Karl Urban on Playing Judge Dredd in ‘Dredd’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

With “Dredd” now out in theaters, people can now see what fans and critics are so excited about. Distancing itself from the 1995 misfire “Judge Dredd” which starred Sylvester Stallone, this film hews more closely to the character’s comic book origins and aims to be more serious than campy. But what everyone should be especially excited about is that the filmmakers chose the right actor to play the famous Judge, Karl Urban. Having made such memorable appearances in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Bourne Supremacy” and giving a pitch-perfect performance as Dr. McCoy in “Star Trek,” Urban looks to be the only actor to give this character the cinematic respect he deserves.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Urban said he was first introduced to the comic books of “Judge Dredd” when he was 16 years old. Recalling a pizza parlor he worked at in Wellington, New Zealand, the manager there told him all about the character.

“It was kind of ironic at the time because most teenagers do rebel against everything to do with authority and the law and all that sort of stuff,” Urban said. “I really gravitated towards this ultra-brutal representative of the law. I just loved it. I’ve always had a passion for science fiction.”

In preparing to play Judge Dredd, Urban said he spent more than three months “lifting heavy things” in order to get the character’s physique down. When it came to wearing the costume, he wore it every day for three weeks before shooting began. Urban did this so he could get used to what the Judge wore and to learn how to move in it and discover its limitations. Of course, the biggest challenge was wearing the costume while filming in South Africa during a blazingly hot summer.

Many have asked Urban what it was like to wear the helmet Dredd is famous for wearing, and he described it as being “a bitch to wear” but that he liked in a “sado-masochistic way.” Regardless of the discomfort, Urban stayed very true to Judge Dredd’s refusal to ever take it off.

“To me, that’s (the helmet) essential,” Urban told MTV. “That’s part of his enigma. That’s part of who he is. To do something contradictory to the way the character was originally created… it was certainly a choice that was never considered by myself or anyone else on this production.”

Of course, acting with a helmet forced Urban to convey emotions without the use of his eyes. When it comes to film acting, the eyes can speak louder than words ever can, but he was forced to use other tools to show what Dredd was going through. The one tool which became especially important was the character’s voice, and Urban spoke with Matthew Jackson of the Blastr website about how he came up with it:

“The voice isn’t out of any attempt to emulate or copy anything that has come before,” said Urban. “It’s purely and simply a fact that in my research of the comic book I discovered a description of Dredd’s voice and it said that it sounded like a saw cutting though bone. The voice is my interpretation of what that is. I didn’t want to play this character as a bellowing, posturing Dredd, shouting out lines. For me, it’s far more interesting to have the character contain the rage and the violence. Without the use of my eyes, I had to figure out where that voice was going to sit to maximize the opportunity to express in any given moment.”

Many were worried it might be too soon for a cinematic reboot of Judge Dredd, but it looks like the filmmakers got the details right this time around. As for Karl Urban, getting to play this role must be a dream come true for him. Hearing him talk about his preparation is a great reminder of how much fun it is to hear actors explain their process of portraying a character, and he looks to deliver the goods as this brutal enforcer of justice.

SOURCES:

Clark Collis, “Karl Urban talks ‘Dredd 3D,'” Entertainment Weekly, September 16, 2012.

Ryan Turek, “Fantastic Fest Interview: Karl Urban on Dredd, Returning to Riddick,” Shock Till You Drop, September 20, 2012.

Kevin P. Sullivan, “Keeping ‘Dredd’ Helmet on Was ‘Essential’ For Karl Urban,” MTV.com, September 20, 2012.

Matthew Jackson, “Karl Urban explains how he came up with that gritty Dredd voice,” Blastr, September 6, 2012.

Trainspotting 2

Trainspotting 2 poster

I actually found myself getting choked up while watching “Trainspotting 2,” a sequel I long believed would never become a reality. The original 1996 film featured youthful characters bursting with life as they inject heroin into their veins and create chaos for everyone and each other. Now it’s 20 years later, and these same characters are now middle-aged and struggling with a future which looks to leave them behind. They are dealing with regrets which eat at them, and are still stuck in a past which constantly gnaws at their conscience. While I can’t say I relate to all the adventures Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie have gone through, I can certainly relate to their current state of mind as their lives are at an impasse to where they have to ask themselves the question David Byrne brought up in a Talking Heads song, “Well, how did I get here?”

When we last saw the “Trainspotting” gang, Renton (Ewan McGregor) had absconded with the money they scored through a heroin deal, and he was determined to go straight and engage in a much more stable lifestyle. “Trainspotting 2” starts with him running on a treadmill only to trip and fall, and it’s enough to show he is not the same man he was before. He has lived in Amsterdam all this time with his wife, but now he is getting divorced and finds his job security to be very shaky, to say the least. Feeling lost in modern society, he decides to return home to Edinburgh, Scotland in an effort to make amends with family and friends.

