Having played roles as diverse as Cupid and Caesar on the cult TV series “Hercules” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” Karl Urban probably didn’t have to travel too far to take on the role of Eomer in “The Lord of the Rings” movies, maybe because it shot in Urban’s homeland of New Zealand. Though most people will remember him from that dramatic role, they were followed by roles in action movies like The Chronicles of Riddick, The Bourne Supremacy and Doom.
In Marcus Nispel’s Pathfinder, Urban takes front and center as the son of Vikings raised by Native American Indians whose forced to choose between his people when Vikings return and ravage his new-found family. Although Sly Stallone’s Rambo wouldn’t come into existence for nearly a thousand years, he reacts pretty much the same way, exacting revenge on those who killed his family.
ComingSoon.net talked to the New Zealand actor about the movie that was originally going to be a kids film, maybe for a minute or less, as well as a few upcoming projects.
ComingSoon.net: Having not seen the movie, maybe you can fill us in on the general plot.
Karl Urban: It’s about a young Viking boy who gets shipwrecked on the Northeast coast of America and adopted by Native American Indians, then 15 years later, a different group of Vikings returns and this boy has to choose where his loyalty lies and basically ends up defending the Indians against the Vikings. Within that, it’s just a full-on gnarly action-adventure chase kind of movie set in this mystic prehistoric American wilderness.
CS: So you end up siding with the Indians against the Vikings and don’t have any misgivings about your Viking heritage?
Urban: No, there’s a point in the film where some of the characters are not too sure. They think that I’ve flipped sides, but this character, he’s truly adapted the Indian ways to his heart, and the Indians are really his family. It’s a no-brainer for the character.
CS: Do you know how much of the movie is based on actual historical fact?
Urban: Well, yeah, it’s based loosely on the fact that Viking ruins were discovered in Newfoundland and relics picked up right down the Northeast coast of America. It’s obviously a hypothetical encounter between these two cultures. There’s some loosely documented evidence about the clash of these cultures and primarily they came together and traded, and some of their interactions went really very well and fine and were very peaceful. Others ended in a more aggressive tone. This is really airing on the side of the more aggressive encounters between these cultures.
CS: Being from New Zealand, do you have any connection with either of these people? As a kid, did you hear stories about Vikings or Indians?
Urban: We have our own sort of culture and history to absorb. I wasn’t majorly into Vikings. I was definitely into Indians as a kid. I’d watch Westerns, and I’d always root for the Indians over the cowboys. So I guess I sort of relish the opportunity of being able to play a pseudo-Indian, and it was a real eye-opener and a great experience for me.
CS: Is the whole movie in English or is it done in some sort of native language with sub-titles?
Urban: It’s like half of it’s in English and half of it’s in old Norse, which was pretty difficult to learn, very challenging but a lot of fun. You know what? There’s not a whole hell of a lot of dialogue in this film. It’s not a dialogue-oriented film. It’s a very simple story, and it’s about a clash between these two cultures. The story is about this young man who decides to defend the Indians, at a point in the film, he takes these Vikings and uses the interior landscape that he knows well to defeat them.
CS: From the trailer, those outdoor shots look amazing. Was that all created using landcapes in Vancouver or was there stuff done using green screen?
Urban: Yeah, the film was shot 100% on location. I think we had one studio day for one interior and the rest of it was out in the elements, which was challenging to say the least as we were heading into winter. At some point, I was wearing not much more than a little leather thong. It got pretty testy at times
CS: Did you shoot all right in the Vancouver area or did you end up going further North?
Urban: We went further North, we went quite a way up into the interior of British Columbia, to some of the more pristine and untouched wilderness. It was quite incredible turning up to work and seeing bald eagles circling overhead, and trout and salmon in the river. It was just the antidote that I needed after “Doom,” which was 100% in the studio in Prague, and this was 100% outdoors. I loved it. I mean, it was a grueling shoot, a tough shoot, very physical. I remember on one day, thirteen members of our crew injured themselves. We were shooting a very precarious cave system and people were constantly standing up and hitting their heads on the cave or twisting their ankles on the slippery rocks. It was a dangerous shoot in a lot of ways.
