With J.J. Abrams Star Trek Into Darkness now playing around the world, we recently landed an exclusive phone interview with Karl Urban. During the interview, he talked about making the sequel, his reaction to reading the script, how things changed on set, who was the one who broke the most while filming, filming with IMAX cameras, the 3D, and more. He also talked about the possibility of a Dredd sequel, his upcoming Fox TV show Almost Human, and The Loft. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
KARL URBAN: I’m doing great. I just watched your reaction to the movie this morning, which I just loved. You guys really seemed to enjoy it.
Yeah. You could say that.
URBAN: Yeah, yeah. That’s great. It’s wonderful for us to get that kind of feedback. Honestly, when you get into the theater you get a feel for what you’ve done and what you appreciate, but it’s not until the movie comes out that you get it. Once you’ve gone to a theater and watched it with an audience you don’t know, so I just loved your response. It was pretty fantastic.
Since the movie hasn’t come out yet, I’m gonna have to have a more general conversation.
URBAN: Yeah. That would be cool.
I just don’t wanna reveal anything.
URBAN: Yeah, like spoilers.
Exactly. I refuse to do that. First, I told people on Twitter that I was going to interview you, and the one thing that came up from absolutely everyone is, everyone wanted to talk about Dredd. Everybody. And you know how much I loved that movie. Is there any possibility for anything that would have you as Dredd again?
URBAN: Wow. I’m really humbled to hear that. Interestingly enough, I did have breakfast with Alex Garland this morning. It’s not off the agenda. Clearly everyone has woken up to the fact that an audience has found this movie and loves it. It’s entirely possible, and if people want to see another installment then they should be vocal about that, because, it can happen. The power of fandom can resurrect projects. In fact, that’s what happened with Star Trek. They weren’t going to do a third season until fans did a letter writing campaign and they continued that series.
Whatever you need me to do, let me know. Getting into Star Trek for a second, what was your reaction when you first read the script for the sequel? Was it an immediate, “Wow, they nailed it,” or not so much. Do you know what I mean?
URBAN: My initial reaction was that I thought the script was fantastic. What was interesting was, after reading the script, we went to the script meeting with J.J. [Abrams] and the cast, and hearing J.J.’s vision for which took it to the next step, or a couple of steps beyond that. It was just an exciting process to be involved with. The wonderful thing about working with J.J. is that nothing is set in stone, even to the point of when you’re actually in the middle of shooting something. It’s constantly involved, and you really have to be on your toes.
Something that’s great about the sequel is that Bones has a lot of funny lines. He might even have better lines in this one. How much of that was in the script when you first got it? How much were they crafting those lines to make sure you had some great ones on the set?
URBAN: It was a combination of great writing by Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and J.J. And there was definitely my input in there as well. Quite often, we’d do multiple versions, and that’s the definitely the case with…There was a lot written on the page, but we were given this freedom to improvise, and J.J. would come up to you and say, “Try this,” and he would just base it on the paper.
You guys have great camaraderie and you all get along. Who was the one who broke the most on set? Did anyone seek out to always try to break that person?
URBAN: I think that collectively, we were all guilty of that. Working with such a wonderful group of people, we would start laughing before the cameras started rolling. [Simon] Pegg is notoriously funny. There’s Chris [Pine], there’s John Cho. There’s just a lot of laughs.
I’m gonna switch gears for a second. Something I’m really excited about, is that, if the pilot gets picked up, you’ve possibly entered the realm of TV with this Almost Human show. What was it about the project that got you to sign on?
URBAN: I wasn’t particularly looking to do television but, I got a call from J.J. and he told me about this project. I read the script and thought it was really interesting. I really responded to the character and I felt that, if I turned it down, I would probably live to regret that. It’s set 46 years in the future. It’s about a human detective who has partnered up with a synthetic, a replicant, a robot, to use an anachronistic term. It really explores that point in humanity where we realize collectively that the genie is out of the bottle, with regards to technology, genetic engineering, and all that kind of stuff. I’ve found that to be fascinating fertile ground.
URBAN: Yeah. I certainly think that J.J.’s involvement is gonna generate that kind of intrigue. While I wasn’t totally surprised, at the moment, we’re hoping we get to explore those characters and deliver this. I think it will be absolutely phenomenal.
When do you find out if the pilot gets picked up?
So your life could dramatically change in the next month?
URBAN: Yeah, definitely.
(laughs) You also did a film called The Loft. What can you tell us about that?
URBAN: The Loft is about a group of men, husbands, who all go in on this apartment where they carry out these nefarious activities, and basically, it backfires on them. It’s a bit of a thriller.
You have a nice cast for this film.
URBAN: Yeah. It’s a really great cast.
Jumping back into Star Trek for a second, how many people were joking around on set about lens flares in the sequel?
URBAN: (laughs) Lens flares and 3D. Yeah, it’s funny. I didn’t even really register that I don’t think anybody has really done a lot of lens flares in 3D before. I think this is a first.
I saw it twice. The second time was in IMAX 3D, and I thought the 3D and the IMAX were a fantastic combination.
