question from up the top here.
Audience member 2: I work as a location reporter on some film shoots, just every now and again, and I was wondering, with your process on set, do you try to encourage a very positive environment? It seems like just hearing you talk now it’s seems like you’re really trying to have a laugh on set even though your character in the film is a very serious and very intense character. Do you feel it’s really important to maintain an air of positivity and light-heartedness or do you just keep it serious when you’re on set, when you’re actually shooting?
KU: It is important and I often think you get the best results when everybody’s relaxed; certainly with my experience of working on Star Trek, from the moment you get in there to the moment you walk out the door you’re just constantly laughing the whole day and I think it really just relaxes you as a performer and it’s a good thing.
That being said, sometimes making a film is trench warfare. You’re up against it, you have a limited amount of time and you’ve got to get your days and you’ve got to get your scenes, it’s a pressure cooker environment. That’s really where the acid test comes into it, especially when things don’t go your way or go the way… or you’re up against it.
You know, you get rained on and suddenly your day’s cut in half, you get less takes and things become a scramble and quite often the first thing that gets jettisoned is quality.
I’m also a firm believer in fighting for what I believe in, in the character; I see it as my responsibility so I’ve got no qualms with going head-to-head with someone if I differ. No two days are the same, but certainly it’s important to have a laugh but then it’s also important to say, come on guys, we gotta make day.
PT: We’ve got another question down here.
Audience member 3: Karl, fantastic film, great performance; I think this is your best work yet. Just following up from your work with Alex Garland, were you ever privy to—he actually wrote a previous script, a version with Dredd’s death—do you know anything about that storyline and did he show you his previous script of this?
KU: No, I didn’t, I never saw that script. I only really heard of that subsequently whilst we were doing press. But, from my understanding of it, it was too big a movie; he wanted to concentrate on establishing the characters in a much more contained way.
What we felt was one of the mistakes of the previous incarnation was that it was one of those films that tried to do too much and that somewhat had a sort of disengaging effect. We wanted this to be quite a simple story about a senior cop and his rookie, and I think that’s why he chose to do what he did.
PT: We’ve got one question down here and then we’re going to have a question from up there.
KU: Opinion of what, sorry?
Audience member 4: The Eric Morris method.
KU: The Eric Morris method?
Audience: Yeah, he’s based in America; it’s like Stanislavski, but modern.
KU: Right, yeah, I’m a big fan of the Smirnoff method. (audience laughs) Sorry. I don’t know about that particular method, but I certainly would be interested in finding out about it. (audience laughs) No, fair dinkum! I mean that. The Smirnoff method is fucking good, too, though; I must say!
I’m a firm believer in investing in your craft. I honestly think that no matter what you do in your life, the more you put into something, the more you’re going to get out of it, not out of it like that, you know.
So when I was training, whenever I wasn’t working I would literally pay to work by taking classes and the one that I found to be most beneficial was actually a teacher who worked with Sanford Meisner. Sandy Meisner is an acting guru out in New York and basically the fundamental nuts and bolts of his technique is that it gives you tools as an actor for when you’re instinct fails you.
For example, Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now—there’s that famous scene when he’s on the beach and he smells the smell of napalm. He says, ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’. He did, what in Meisner is called an ‘as if’ to make it specific because in acting as in life, nothing is general, everything is very specific and the more specific that you make those beats, the more full of life they will be on the screen or on stage.
So, in an ‘as if’, what he did was when he was saying that line, what he was thinking about was clams, steamed clams. So, he took the sense of steamed clams, what the smell of steamed clams was to him and put that into the scene and that’s why that moment is so grounded.
PT: So, there you go ladies and gentlemen: Apocalypse Now and steamed clams, you heard it from Karl Urban.
KU: What was the name of that technique again? Your technique; the one that you’ve been studying?
Audience member 4: Eric Morris.
KU: Eric Morris. Okay, thank you.
PT: We have a question up here.
Audience member 5: Hi Bones. Oh, er, Karl isn’t it?
KU: Are you out of your Vulcan mind?! (audience laughs)
Audience member 5: I was wondering about your opinion on the original, the Sly Stallone one?
KU: The original Sly Stallone movie?