CS: You also appeared in “The Lord of the Rings” films, which were also shot outdoors in New Zealand, your home country. How did this compare to that experience as far as the elements and the battles?
Urban: It was great. I kind of was able to bring some of that experience and knowledge that I learned on “Lord of the Rings” particularly pertaining to sword fighting and use that in this film. For me, I had a lot more to do in “Pathfinder,” and I really relish the opportunity to be front and center and go for it, and that’s exactly what I did.
CS: What kind of weapons does your character use? Is it more like weapons we’d expect like battle axes?
Urban: I use primarily a sword but I also used a bow and arrow and various traps that my character designs, using sharpened sticks and ropes and things like that.
CS: I know that Marcus Nispel has a background doing gore with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but was that sort of thing all done on the set or as they say, in-camera?
Urban: Yeah, it was kind of ironic actually, because this film, when I signed onto it, was kind of written more like a kids’ film. It wasn’t violent, it wasn’t gory. I remember after being on set for a couple of days and seeing some of the more graphic elements, I was thinking, “There’s no way this is a kids’ film!” Sure enough, I should have known when they hired Marcus Nispel as a director, and he really put his stamp on it. He is quite extraordinary. His forte is really painting that picture. He’s such a visual person and very specific about all the elements in the frame, and the picture looks fantastic as a result.
CS: Have you actually seen the movie already?
Urban: Yeah, I saw it last night actually. I wanted to see it just to have it fresh in my mind before I talked to you. Dude, it’s just gnarly. It’s relentless once it starts, it doesn’t stop. It’s just action-packed and gripping to the end. It looks fantastic, and it’s a lot of fun.
CS: I know you shot this a while ago, so what have you been doing since then? Are you back in New Zealand?
Urban: Well, I did three projects back-to-back. “Pathfinder” was the first, and then I went back to New Zealand shot a film called “Out of the Blue,” which is a true story about a massacre that occurred in New Zealand in the early 1990’s. It’s a very heavy film. After that, I went and shot a mini-series with Steve Zahn and Val Kilmer called “Comanche Moon,” which is a prequel to “Lonesome Dove,” a Western, for CBS. I think it’s coming out October or November of this year.
CS: As far as your background in acting, you’ve done a lot of action-based roles, but do you come from a typical actor’s background with schooling and stagework?
Urban: I don’t know if there is such a thing as a typical actor’s background, because there are so many different roads that one can take to work in this industry. What I did basically was just apply myself and be proactive about trying to get experience. When I couldn’t work, I would pay to work. I would study. I would take freelance classes or whatever and I’ve been at this for about fifteen, sixteen years now. I enjoy it and I’ll do it as long as it sustains my interest, and I still feel like I have a lot to learn.
CS: Are you looking to do more character or dialogue-based work in the future?
Urban: Oh, definitely. You know, you look at films like “Pathfinder” or “Bourne Supremacy,” and you think these are action-based characters, they don’t say much. But then recently I’ve done “Out of the Blue” and “Comanche Moon,” which were quite different. “Comanche” is very dialogue and character-driven and that was a real real joy. I like doing both sorts of things.
CS: I know that Paul Greengrass is making another “Bourne” movie, and there’s some question about your character surviving the last movie. Has he contacted you about making an appearance in the upcoming movie?
Urban: No, no. There is actually some dispute whether my character survived that car crash or not. I don’t know the answer to it, but no, I’m not involved in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which I think they’re just about finished shooting at the moment. I’m certainly really looking forward to seeing the third installment of that one.
CS: Do you have any idea why “Pathfinder” was delayed so many times?
Urban: It’s just the process and it’s about finding the right time and the right slot for it. It’s just great that it’s getting its shot come April 13. By the way, I like your website a lot. It’s a good source of information, I like that.