Fantastic Fest Interview: Karl Urban On Dredd, Returning to Riddick


Dredd is holding its premiere at Fantastic Fest tonight before opening wide tomorrow (Friday, September 21st) and Shock Till You Drop spoke with Judge Dredd himself, Karl Urban, about the film, its “indie” sensibilities, finding the character, Dredd’s journey and whether Urban thought the world of the film could make room for Judge Death.  

In other words, it was a solid, albeit brief, discussion from one fan of the comic and movie to the other.

Urban has long been on the genre radar for over a decade now, taking on his first horror film in 2000 with The Truth About Demons.  Since then, he’s blown up, leaping from The Lord of the Rings trilogy to The Chronicles of Riddick and Star Trek.  And speaking of Riddick, we got him to quickly touch on his return to the upcoming, aptly titled, Riddick, starring Vin Diesel and once again directed by David Twohy.

Head inside for more!

Shock Till You Drop:  Tackling an iconic comic book character, going in, what were your reservations – if any?  The comic book fanbase is louder than ever these days, is that something you keep your finger on the pulse of?

Karl Urban:  I had certain reservations before I read the script and they were grounded in the fact that I read Dredd growing up and it meant something to me.  The first film adaptation was not well received.  But, those reservations were dispelled when I read Alex Garland’s script and found it to be a character-driven, action-packed script.  I felt he nailed the character.

Shock:  Well, as a fan yourself, what qualities did Garland get right for you?

Urban:  It’s the type of man he is.  The archetype is grounded and, I guess, a man with no name.  A guy who doesn’t say much but does a lot.  Also, this wonderful, dry sense of humor.  No matter how desperate or macabre things get, he could always crack a joke.  That was important.

Related: Check out’s interview with writer Alex Garland!

Shock:  How long did it take for you to find his voice?

Urban:  Yeah, it’s a huge thing.  I found it through trial and error.  I found a panel in one of the comics during the research phase that described Dredd’s voice as a saw cutting through bone.  That was a starting point for me.  And Alex had written many scenes where Dredd uses his voice in a special way whether it’s to intimidate or as a weapon.  So, it really had to service all of those things and resonate and where it sits within him.  I’m from New Zealand and, typically, a lot of modern New Zealanders form sounds in the mouth or through their head, it can quite often mean they sound high-pitched or nasally where Americans tend to come from the chest.  They don’t move their mouth much, but it’s grounded in the chest and the body and that’s the choice I made for Dredd.

Shock:  And this is in addition to the weight of the costume, the helmet…

Urban:  Which was a bitch to wear, but I liked it in a sado-masochistic way.  It really helped add to the attitude of Dredd.  It was not an easy time wearing it.  I was comfortable in the fact that I was used to it, but there was a certain level that came with wearing it.  We were shooting in a South African summer and I’m wearing full leather, body armor and a helmet.

Shock:  What I like about Dredd is that it’s contained, it makes the story personal which was a smart way to re-introduce the character.

Urban:  You’re forced to focus on the characters.  You’re not getting distracted by a special effects extravaganza.  This is the story of a veteran cop and a rookie.  And they’re forced together and need to survive.  There’s a real evolution to them.  It would be a mistake to say, that you can only see Cassandra Anderson’s journey, from being a rookie to getting her stripes, but Dredd, he doesn’t move much.  That’s not true.  He, in a subtle way, he moves quite a distance for him.  He sees the world in black and white, right and wrong, but he makes a judgement and things change.  For a guy whose job is to dispense justice, he’s presented with a gray area and that’s really interesting.

Shock:  Do you think there’s room in this cinematic universe of Dredd for Judge Death?

Urban:  I certainly believe so.  I think that’d be great.  I’d love to come back and continue to develop this character, but the reality is the movie has a mountain to climb.  If we get the opportunity, I’ll come back and Alex will come back.  But if this is a one-off, single film, then it’s a hell of a cult classic film.

Shock:  Now, you’re back for Riddick, in what capacity?

Urban:  I sort of do a cameo.  I help transition the story and the character of Riddick, where we last saw him, into his new adventure.  I had a great time working with Vin and David Twohy, they’re a fantastic team.  I’ve seen a bit of the film and it’s really, really good.

Shock:  I’m hearing it returns to its Pitch Black roots in some respects…

Urban:  Yeah, it’s got a much more indie art house sensibility about it – it’s a lean machine.

Shock:  Like Dredd…

Urban:  Oh, totally.  This is indie filmmaking.  If this had been made by one of the big studios with a big budget…we didn’t have that.  It forced us to make a smarter film.  We couldn’t afford waste.  If we shot it, it’s in the film.  You don’t have to spend much to get a great film and this is proof of that.

Shock:  Finally, let’s talk about Lena Headey…

Urban:  Oh, she’s incredible.  So compelling to watch and she makes this character come out of left field and she’s so deadly and dangerous.  She’s offbeat and is extraordinary.  The women in this film are empowered, both Lena and Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson.

Shock:  With all of the Star Trek Into Darkness title chatter on the web, what does this new title mean for you?

Urban:  [laughs]  It means a lot.  It means hit film people are going to love!

Shock:  Okay, fair enough, I’ll take that!

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