Audience member 5: Yes, the original Dredd one. And also with the helmet, could you actually see out of it, because it has those ‘x’ things on it?
KU: Yes, I could see out of the helmet and, well, I have to be pretty careful about what I say about the original film… I thought it was a piece of shit! (audience laughs) I mean: come on! Have you seen that recently? I haven’t seen it recently, but the opening frame is him standing in the middle of the street going, ‘AHBLDLAAAHRR!!’ You can’t understand what the fuck the guy’s saying!
Audience member 5: It’s nostalgia, nostalgia.
KU: I just wanted to be… I thought it was important that I got the diction right in this movie. (audience laughs) It’s the little things.
PT: Ah, Karl Urban—a man without spandex. Thank you very much. We’ve got a question down here.
Audience member 6: G’day Karl, congratulations on all your success so far. As one of the millions of Kiwi sperm also over here, I’m a fan of Australia and the Smirnoff technique. I was wondering if you had any other acting advice other than making the jump to L.A.?
KU: Don’t do it. No, seriously? Acting advice? Anything specific?
Audience member 6: I think when I say, you make the jump to L.A. or can you be based here in Australia and New Zealand to make success, I know it is possible to do that and I know the odds are against you, really, if you go to L.A. and it’s a bit of a minefield out there; so your thoughts on that, I think?
KU: Well, first of all, there’s no one golden yellow brick road that’s going to lead you to Hollywood stardom. For me, personally, I’m a firm believer in investing in your local industry and starting local, because if you have a film or something that you can go over to Los Angeles or the international film festivals with, then it’s easier to get traction.
People in Hollywood will take the meeting with you, because they don’t want to be the one who turned the next big thing down. That being said, I don’t live in Los Angeles, I live in New Zealand. I enjoy the quality of life that I have there and it seems to be working fine for me.
I have no doubt that I could get more traction if I did live in Los Angeles—there’s no doubt about it—just by virtue of the fact that I could be there to take the meetings for those roles if Leo or Brad or one of those guys suddenly drops out of a role, there’s a slot there and you can go on and take a meeting, well I can’t do that. For me, I hop on a plane; it’s a 12-hour commute.
And that’s the thing that that people—going back to the choices of film that you make—unless you are Leonardo DiCaprio, Pitt, or one of those top, A-List guys, you don’t have the luxury of choice necessarily. It’s a fight, because in Hollywood there’s a list and no matter how small the film, the producers, the directors, they’ll have a list and you’ll have the Leo’s and now the Chris Hemsworth’s and the Pine’s and all those guys at the top of the list and you’re slightly down the list.
So very often as an actor I find it’s about fighting for the best of what’s left after those guys have taken all of the plum roles. But just go for it! You know? I think that’s one of the hardest things; you have to invest in yourself, you have to invest in your craft and you just have to be obstinate and persistent and that’s basically it. And if it doesn’t work out, then just sell drugs to school kids. (audience laughs)
Audience member 7: Hi Karl, shooting in South Africa, was that an interesting experience? I mean the architecture, that sort of blocky look about it gave the film a really interesting aesthetic and I really enjoyed that. Additionally, the way you’re speaking about Alex Garland, sort of seems like he was almost like a co-director; how did that dynamic work between the two?
Karl: That’s a good question. First off, working in South Africa was amazing; we shot at the Cape Town Film Studios, which is a brand new facility. And we kind of had a bit of a United Nations crew: there was a whole bunch of South Africans and then there was a big British contingent, a couple of American—particularly working on the 3D visual side—and then a Kiwi. It was great that the All Blacks were playing so well. Sorry, I just thought I’d put that in.
It was really quite enjoyable, and as far as Alex Garland and Pete Travis, to answer it diplomatically, this is probably quite a unique film in the regard [in] that it was more of a collaborative effort than a single man’s vision or an auteur’s film. It is true that Alex Garland, he did basically edit this film, he did the re-shoots and in many ways this is Alex Garland’s film, but that being said—again everybody from the cinematographer to Pete Travis, to Alex, to myself, to Olivia, everybody actually had an input into it.
