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.

The Help Does Not Seek To Shamelessly Manipulate Our Emotions

The Help” was released with some controversy back in 2011 as it was based on a 2009 best seller by Kathryn Stockett, a white woman who wrote about African American maids’ experience working in the houses of white people. Many would have preferred to have had a black man or woman write this story, but it is important to note Stockett was herself raised by a black maid who instilled her with a strong confidence which proved to be unwavering, and this was all while her mother was absent from her life. Plus, Stockett, as represented by the character of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, captured the voices of these ill-treated black women with really piercing honesty, and she made herself a vessel for their voices to be heard. From the start, she made it clear to the world that this book was about them and not her.

The movie version comes to us wrapped in a bow of beautiful colors and a very appealing movie poster. I kept think of Rob Reiner’s “Ghosts of Mississippi” which blew the opportunity to make audiences aware of who Medgar Evers was at the expense of some truly bland while characters, and neither Alec Baldwin or James Woods could not save the movie from its inescapable banality. “The Help” looked like it would make the same mistakes, but thankfully it does not. Regardless of whatever flaws it has, it is still a deeply felt motion picture which revisits a painful part of American history people have either forgotten or are sick of revisiting.

At its center is Skeeter (Emma Stone), a recent college graduate who gets a job writing a housekeeping column for the local paper in Jackson, Mississippi. After reuniting with good friends in her hometown, she finds herself perturbed by the senseless racism which has divided the blacks and whites in an almost unspoken way. Skeeter also becomes concerned as to the whereabouts of the maid who raised her, Constantine, as she has vanished without a trace. These events compel her to start writing a book of the travails black housekeepers go through, and she is determined to capture their pride, heartache and deep-seated anger resulting from their thoughtless mistreatment.

This could easily have been a manipulative motion picture filled with cloying emotions, but the filmmakers have given us a variety of characters, black and white that are complex and who never come across as simply caricatures. Each one has their own needs and desires which conflict with those of others, and after a while it becomes clear their problems do not always have to do with race.

The black maid Skeeter leans on the most is Aibileen Clark, played in a powerhouse of a performance by Viola Davis. Just as she did in “Doubt,” Davis inhabits her character with a pride which, while wounded, remains defiantly strong. While her voice projects a kindness and understanding on top of an obedience to her employers, Clark’s face and eyes betray a huge resentment which has long since reached its boiling point.

The next black maid who contributes to Skeeter’s book is Minny Jackson, played in another great performance by Octavia Spencer. She proves to be the most outspoken of the bunch which results in her getting fired quite often, and yet she is reluctant at first to talk with Skeeter about her experiences. We later see Jackson getting her revenge in a way which somehow feels inspired by episodes of MTV’s “Punk’d” or “Jackass.” Spencer gives “The Help” a great sense of humor it might have otherwise not had, and she is every bit Davis’ match.

Minny also develops a highly unusual relationship with the hopelessly naive Celia Foote. Unlike other working relationships, she gets the opportunity to be blunt with Celia and tells her what she needs to hear. I found the friendship between them to be one of “The Help’s” most welcome surprises. Jessica Chastain brilliantly portrays Celia Foote, and she has long since proven to be one of the best actresses working in movies today.

As for Emma Stone, she proved to be a revelation here, and she holds her own against a large number of acting stalwarts. Stone imbues Skeeter with a hard-won independence which never waivers. I love how even in Stone’s eyes you can see her determination in proving how strong a woman Skeeter is and of the sincere goodness in her heart. If she has not proven herself as a dramatic actress before this movie, she certainly did here, and now she has an Oscar to make this clearer to those foolish not to pay attention.

The majority of the white characters in “The Help” could have all been one-dimensional idiots, and while several of them make assumptions which are as ridiculous as they are racist, we see other sides of their personalities as well. One white character who can be seen as the movie’s chief villain is the snobby Hilly Holbrook, played in a truly gutsy performance by Bryce Dallas Howard. Her superiority against the black maids turns out to be driven more by fear than anything else, and realizing this at the film’s end gives Hilly a dimension we weren’t sure she had in the first place.