URBAN: Yeah. I was the same, actually. The second time I saw it in 3D and I was completely blown away. I didn’t actually intend to go through the film again because I was wiped out, but once I sat down and got sucked into the journey again, I was blown away by the audio/visual assault that is IMAX 3D mainly.
I definitely want to ask you about deleted scenes. I’m sure there are a few. Did you have any scenes that were cut out of the film? Did you remember?
URBAN: Let me think. I don’t believe so. There’s definitely portions of scenes that hit the editing floor, but I don’t recall whole scenes that got chopped.
In the sequel, you get to get in on some of the action, if you will. I don’t wanna be specific as to how, but you’re on a planet, etc, etc. Do you sort of-
URBAN: That whole opening sequence was released in front of The Hobbit, so in a sense it’s already out there.
URBAN: Yes, yes, I know what you’re talking about now.
I was gonna say, you were obviously involved in some of the action. Do you wish that Bones was involved in more of the action or do you enjoy the fact that he gets to deliver these great one-liners on the bridge?
URBAN: It’s a good question. I don’t have action envy, because a lot of the work that I’ve done has been action oriented, with Dredd being a recent example of that. For me it’s really nice to be able to do something that is completely different, and to have a character who is grounded in other areas.
Something else that I learned about the Star Trek sequel is that you guys built these huge practical sets, so you could actually walk around the Enterprise. What was that like for you on the first day that you saw these sets?
URBAN: It was pretty incredible. More of the Enterprise was built for this movie than for any other Star Trek movie, historically speaking. And that was incredible. Also, J.J. like to use the real environment. This Enterprise feels more real than anything that’s come before. I don’t mean to disrespect previous sets, because they’re all unique and amazing in their own way, but this really feels like a fully functioning, operational work environment. That adds an authenticity and it certainly makes our jobs a lot easier.
From what I understand, in the first few weeks of production, you guys did all the bridge scenes first. What was that like for you, jumping into all that bridge stuff first?
URBAN: It was surreal, because it had been four years since we had shot the first one, and it was literally like going back in time. But once we got the first shot under our belt, it was fantastic, and we just hit the ground running. In this film, we don’t have to establish the lead characters. They’re already established, and we get to go deeper into their relationships. I think that consequently, you could argue that this film has more heart, more soul, more humor, and definitely more action. It was a lot of fun.
You guys also filmed with IMAX cameras on this one. I apologize for asking because I’m not sure, but have you ever worked with IMAX cameras before?
URBAN: No, I haven’t. This was my first experience working with Imax, and it’s an interesting process. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s worth it because you get so much more information on the negative, and it just looks incredible. The cameras themselves can only hold a certain amount of film, and quite often, they take a lot of time to set up and get the shot right. The consequence is that the set up between shots using Imax is longer. J.J. would DJ three songs to keep the crew entertained while they were dealing with Imax. He loved it. Once he saw what he was getting, he tried to get as many opportunities as he could to use the Imax format.
Obviously, you’ve established the character. The fans know what you’re gonna do. How is it for you as an actor coming back to play a role that means so much to so many people? What was your preparation process getting ready to play Bones again? Did you just get to production and jump in, or were you looking in the mirror a few weeks before and practicing the voice?
URBAN: That would be a mistake, no. The process for me is doing the script, and just going over it and over it and over it. Then I’d start the dialogue with J.J. and with the cast and defining what the beats are. I was approaching it from that perspective, and making sure that everybody has their moment to contribute to the success of the mission.
When you first got the script and everybody was looking at it for the first time, do you remember if a lot changed in the script from the beginning to what we all see on the screen as the final product? Or was it just slight changes or tweaks?
URBAN: As I said before, the script is an evolution, and it doesn’t stop when you get the final draft. Because, J.J. can be inspired by what’s happening on the set, and you can go in a completely different direction, and that’s what’s exciting and challenging about working with J.J.
This isn’t a spoiler since it was already revealed in the prologue. For me, I don’t have a problem when Star Trek breaks the rules of science to make a fun movie. For example, the Enterprise located underwater: probably not realistic, but for me, it’s a great movie moment. How are you on getting the movie to be very realistic, because it’s Star Trek versus wanting to tell a fun story and make a fun movie?
URBAN: I think that’s one of the wonderful things that J.J.’s done. He hasn’t just made a film for Star Trek fandom. I think that you could sit and nitpick at any film, but I think that you have such a great time watching this film, that if you did have issues with anything, it’s very easy to take along the ride. But I don’t know. I don’t see why the Enterprise couldn’t operate underwater. It operates in the vacuum of space, which is just as lethal if you think about it.
I was reading some people online commenting on the salt water and “blah blah blah,” and I think it’s just a testament to how much people care about the characters and the universe and the ship.
URBAN: Yeah. To me, one of the wonderful things about Star Trek is that there are so many wonderful fans, and I get to count myself as one of those. I’m looking forward to this film hitting the theaters, and then we can begin the conversation. Hopefully, if it’s received as well as the last one, we’ll get to make more of them. Hey Steve, I gotta go. Thank you for your time and energy, and I look forward to talking with you again when the film comes out.