Everyone is still back in Edinburgh doing their thing. Sick Boy runs a bar which is lucky to have many, if any, patrons walking through the door. In his spare time, he engages in blackmail schemes with his partner and girlfriend, Veronika Kovach (Anjela Nedyalkova). Daniel Murphy/Spud is still in the throes of his heroin addiction which has long since estranged him from his partner Gail and their son Fergus. As for Francis “Franco” Begbie, he has been in prison all this time and just received news that his parole did not go through. So, like any pissed off inmate, he escapes and heads back to Edinburgh to get revenge on those who betrayed him long ago.

When “Trainspotting” came out 20 years ago, it represented a fresh burst of filmmaking energy and felt so different from anything else playing at your local cinema. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge once again take the works of author Irvine Welsh, in this case his novels “Trainspotting” and “Porno,” to create a motion picture pulsating with an energy lacking in so many others out right now. The fact they can’t quite equal the energy of the original is not a surprise as many imitators came in its wake, and what was once subversive now feels much less so. But I think Boyle intended for this sequel to have a different energy for those reasons as things are different now for the characters and ourselves.

“Trainspotting 2” does traffic in nostalgia as several references to the original are made throughout, but it doesn’t get stuck there to where it comes across as a mere copy of what came before. Moreover, Boyle and Hodge show how these characters are stuck in a past they never fully escaped from. I also have to say it is daring of them to show these characters at this stage in their life as Hollywood is typically afraid of ageism more than they would ever legally admit. Just like in “Logan” and “Creed,” we are forced to see what the winds of change have done to those we grew up watching, and it isn’t always pleasant.

It’s great to see Ewan McGregor back working with Boyle, Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald. McGregor and had a huge falling out with Boyle when the director handed the lead role in “The Beach” over to Leonardo DiCaprio instead of him, and the two ended up not talking for years. Well, whatever happened is now water under the bridge, and it would certainly be unthinkable for Boyle to replace McGregor with another actor. While Renton has suffered through years of regret and decreased vitality, McGregor still brings much of the same boundless energy to the character as he did before. It’s also a thrill to see him engage in one of Renton’s “Choose Life” speeches, especially since it takes on a much more emotional dimension than ever before.

Jonny Lee Miller continues to bring a wonderfully perverted energy to his portrayal of Sick Boy as his criminal exploits are fueled by bitterness and large doses of cocaine. I was especially taken in by Ewan Bremmer’s portrayal of Spud which is funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. We are constantly reminded of how Spud is harmless to anyone but himself, and Bremmer makes the character’s ever so wounded pride all the more palpable throughout.

My hat is really off, however, to Robert Carlyle as he makes Begbie every bit as explosive and lethal as he did 20 years ago. Some actors lose their edge as they get older, but not Carlyle as Begbie is still a volcanic force of nature you best not be around if you value your physical well-being. At the same time, the actor brings an honest vulnerability to the character which is both unexpected and wrenching. It serves as a reminder of how much acting range Carlyle has. Remember, he went from playing Begbie to playing a loving father in “The Full Monty,” and I had to keep pinching myself to realize it was the same actor playing both roles.

In addition, I enjoyed Anjela Nedyalkova’s performance as Veronika, a working girl who sees right through all the men around her and gets to the truth they have yet to realize for themselves. She brings a confident and sassy energy to this sequel, and she is a strong addition to this strong quartet of actors. It was also nice to see Kelly Macdonald reprise her role as Diane who has since become a lawyer. She kept stealing the show from her male co-stars in the original, and she does it again here.

They say you can never go back, but “Trainspotting 2” shows you can, but never all the way. There is a mournful feel to this sequel, but it’s there for good reason. In watching these characters wonder how they ended up at this point in their lives, we are forced to examine our own lives and wonder how we got here. It’s an unnerving prospect for a movie to offer its viewers, but I’m glad this one did even though it almost left me on the verge of tears. There needs to be time for a re-examination of our lives and desires, and we have to find a way to make peace with our past. Boyle and company understand this, and they never back down from exploring these emotionally complicated themes.

The cast and crew of “Trainspotting” have given us a very worthy follow up to their original masterpiece, and it is backed up by strong acting, a kick ass soundtrack, and the invigorating visuals we can always count on Boyle putting up on the silver screen. Yes, “Trainspotting 2” was well worth the wait, but be prepared for it to take a piece out of you. And remember what Renton says: Choose life and be addicted to something good.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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