Howard has done phenomenal work over the years, and she was a good reason to actually see some of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies like “The Village.” She has also given us reasons to sit through “Jurassic World” and its sequel as well as “Spider-Man 3.” While those movies failed to reach the heights of greatness, she gave you a reason to watch them in the first place.

Other great performances in “The Help” come from Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother, Charlotte, who goes from being a stubborn mother desperate for her daughter to get a man to someone who regrets the decisions she has made in her life. Sissy Spacek is a hoot throughout as Hilly’s mother, Mrs. Walters, who delights in her daughter’s misfortunes as her dad made the unforgivable mistake of spoiling her rotten. One underrated performance comes from Chris Lowell who plays Skeeter’s eventual boyfriend, Stuart. He starts off as an arrogant young man who thinks he has women all figured out, but he later comes to his senses thank goodness.

“The Help” is not perfect and does get a bit too cute at times, but its emotions ring true thanks to the acting and the direction by Tate Taylor who is a longtime friend of Stockett’s. It skirts the conventional narrative to give us something more authentic which is not, if you will excuse the expression, white-washed like so many other Hollywood movies. It covers a subject which we have no choice but to revisit as history repeats itself much too often, and it says a lot about the movie that it jumped from number two to number one at the box office in its second week of release.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Chris Marquette Talks About Working with Vincent D’Onofrio in ‘Broken Horses’

Broken Horses Chris Marquette

Broken Horses” stars Anton Yelchin and Chris Marquette as brothers who are as close as siblings can be, and it’s very poetic how this movie arrived in theaters on National Siblings Day. Yelchin plays Jacob Heckum, a very talented violinist who reunites with his brother Buddy (Chris Marquette) in their hometown after being separated for a number of years. Their paths have gone in different directions, and Buddy has long since fallen under the spell of Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio), a gangster who has since gained complete control over Buddy to where he has denied him any chance of a scholastic education. But while Julius may have succeeded in turning Buddy into one of his most efficient mercenaries, Buddy is now looking for a way out of this mess he innocently fell into.

I got to talk with Marquette during at the Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills, California where he was doing promotion for “Broken Horses.” Marquette began his career as a model at the age of 4, and he later made his acting debut as the son of Mira Sorvino’s character in “Sweet Nothing.” I was very interested in hearing from him what it was like working with D’Onofrio who is one of cinema’s most accomplished actors. D’Onofrio left a memorable impression on us all in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” and he has given us unforgettable performances in “Mystic Pizza,” “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Strange Days.” In addition, many will never forget his work as Detective Robert Goren on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” or on the “Subway” episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Broken Horses movie poster

Marquette described what it was like acting opposite D’Onofrio, and his answer provided information about him which many of us didn’t know before.

Chris Marquette: He’s got a foot and a half on both of us which really helps. But D’Onofrio is a charmer and a great storyteller, and he’s really charismatic and that always carries weight and power. He’s got a million stories about the filmmakers and the sets he’s been on, so it was easy for me to start sliding into being whisked away by Vincent and Hench, his character. We were messing around one day and Vincent was just telling me stuff. I was asking him about his life and before he got into acting, and he was an amateur magician. With magicians you’ve got a way of doing tricks, and if you modify it slightly then you’ve technically invented a new technique. And so he invented some new technique on something really simple, and he’s telling me this and he starts doing the magic and it was… He’s telling me this whole story and I was so enthralled by it, and he was showing me this magic trick and I remember the next day Vinod and Abhijat (Joshi, the movie’s co-writer) called me and they said we think we’re writing in this… There’s a part where we are playing pool in the movie and he said, ‘You guys aren’t playing pool, I think he’s going to be showing you a magic trick.’ He was entertaining me like he would a kid, showing me this thing and I was like, ‘It’s amazing! Do it again!’

Not many actors get the opportunity of working with an actor like D’Onofrio, and Marquette is one of the lucky few who did. His thoughts on the “Full Metal Jacket” actor were truly fascinating, and I thank him for his time.

“Broken Horses” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.