Just the actual, visual look of this film… Anthony Dodd-Mantel, the interesting thing about his work is that he chooses frames you don’t expect, and he really put his artistic stamp on this movie. The whole slow-mo thing really gives you the feel of what it’s like to be on that drug and I can prove it because there are samples out there that we’re going to give you afterwards. (audience laughs)
PT: Shooting those with the slow-mo cameras—I can’t remember the technical name. I would imagine that the sound that they would make would be quite extraordinary, or are they all completely digital and there’s no moving parts?
KU: Yeah. No, no, we used the Phantoms. Yeah, I think when they work they shoot something like 4000 or 8000 frames per second; you get like a minute max. It was an interesting one.
PT: So it looks like we’re running out of time, so we’ve only got a couple of questions left. We’ve got one up here and maybe one more, if lucky.
Audience member 8: Hi Karl, my question to you is can you name some of the actors and directors you admire, you’d like to work with and why? And are you prepared to name some actors you’ve worked with who are pretty shoddy and could have done better? (audience laughs)
KU: I’d really fucking love to, eh! I really would. Actors that I would like to work with, I’d love to work with Viggo again. I would obviously, erm… (audience laughs as photo of Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban flashes up on screen) Well, he looks good! Wow. Wouldn’t it be really weird if every actor I named, suddenly, there’s a photo of them up there?
Who else? I like—there’s a few new directors that have come through. Nicolas Refn, the director of Drive, I’d like to work with him. Obviously I would like to work with J.J. (Abrams) again, the Coen Brothers—I would love the opportunity to work with them; No Country for Old Men is one of my favourites. I mean there’s just many. There’s many, and as far as giving the dirt on someone, I don’t know if I can. I have got lots that I could say…
All right, I’ll tell you this story: it’s not so much dirt but… We were shooting Star Trek 2—there’s not much I can say about it, but I can say this—in San Francisco in this top secret facility, you know, the kind of place they fire laser beams at shit and see what happens.
They’d been shooting there a week and I came in and went out for drinks the night before with (Chris) Pine and (Simon) Pegg and those guys and they’re talking about this neutron cream, to combat the radiation.
So, I’m like, ‘What?! Radiation?’ And they said, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a low dose of radiation that comes from this facility and they’ve given us this cream.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, okay’, and for some reason I just bought it, of course. So I turn up the next day and my make-up artist said, ‘I’ve got your neutron cream here; you’re going to need to take that, you’re going to need to wear that when you’re on set.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay, no worries’ thinking, ‘Fuck! This must be true—she’s this fucking 60-year-old Spanish make-up artist’—fucking lying bitch!
So I get half made-up and then get called to set to do a block-through—and for anyone who doesn’t know, before you actually go and shoot a scene, you get just the director and the actors walk on set and we figure out what we’re going to do. Most block-throughs last 15 minutes, 20 minutes, max, and then it’s ‘you’re cracking on, you’re shooting it’.
For some reason, this block-through was the longest block-through we had on the entire shoot, it was like an hour-and-a-half and I swear to God I had radiation sickness by the end of this block-through; I was feeling woozy, because I hadn’t had my cream on.
But, I went back to the make-up chair and got my make-up on and before I went on set, my make-up artist dabbed me with dots, all over my face. And I walk on set and there’s a couple of others who’ve just got a couple, one or two dots here and there, but I look like I’m a fucking freckled, measled kinda guy with these dots all over my face.
And before I got to set, I have to do some press, so I’ve got to go and do the press with these fucking dots all over my face. So anyway, my make-up artist comes and just wipes them off, then we start and do a couple of takes and then she comes back and re-applies the dots all over my face and then the first AD, Tommy Gormley, this Scottish guy goes (imitates his Scottish accent): ‘All right! Come on now crew, let’s shake it out! Let’s shake it out!’ And I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ And he goes, ‘You’ve gotta shake it out, help get the neutron radiation, you’ve got to shake it out!’ So then the crew’s standing there like this (shakes his body frantically) and I’m standing there, shaking—as if shaking your body is going to get rid of the fucking radiation!
So, and then I, periodically through the day—I’m not feeling too good, so I start shaking, here and there, spasms—and I’m subsequently told that these guys are just fucking pissing themselves laughing. So we go to lunch, come back and we have to do this public service announcement.
So, (Zachary) Quinto and Pine go first and they have to read these cue cards for a camera and what we’re doing is a public service community announcement about this place, and I’m listening to them and they’re talking about, ‘Look, despite what you’ve heard in the community, this place is actually really safe’. And I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck is this place?’
So then it’s my turn, for John Cho and I to come and do our public service announcement and so we stand there and they’ve got the cue cards and we start reading them and it sort of goes on to say, ‘We all just want to make sure you come to this NORAD facility, you have fun and it’s important to remember most importantly that you’ve been—‘, and then they pull the last card away and it says, ‘Had!’ (audience laughs) And they fucking pissed themselves. Pissed themselves! The entire crew, J.J., everyone’s just laughing their arses off and… I can find it funny now.
But it was elaborate, very elaborate and it all started because Simon fucking Pegg on day one of working on this amazing nuclear fucking, high security facility turned to Chris Pine in the make-up chair and said, ‘Oh, have you got your neutron cream, mate?’ (audience laughs) ‘Neutron cream?’ ‘Yeah. For the radiation. Have you got your neutron cream?’ And he got Pine for a good five or 10 minutes, and he kept it going.
Then Pine thinks, ‘Wow! This is fucking great!’ So then every day when somebody would come to set, one of the new cast members would come to shoot on this location, they’d get got, and of course I was there on the last day, so I got it at its most elaborate form. They had fucking radiation gum, they had the proper cream, they had t-shirts, they… and it was… so yeah, Simon Pegg will keep; he’ll fucking keep, because I remember these things; I’ve got a long memory.
In fact, I just got Viggo back for a trick that he played on me and my agent a few years ago. I was scheduled to hop on a plane and go, I think it was to Vancouver, to start a job and he calls up my agent after hours. He didn’t get her but he got her husband, and he said: ‘G’day, it’s Karl here. Look, I can’t get on the plane, I can’t find my lucky red socks, I dunno what I’m gunna do? I can’t, you gotta call them up and tell them I can’t do the job, I can’t find my red socks!’ And he said, ‘Okay man, I’ll tell Jenny. I’ll tell her.’ And he goes, ‘I can’t find them. I dunno what to do, mate. I’m not getting on that fucking plane!’
Boom! And he hangs up. So, literally at one o’clock in the morning I get woken up by this fucking phone call from my agent saying, ‘Karl! You gotta get on the plane! I will buy you, I promise, I will buy you five pairs of red socks, I just need you to get on the plane!’ And I’m like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ And then I go, ‘Ooh, fucking Viggo!’ Flash forward 10 years! So, six weeks ago I’m in Spain and I’m doing press for Dredd and I see that Viggo’s got a film coming out as well called, Une Plan and my press day is happening the day before his, so with every single journalist that I talk to, I do my interview and as they’re walking out, I’m like, ‘Oh I got a day off tomorrow’ and they’re like, ‘Oh really?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m going to go to Viggo’s farm; he’s just bought a goat farm in Segovia, he’s got a thousand goats! He’s making goat cheese!’
Every single one. (audience laughs) Well, it was reported on the national news! It was published in newspapers! And the next day, every single interview that Viggo went into, they asked about the fucking goat farm. A thousand goats!
So I get this email from Viggo. It starts: ‘You bastard.’ It turns out he got so fucking sick of having to defend this goat story that he just started going with it and saying, ‘Yes, I like the spotted goats because they fart less and their cheese tastes sweeter.’ So Pegg will keep. (audience applauds)
PT: Well ladies and gentlemen, we were given the ‘wind-up’ signal a little while ago and I fear for anybody trying to follow-up that so we’re going to have to end it there with possibly some of the best stories we’ve heard at Popcorn Taxi.
KU: Thank you.
PT: Well, it’s just wonderful to hear that the camaraderie between actors extends beyond films but also that Simon Pegg will one day get his comeuppance at the hand of Karl Urban.
KU: I’m gunna get that fucking cunt, I’ll tell you right now! I’m gunna fucking get him! (audience laughs)
PT: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us for Dredd and thank you so much for joining us for Karl Urban, and please put your hands together for Karl Urban.
KU: Thanks very much, guys. Thank you. Thanks very much. Thanks for your time and energy. Thank you.